UK Football

Kentucky’s C.J. Conrad sees ‘night and day’ difference after shoulder surgery

C.J. Conrad, right, worked against linebacker Jordan Jones during practice Saturday.
C.J. Conrad, right, worked against linebacker Jordan Jones during practice Saturday. aslitz@herald-leader.com

While his left shoulder healed from offseason surgery, C.J. Conrad spent a lot of time watching his own tape.

So the Kentucky tight end is an expert on his own problems, his own flaws.

Watching tape now — eight practices into preseason camp — the junior is much happier with what he sees.

“I just think my game right now is in a much better place with my technique,” he said. “Being out, watching film and watching practice, taking mental reps has helped my game a ton. My technique right now … is like night and day. It’s super encouraging.”

Battling a sore shoulder most of last season made it a struggle, said Conrad, who finished fourth on the team in receptions with 19 for 262 yards and four touchdowns despite the discomfort. The junior also had a couple of impressive catches down the middle at the open practice on Saturday.

“I just got into the habit of just standing up, just kind of bracing myself a little bit,” he said of poor habits he noticed on tape like high pad level and subpar footwork. “Now I have confidence in my body because I’m completely healthy.”

And it’s not just Conrad who sees the improvement.

His position coach worried that having shoulder surgery would make one of the Cats’ most physical blockers a little less physical. But that hasn’t happened, Vince Marrow said.

“He looks stronger with his punch, he’s running faster, more explosive,” the tight ends coach said. “He obviously looks stronger. I was kind of worried about that because we do a lot of banging with the blocks we have. I was worried about his shoulder, but he hasn’t missed a beat.”

‘Swimming right now’

There might be four stars next to his name and he might be one of the best players out of the state of Ohio, but Lynn Bowden is just like most freshmen who arrive on campus for preseason camp: A work in progress.

“He’s swimming right now,” offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said of the newcomer, who missed the first six practices while awaiting NCAA academic clearance. “He is just trying to learn the offense. He’s athletic, he can catch the ball. Just what we thought. He’s trying to get six practices in one. That’s really hard.”

Senior wide receiver Garrett Johnson, who has rotated at the inside and outside receiver spots, has been working outside as of late to allow for extra reps for the freshman slot receiver.

Bowden, a 6-foot, 190-pound athlete who played at multiple spots at Warren Harding High School, including quarterback, is still learning the nuances of his position at wide receiver, Gran added.

“He’s got to learn that craft first,” Gran said. “When he learns that craft, then we can start bringing him in and doing some other things with him. But one thing at a time. We’ve got a long season ahead of us.”

For his part, true freshmen are off limits to the media once preseason camp begins, so Bowden’s only interview was via UK’s Facebook Live.

In the short segment with fellow wideout Charles Walker, Bowden confirmed that his last name is pronounced with a long “O” sound and that it’s difficult transitioning to a full-time receiver position after playing quarterback a lot in high school.

“It’s not easy, but nothing in life is gonna be easy, so I’m just doing it,” he told Walker, who “reported” that Bowden has been running crisp routes so far.

Still no Yahtzee

Kentucky still has a way to go in its quest to sell 40,000 season tickets, an athletics spokesman confirmed.

As of Tuesday, UK is at nearly 33,000 season tickets sold, but that’s still more than 7,000 short of the goal that would spur a new Yahtzee game at Kroger Field this season.

UK announced recently that if 40,000 or more season tickets were sold, that one section of fans at the stadium will get the chance to play Yahtzee and win two free 2018 season tickets.

Each fan that rolls a Yahtzee (all five dice showing one number) will get two free tickets for the next season as part of the giveaway.

Last season, UK sold 33,658 season tickets. It hasn’t sold more than 40,000 tickets since 2013, Mark Stoops’ first season as head coach.

Season tickets are available at UKFootballTix.com for $310 apiece with corresponding K Fund donations attached. Public season-ticket packages in Sections 201-203 and 209-211 are $240 apiece.

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader

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