UK Football

UK football: Cats look to young receivers to step up

UK wide receiver A.J. Legree caught a pass in the Samford game last season. Kentucky needs him to catch a few Saturday.
UK wide receiver A.J. Legree caught a pass in the Samford game last season. Kentucky needs him to catch a few Saturday. Herald-Leader

Like a Jeopardy! champion in the final round, Javess Blue had the answer pop in his head within seconds.

With two of Kentucky's top three wide receivers out for Saturday's game against No. 9 Missouri, which UK player is going to make a big play on Saturday?

"A.J. Legree," Blue answered (not necessarily in the form of a question).

Why? "He's been a playmaker, catching every ball that's been thrown to him, coming down, making plays, blocking," Blue said of his fellow wide receiver. "He's everywhere on the field."

Legree might have to be with Kentucky losing Alexander Montgomery (out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament) and Ryan Timmons (likely out at least this game with an ankle sprain).

There's been lots of shuffling on offense to try and make up for the combined 43 catches, 432 yards and four touchdowns put up this season by the two injured true freshman.

In their place are six other wide receivers that have combined this season for just 32 catches, 383 yards and three touchdowns.

Legree, who is in that group with his four catches for 36 yards, said he's doing everything he can to get ready to be a key player for the Cats (2-6, 0-4 Southeastern Conference) against Missouri.

"I just feel like I've been persistent lately," said Legree, who played his way back into the active wide receiver rotation by excelling on special teams, where he's had more tackles this season (seven) than catches.

"I want to make plays for this team. I just want to do my part. ... "Lately, I've been showing them that I can help, so they've been factoring me in."

Quarterback Jalen Whitlow still has UK's top threat, Blue with his 28 grabs for 346 yards and two touchdowns and Whitlow's likely going to throw more often to a much healthier, more active Demarco Robinson (12 catches for 140 yards and two touchdowns).

But other wide receivers, players like Jeff Badet, Ronnie Shields and Daryl Collins, are going to have to become factors against a Tigers defense that has picked off a league-best 17 passes already this season.

"It's not a deal where we're looking at one guy or anything like that," wide receivers coach Tommy Mainord said. "This is a unit and that's part of it; things happen; it happens with every football team. Whoever it is, the next guy's going to step up and do a great job. I have no doubt about it."

Mainord and offensive coordinator Neal Brown have been rotating some of their receivers around to other wideout spots, hoping to find a good fit. Players like Robinson, Ronnie Shields and Anthony Kendrick may be asked to play at positions where they haven't necessarily been playing most of this season.

"We moved some guys around," Whitlow said. "Guys are making plays in different positions, so that's good."

The more veteran wide receivers have been fairly easy to move around and they may be called on to play in different spots.

For instance, Legree and Robinson have been getting some looks at the inside wide receiver spot. Several of the tight ends have been seeing action in the slot.

"Just trying to figure out, experiment based on what plays we want people in and trying to get our best guys out there and play," Mainord said. "Really, I'm not feeling a great fall-off with some of these guys. I think we're OK."

The change hasn't been that difficult on any of them, the position coach added.

"It's more technique than anything else," Mainord said. "We're moving some guys around a looking around and seeing what they do best and just kind experimenting and we'll make decisions for the weekend."

Blue has seen some of the lesser-used receivers getting better with each reception, with each repetition in practice.

Yes, he likes what he's seeing from players like Legree, but he knows others will have to make some plays, too.

"We need all the help we can get," Blue said. "But at the same time, we've got to step it up. We've got a couple guys down, so we have to come together as a team, as a whole offense. We have to run our plays efficiently and dominate, basically."


No. 9 Missouri at Kentucky

When: Noon


Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader