John Clay

Kentucky has found ways to win without Dorian Baker before

Without Dorian Baker, it's 'next man up' for Kentucky

Kentucky wide receivers coach Lamar Thomas and offensive coordinator Eddie Gran talk about the loss of senior Dorian Baker to injury and how the team must adjust.
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Kentucky wide receivers coach Lamar Thomas and offensive coordinator Eddie Gran talk about the loss of senior Dorian Baker to injury and how the team must adjust.

Here’s the thing to remember about the loss of Dorian Baker: Kentucky basically played without the wide receiver last season. And won seven games. And went to a bowl.

That’s not to minimize the loss of the senior from Cleveland Heights, Ohio, who suffered a fractured and dislocated ankle in last Saturday’s scrimmage and, after surgery, is likely done for the season.

It was a hamstring injury that forced Baker to miss three full games in 2016 and limited his snaps in others. He didn’t catch a pass until the season’s eighth game. He didn’t catch a touchdown pass until the regular-season finale at Louisville, though the grab was certainly an important one; the 35-yard score that put the Cats up 38-31 in a 41-38 victory.

After catching 55 passes his sophomore season, Baker’s junior season was hampered by dropped balls and lingering ailments. If he doesn’t make it back in 2017, he can redshirt and play in 2018. By all reports, he had worked diligently over the summer to prepare for his senior season, only to see it likely end before it began.

“I’m getting a little misty-eyed right now just thinking about it because he really put the time in,” UK wide receivers coach Lamar Thomas said after Tuesday’s practice.

I’m getting a little misty-eyed right now just thinking about it.

UK wide receivers coach Lamar Thomas on Dorian Baker’s injury

The Cats have been here before, however. Baker didn’t play in last year’s season opener against Southern Miss. True, Kentucky then had Jeff Badet, now a graduate transfer at Oklahoma. Badet led UK in receiving yards last season. But Badet was a speedster, averaging 21.6 yards per catch. At 6-foot-3, 211 pounds, Baker is a different type receiver, big, physical. He’s not a burner.

Can Baker be replaced? That’s the question. And who’s the next man up?

“It is, it’s the next man up,” offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said. “Who’s that guy? They’re all going to get opportunities.”

Early speculation has pinpointed junior Kayaune Ross, who at 6-6 and 225 pounds gives UK a tall red-zone target. A junior-college transfer last season, Ross was limited by injuries to two catches. He has had a good camp, Gran reported, but needs to be more consistent.

After watching part of practice open to the media on Tuesday, I predict freshman Clevan Thomas will be a factor. At 5-11, Thomas lacks Baker’s height, plus he’s a true freshman. The Miami, Fla., native was here for spring drills, however, and looks like he knows how to run routes.

He had a couple of practices where he was kind of, I don’t know about lost, but he was just still learning. Then all of a sudden, the light clicked on and he had three practices in a row that were really good.

UK offensive coordinator Eddie Gran on Clevan Thomas

“He had a couple of practices where he was kind of, I don’t know about lost, but he was just still learning,” Gran said Tuesday. “Then all of a sudden, the light clicked on and he had three practices in a row that were really good. He understands it. He’s getting better. He’s physical when he runs the ball and he loves football.”

Then there’s Lynn Bowden, the heralded true freshman who took a step back in UK’s second scrimmage after starring in the first. Gran thinks tired legs caused the dip. Bowden appeared fresher Tuesday. He’ll get the football.

So will the tight ends. I’ll be shocked if C.J. Conrad does not double his reception total of 19 a year ago. The analysts at Pro Football Focus ranked the junior No. 1 among returning SEC tight ends in yards per route run. Backups Greg Hart and Justin Rigg could be factors in the passing game, as well.

Bottom line: Losing Baker, after left tackle Cole Mosier was lost for the season to a torn ACL last week, is unfortunate but not a season-killer. Baker has a pro body, but had yet to show the consistency NFL scouts seek. Phil Steele ranked 78 draft-eligible wide receivers for 2017. Baker was not among them.

It’s doubtful he will be among the Cats this year, at least on the field, but the same was true for much of 2016 and UK found a way to win. It can do the same in 2017.

The UK football team practiced at the Joe Craft Training Center football practice field Tuesday morning.

Dorian Baker game-by-game at Kentucky

Date

Opponent

Rec

Yds

TD

8/30/14

UT-Martin

3

29

0

9/6/14

Ohio

2

41

1

9/13/14

@Florida

4

37

0

9/27/14

Vanderbilt

2

15

0

10/4/14

South Carolina

DNP

  

10/11/14

UL-Monroe

3

38

0

10/18/14

@LSU

0

0

0

10/25/14

Miss State

3

22

0

11/1/14

@Missouri

1

6

0

11/8/14

Georgia

1

11

0

11/15/14

@Tennessee

0

0

0

11/29/14

@Louisville

DNP

  

9/5/15

UL-Lafayette

3

50

0

9/12/15

@S Carolina

5

55

0

9/19/15

Florida

4

38

0

9/26/15

Missouri

5

51

0

10/3/15

E Kentucky

8

86

2

10/15/15

Auburn

6

66

0

10/24/15

@Miss State

7

56

0

10/31/15

Tennessee

5

43

0

11/7/15

@Georgia

3

31

0

11/14/15

@Vandy

7

42

0

11/21/15

Charlotte

0

0

0

11/28/15

Louisville

3

94

0

9/3/16

Southern Miss

DNP

  

9/10/16

@Florida

0

0

0

9/17/16

New Mexico State

0

0

0

9/24/16

South Carolina

DNP

  

10/1/16

@Alabama

DNP

  

10/8/16

Vanderbilt

0

0

0

10/22/16

Miss State

0

0

0

10/29/16

@Missouri

4

48

0

11/5/16

Georgia

3

42

0

11/12/16

@Tennessee

3

35

0

11/19/16

Austin Peay

1

10

0

11/26/16

@Louisville

1

35

1

12/31/16

vsGeorgia Tech

2

38

1

Dorian Baker’s career college statistics

Season

Rec

Yards

Avg

TD

Long

2016

14

208

14.9

2

35

2015

55

608

11.1

3

53

2014

19

199

10.5

1

33

Totals

88

1015

11.5

6

53

      

Kentucky receivers 2016

Receiver

Rec

Yards

Avg

TD

Long

Garrett Johnson

39

585

15.0

5

75

Jeff Badet

31

670

21.6

4

72

Ryan Timmons

23

266

11.6

0

32

Dorian Baker

14

208

14.9

2

35

Tavin Richardson

9

160

17.8

0

41

Stanley Williams

8

56

7.0

1

15

Greg Hart

6

32

5.3

0

11

Sihiem King

3

14

4.7

0

11

Jojo Kemp

2

5

2.5

0

4

Kayaune Ross

2

10

5.0

1

9

Stephen Johnson

1

-3

-3.0

0

0

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