UK Football

‘We’ve gotta step up.’ Last-place pass attack a focus of UK’s spring agenda.

C.J. Conrad takes part in Pro Day after fearing playing days were over

Kentucky’s C.J. Conrad took part in the team’s Pro Day after a health scare ahead of the NFL Combine this month indicated his dream might be done.
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Kentucky’s C.J. Conrad took part in the team’s Pro Day after a health scare ahead of the NFL Combine this month indicated his dream might be done.

University of Kentucky wide receivers coach Michael Smith is aware that the Wildcats’ air attack is in need of improvement.

UK last season ranked last in the Southeastern Conference with an average of 161.5 passing yards per game. That was about 60 fewer than SEC East champ Georgia, which led the conference in rushing at 239.2 yards per game; UK’s ground-oriented, Benny Snell-led offense was sixth at 202.

Snell is now in pursuit of a pro career. Even if the Wildcats can get similar production from A.J. Rose and the younger backs behind him, finding more balance seems crucial for another successful fall.

“I know myself as a coach I’m willing to take on that challenge and I’m showing it with my players. We’ve gotta step up,” Smith said following UK’s practice Tuesday. “Benny graduated. We’ve got a lot of confidence in A.J. Rose, but if you’re a defensive coordinator, you’re gonna come in here to stop the run, and until we prove that we can move the ball throwing it on a consistent basis, I don’t see anybody doing it different. So it’s very important that we continue to get detailed, and we continue to play fast and develop ourselves as pass catchers.”

Head coach Mark Stoops had good things to say about the passing game following the Cats’ first intrasquad scrimmage Saturday, lauding their efficiency in practice and their overall progress. Smith was impressed in particular by Bryce Oliver, a freshman who redshirted last season. The 6-foot-1, 209-pound receiver was rated as a three-star prospect out of high school; his offers included Louisville, Central Florida and Iowa.

Smith called him a “willing soul” and a “determined route-runner” with strong hands.

“I think Saturday he showed he that can run,” Smith said. “He’s not a 4.6 kid. He can run.”

That speed could be a difference-maker in carving out a role for a unit in need of firepower. After Lynn Bowden — last year’s leading receiver with 745 yards and five touchdowns — four of UK’s next five leading receivers either graduated (David Bouvier, Dorian Baker, C.J. Conrad) or transferred (Tavin Richardson).

Juniors-to-be Josh Ali and Isaiah Epps will be expected to produce. Oliver, fellow freshman redshirt Akeem Hayes, sophomore Allen Dailey and Clevan Thomas — who played in eight games as a freshman and three last year before redshirting — will have opportunities to make their mark. Those guys didn’t see much field time — collectively they caught 24 passes in 2018 — but went up against their teammates in the secondary enough to show that they’re capable, athletically.

“It’s always a blessing in disguise when you have the type of DBs that we had here last year, especially for the young guys that were on the scout team, cause they went against them more than our 1’s and 2’s did during the season,” Smith said. “For those guys to get challenged at an early level and get a taste of what SEC play is like, from a practice standpoint, is good.

“Now we’ve gotta transition that into game performance.”

Blue-White Spring Game

When: April 12, 6 p.m.

Where: Kroger Field

Admission: Free

TV: SEC Network

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