2017 Kentucky Football Position Previews: Wide Receivers
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2017 Kentucky Football Position Previews: Wide Receivers

Nick Roushover 4 years


Article written by:Nick RoushNick Roush


[caption id="attachment_225982" align="alignnone" width="2048"] Richardson, Baker and Walker via Andy Lyons.[/caption] KSR's preseason position previews series continues with Lamar Thomas' wide receivers.  Don't miss earlier previews of the Running Backs and Quarterbacks.

The Personnel 

Garrett "Juice" Johnson --  Juice led UK in receptions (39) and receiving touchdowns (5) in 2016.  The Cats' primary option in the slot, he hit a bump in the road in the middle of the season but bounced back with two HUGE touchdowns against Louisville in a five-catch, 164-yard performance.  He's had five career games with more than 100 yards receiving.  The trick is squeezing out more than two in 2017. Dorian Baker --  The big touchdown maker on the outside was marred by a preseason-hamstring injury in 2016.  This spring was the first time he's ever been healthy enough to complete spring practice.  Built like an NFL wide receiver, it's his year to prove that he can be that guy. Tavin Richardson --  After playing in all 13 games as a redshirt freshman in 2016, he's listed as a starter at outside wide receiver.  He caught 9 passes for 164 yards and pulled in a critical two-point conversion against Miss. State. Chuck Walker --  A former walk-on from Louisville St. X, the artist formerly known as Charles earned a scholarship prior to playing in every game last season.  One of the Cats' most consistent contributors, expect to see Walker in New York for the 2017 Heisman Trophy presentation. Kayaune Ross --  The gigantic junior college transfer scored a touchdown in his first game, but did not play a significant role for the rest of the year, with some of it attributed to an ankle injury.  He's taken leaps and bounds ahead this preseason, consistently earning praises from Eddie Gran and Lamar Thomas.  If teams want to play press man-to-man, "Godzilla" will make them pay more than T.J. Blake Bone --  In his first game as a Wildcat, Bone scored a 36-yard touchdown.  The 6'5" receiver showed immediate promise but has had an up-and-down career ever since, culminating with a career-low 5 catches for 82 yards in 2016.  Challenged in the offseason by the coaches, Lamar Thomas said he's seen the senior respond. Clevan Thomas --  The only freshman wide receiver to enroll early, Thomas has an impressive spring that culminated in the Blue/White Game with 3 catches for 28 yards and a touchdown.  He is the only freshman featured in UK's first two-deep depth chart. Since preseason camp began, three other freshmen have developed an excellent reputation around the practice fields.  In the first two practices of camp, Josh Ali and Isiah Epps caught the eyes of the coaches and quarterbacks.  Even though he arrived to camp a week late, Lynn Bowden made plays in the middle of the field in key situations in the Cats' first scrimmage.

The Storylines 

Will people ever forgive Dorian Baker?  The Kentucky wide receiver has caught a ton of big touchdowns, but none as big as the go-ahead touchdown last year at Louisville.  Instead of marveling at the touchdown, listen to Mike Patrick's first response: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uvSbON1e5fk Aside from the fact that Patrick is terrible at his job, "drop" is the first word many fans associate with Baker.  Instead of focusing on the game-winners (like against EKU) and how he "Saved a lot of people's jobs," as Lamar Thomas said, fans first think of the alliterative "Dorian Drops." The good news: he's over it.  I'm 100 percent confident he's tuned out that noise, but will anything ever silence that noise?  If "40-yard touchdown to beat your rival" doesn't do it, I don't know what will.  Jared Lorenzen has changed his tune on Baker, and I hope many will follow his lead. All Eyes on the Vets.  The talented group of receivers has become a tired storyline since 2015.  "This is the year they get it together," yet three season later we are still waiting to see consistency from the highly-touted 2014 recruiting class.  The problem isn't their ability to make highlight reel catches; it's the simple stuff they must do on a weekly basis to prove they are indeed NFL-caliber receivers. It wasn't a touchdown, but this might be the greatest highlight from the current crop of UK's receivers, courtesy of Juice Johnson.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WGpxGQFAHgM How do you replace Badet?  The Cats lost their greatest deep threat and the receiver who led the team in receiving yards in 2016.  A concern for many fans, it is not a big of a deal as you think.  Juice can play outside receiver too and proved against UofL he has enough speed to take the top end off a defense. Which freshmen will play?  In the first two weeks of camp, four freshmen receivers have proved they're prepared to play right away: Thomas, Ali, Epps and Bowden.  If Ali and Epps stay on the outside, it will be more difficult for them to find reps, but I do not foresee them (especially Ali) to remain outside once the season starts. Bowden made plays in his first week of camp, but he has a long way to go to learn the offense.  There will be plays designed to get the ball in Bowden's hands, but he will be used situationally until the coaches can trust him to play assignment-sound football.  Thomas is probably the most-likely to earn early snaps, but has not received the same amount of praise as the other three in the early parts of camp. One of them will be prominently featured, but only time will tell when, who and how they will be used.

The Prediction 

I want to say that I believe we'll see the most consistent group of wide receivers in Mark Stoops' five years at Kentucky, but like the doubtful Thomas, I gotta see it to believe it. Every one of the receivers has made big plays and shown flashes of greatness.  That's not the the problem.  Their problem is their ability to consistently make routine plays.  Throwing and catching is a simple basic part of college football.  If they can keep the drops away on the "easy" plays, the offense will exponentially improve. I can't promise consistency, but I can promise a change in how the passing game looks. Last year UK ran the ball to set up the pass.  When opponents stacked the box to stop the run, Eddie Gran drew up a play-action and Johnson let the ball fly deep.  Juice can be Johnson's deep threat, but the deep ball won't be his primary weapon.  In fact, Juice is at his best in the middle of the field.  There he will once again be UK's leading pass-catcher. Insert C.J. Conrad, Chuck Walker and multiple freshmen into the equation and you have weapons in the middle of the field that can't be easily covered by linebackers.  The highly reel from Saturday's scrimmage might be the most chopped up clip we've ever seen, but you still see three freshmen making catches in the middle third of the field. With a quarterback who's improved his efficiency on intermediate passes, you'll see a ton of targets in the middle of the field this fall that will extend drives, lead to more scores and give the defense more time to rest on the sideline.

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