UK Football

Why isn’t Conrad getting more catches? Opponents making life difficult for UK tight end

UK tight end C.J. Conrad hauled in a pass during the first quarter of the UK-Florida football game at Kroger Field on Saturday September 23, 2017. This was the last game the junior recorded a touchdown.
UK tight end C.J. Conrad hauled in a pass during the first quarter of the UK-Florida football game at Kroger Field on Saturday September 23, 2017. This was the last game the junior recorded a touchdown.

It was hard to miss C.J. Conrad after Kentucky’s first four games.

The junior tight end was having a special season, averaging nearly 22 yards per catch, with one-third of those going for touchdowns. He was tackled just shy of the end zone two other times.

Now, opponents are noticing the 6-foot-5, 245-pounder from LaGrange, Ohio, a little more than he’d like.

In the past three games, he’s amassed zero catches, zero yards and much frustration.

“They’re definitely keying on me now,” Conrad said after Kentucky’s practice on Wednesday. “It’s definitely a little tougher. I’m getting covered a little bit differently — bumped a little more — but I’ve got to be better than that.”

It’s meant watching a lot of extra game tape with tight ends coach Vince Marrow and looking for ways to improve.

Kentucky’s coaches have moved Conrad around, trying to make adjustments that can get the ball in one of their top playmaker’s hands. The Cats have 21 catches for 20 or more yards this season, and Conrad has five of those.

“After his first four games, there’s eyeballs all over him,” offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said of Conrad.

That’s meant the run/pass option plays that were going to Conrad early in the season are covered more aggressively. He was targeted just once in the loss at Mississippi State on Saturday, and he didn’t make the catch.

“C.J. needs to play better,” UK Coach Mark Stoops said on Monday. “I mean, I think we threw it to him on the second play of the game and he dropped it. When you get opportunities you make them.”

But overall, it’s not like Kentucky (5-2, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) isn’t trying to get the ball to Conrad, who reportedly has been battling through some minor injuries.

“There was a bunch of them called,” Gran said of those run/pass option plays. “We had another couple called to him, but the read took him somewhere else because of the coverage. They’re definitely honed in on that.”

Before this dry spell, Conrad was just one touchdown away from matching his 2016 touchdown total and just 67 yards short of his receiving yardage a season ago.

“It’s probably the first time in my career that’s happened to me,” he said of being targeted by defenses. “That’s probably why I’ve struggled a little bit. But I will be better.”

Kentucky would love to get him back on track in time for the game with Tennessee (3-4, 0-4) at Kroger Field on Saturday.

“He’s a big kid; he’s athletic,” Marrow said of Conrad, who had one catch for 22 yards last season in Knoxville. “And they’re taking that away now. It opens up other things, but we’re still going to find creative ways to get him the ball because he needs to get the ball.”

‘A heated moment’

In his first time talking to the media — at least on purpose — tight ends coach Vince Marrow called his profanity-laced tirade in the locker room after the loss at Mississippi State simply “a heated moment.”

The visitor’s locker room was on the other side of the wall from where Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops was holding his news conference on Saturday.

Marrow clearly could be heard yelling at several players, but it wasn’t clear what the shouting was about nor whom the coach was addressing.

The shouting caused a brief halt in Stoops’ question-and-answer session.

“Sorry, I’m a little bit distracted,” Stoops said, instructing a Kentucky sports information official to quiet Marrow down.

“Didn’t know you guys were that close to the locker room, I can tell you that,” Marrow said on Wednesday when asked about it. “If you’ve ever been in a football locker room, it was one of them deals. Love this team. Love our players.”

Vols star suspended

Tennessee running back John Kelly and linebacker Will Ignont received citations after Knoxville police say they found marijuana in Kelly’s car during a traffic stop. Both have been suspended for Saturday’s game at Kentucky, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported Wednesday.

Knoxville police say they stopped a car that had a headlight out Tuesday at about 10:46 p.m. Police said they searched the vehicle with Kelly’s consent after smelling marijuana, and that 4.6 grams of marijuana and a glass pipe were found in the console.

Kelly was driving the car, and Ignont was a passenger. Police said neither Kelly nor Ignont said they owned the items in the console. Police said that since the items were located between Kelly and Ignont, they decided to cite each person in the car with one of the items found.

Kelly, the Volunteers’ leading rusher, was cited for possession of Schedule VI. Tennessee law defines marijuana as a “Schedule VI” drug. He also was cited for having no proof of insurance and for his car having a non-working headlight.

Ignont was cited for possession of drug paraphernalia.

Police said both Kelly and Ignont were cooperative and were permitted to drive off after the traffic stop. They are scheduled to turn themselves in to the Knox County Sheriff’s Office for booking Nov. 7.

Tennessee athletic department spokesman Zach Stipe said that “we are aware of the incident and we are looking into it.”

Kelly, a junior from Detroit, has rushed for 615 yards and six touchdowns on 125 carries. He also has a team-high 26 catches for 255 yards. Kelly averages 87.9 yards rushing per game, fourth in the SEC.

Ignont, a freshman from Huntsville, Ala., has four tackles this season.

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Saturday

Tennessee at Kentucky

7:30 p.m. (SEC)

Records: Kentucky (5-2, 2-2 SEC); Tennessee (3-4, 0-4 SEC)

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