UK Football

Tight end a position of opportunity

Tight ends have not been a position of emphasis for Kentucky since Jacob Tamme left Lexington after the 2007 season.

Last year, UK's tight ends combined for just 17 catches for 159 yards and two touchdowns. Tamme, now with the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, had 56 catches for 619 yards and six touchdowns in his senior year alone.

The Kentucky coaching staff would love to get the tight ends more involved in the passing game, but it remains to be seen if one or two consistent weapons will emerge.

Five players have been battling during fall camp, and no one has stood out.

The front-runner going into August was junior Nick Melillo, the only tight end on the roster with game experience. Melillo (five receptions for 44 yards in 2009) was the unit's most effective pass catcher in the spring but has missed a good portion of fall camp with an undisclosed injury.

That has allowed four freshmen to receive most of the snaps during practice: redshirts Anthony Kendrick and Jordan Aumiller, and true freshmen Tyler Robinson and Alex Smith.

Robinson, who hails from the same Alcoa, Tenn., program that produced junior wide receiver Randall Cobb, has been the biggest surprise among the quartet and is making a big push for a starting job.

"He's the guy that's been taking advantage of the reps," Coach Joker Phillips said. "He continues to get better. You watch the film, he had some huge blocks for us on the edge in the run game, and he made a big play down the field, which was something we thought he wouldn't be ready to do this year. But he caught a nice little corner route for 20 yards. He's a guy who's slowly moving up the depth chart."

The 6-foot-3, 243-pound Robinson was a pass-catching demon at Alcoa, snagging 17 touchdown receptions in his senior year alone. He's also not afraid to get his nose dirty in the running game.

"I've tried to be physical," Robinson said. "The coaches always say we need to be a physical football team, so that's what I'm trying to thrive on, especially in my blocking. I want to try and go down and lay somebody out every time and get noticed."

Right behind Robinson is Aumiller, a Boyle County graduate who switched to tight end from linebacker in the spring. Aumiller spent the summer bulking up after practicing at 220 pounds during his redshirt year and is starting to get the hang of his new position.

"I'm a lot more comfortable than I was in the spring," Aumiller said. "I just kind of got thrown out there, and I was screwing up all the time. Now I'm starting to get the technique down and understanding things better."

Kendrick provides a big target (6-3, 252) with good hands but is still working on becoming a better and more physical blocker.

Smith was the highest-ranked member of UK's recruiting class but is running behind the others.

"He's like a lot of freshmen; he just needs time to catch up to the speed of the game," tight ends coach Greg Nord said of Smith. "There are a lot of nuances he's got to learn. Alex is going to be a good player."

Nord said he's hoping that Melillo will be back for the Louisville game but is making a contingency plan without him. Whether the tight end position will be a vital part of UK's passing game remains to be seen.

"A lot of that depends on how they do," Nord said. "The better they do the more you feed 'em. If they catch it when they're open, you're going to give them an opportunity to do it again and again. When their number is called, they've got to make plays. There'll be plays they have to make. Tamme is one of the best to ever play at this school, so you had to get him the ball. Hopefully one of these guys develops into a player much like that."