2017 Kentucky Football Position Previews: Tight Ends
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2017 Kentucky Football Position Previews: Tight Ends

Nick Roushover 4 years

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Article written by:Nick RoushNick Roush

@RoushKSR

KSR's preseason position previews series continues with John Schlarman's offensive line.  Don't miss earlier previews of the Special TeamsOffensive LineWide ReceiversRunning Backs and Quarterbacks.

The Personnel 

C.J. Conrad --  A preseason All-SEC selection, Conrad's been UK's primary tight end since he arrived on campus in 2015.  As a sophomore he caught four touchdown passes, but had only four more receptions than his freshman year total.  Even with just 19 receptions, he earned respect from his peers and coaches as an exceptional run blocker.  Conrad enters his junior season with a chance to earn his way onto NFL draft boards. Conrad's exceptional blocking skills are highlighted in the following footage from the UofL game.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aY5h_WA7tyg Greg Hart --  The Nebraska transfer caught 6 passes for 32 yards in his first season of eligibility for UK.  Hart has a reputation as a head-buster and is an important piece to UK's run game. Justin Rigg --  Rigg played right away on special teams as a true freshman, but a lacerated kidney two games into the season forced him onto the sideline until bowl season.  The largest player in the meeting room (6'6" 250 pounds), some thought he might bulk up and move down to tackle.  Vince Marrow laughs at that notion; Marrow says "Riggs" has the softest hands on the team. Jaylin Bannerman --  The newest addition to the meeting room, the redshirt freshman made plays on the defensive side of the ball as an outside linebacker in the spring game.  With a wealth of depth at his position, the coaches moved him to offense during preseason training camp.

The Storylines 

Can Johnson Connect with Conrad?  Fans were frustrated to see Stephen Johnson miss Conrad time after time as the quick option in the RPO.  They simply couldn't get the timing right, with the passes often sailing just over Conrad's outstretch fingertips.  The worst of the worst was against Alabama.  Wide open in the middle of the field, a touchdown would have given Kentucky a lead and put pressure on the Crimson Tide. The two spent the summer working on their timing.  The coaches are confident that it will not be a problem this fall, especially after Johnson took significant steps forward as an intermediate passer.  They must prove it in a game situation, but I'm confident the two can consistently connect in 2017. The two connected in the flat against New Mexico State.  Conrad said afterward, "I was pretty dead-set on the fact that I was going to get caught." https://youtu.be/hoe3deIAlmY?t=16s Three Reliable Options -- Conrad is the household name for Kentucky fans, but Eddie Gran loves all three of his options at tight end. "We’ve got three really good tight ends,”said Gran at the start of camp. They aren't fighting for snaps.  All three will receive significant reps. “They all three can coexist,” tight ends coach Vince Marrow said.  “C.J.’s a real good tight end, but I can put the other two in there and wouldn’t miss a beat.  That’s where we’re at now with our tight end position.” With three guys they can trust, the Kentucky offense will use more formations featuring two and three tight ends. How Will Bannerman fit in?  An elite athlete, Bannerman is still adjusting to the other side of the football.  Learning the playbook is obviously a challenge.  Learning how to block might even be more difficult.  He played offense in high school, but almost exclusively ran routes.  Marrow doesn't think Bannerman will have a problem. “I’ve seen them draft guys like that, who have the athletic ability and can get down the field,” Marrow told the Herald-Leader. “You can teach the other parts. That’s what they pay me for, I can teach that part. That won’t be a problem.” The Cats will not likely need to use Bannerman outside of a special teams role this year, but the 6'5" 240-pounder could be a much-needed addition to the tight end room next year.

The Prediction 

Following Dorian Baker's injury, the tight ends' job has become significantly more important.  Needing physical, big bodies on the edge, Eddie Gran will employ more tight ends instead of more wide receivers to mitigate Baker's loss. Last year the primary role of the tight ends was to open holes for Boom Williams and Benny Snell.  They remained unselfish and accepted the responsibility.  In 2016 the position caught just 25 total passes. That production must double in 2017. Kentucky's tight ends are too valuable to be exclusively used as blockers.  They have triumvirate of exceptional pass catchers, led by a guy who should be in the NFL this time next year if Conrad can consistently connect with his quarterback.

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2021-11-30