Two Offensive Positions to Watch During Kentucky's Spring Practice
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Two Offensive Positions to Watch During Kentucky's Spring Practice

Article written by:Freddie MaggardFreddie Maggard
kentucky-football-spring-practice-offensive-positions-to-watch
Photo by Dr. Michael Huang | Kentucky Sports Radio

Teams with a prodigious quarterback have a chance. Kentucky fits that description with the emergence of Will Levis, who is a rising star in the Southeastern Conference. To the delight of the Big Blue Nation, fan-favorite running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. announced his return and is joined by capable rushers in Kavosiey Smoke, JuTahn McClain, and La’Vell Wright. Vince Marrow’s tight ends are arguably the offense’s most talented collection and the interior offensive line brings back some familiar faces. Multiple starters return but a couple of spots on the two-deep are wide-open for competition. The two most pressing vacancies are at receiver and tackle. Let’s take a deeper look.  

Wan'Dale Robinson - Kentucky
Photo by Dr. Michael Huang | Kentucky Sports Radio

Receiver 

Coordinator Liam Coen is in a predicament. The play-caller received a hefty raise and is facing the nearly impossible task of replacing record-breaking pass-catcher Wan’Dale Robinson. The do-it-all receiver caught 104 passes for 1,334 yards and seven touchdowns in his lone season in Lexington. Robinson’s 102 receiving yards per game will likely be filled by a rotation of contributors instead of a single player. In addition to Robinson, Kentucky will move on from longtime starter Josh Ali, who racked up 131 career receptions. Veteran Isaiah Epps hit the Portal and is now at Tulsa. 

For the second consecutive season, Mark Stoops secured the signature of productive pass catcher via the portal. Former Virginia Tech Hokie Tayvion Robinson accumulated 113 catches for 1,555 yards during his stay in Blacksburg. He’ll be joined by four receivers that recorded catches in 2021: DeMarcus Harris (13), Rahsaan Lewis (2), Tae Tae Crumes (1), and Chauncey Magwood (1). Clevan Thomas also announced his return for a sixth season. Early enrollee Dane Key will team up with promising second-year players Chris Lewis and Dekel Crowdus to form an exciting receiver room that is filled with mostly unproven entities. UK’s influx of talent at the position is astounding when compared to previous seasons. 

Spring practice is vital for the receiver position. Will Levis’ heavy reliance on Wan’Dale Robinson presented a disproportionate percentage of targets and catches. The signal-caller will need to establish timing and familiarity with new targets which will be of the essence for Kentucky to continue its rise in passing efficiency. Coen has veteran options at tight end and running back which could be a point of emphasis in the Cats’ early-season passing attack while the receiver situation develops. On paper, the Wildcats have more talent at receiver than any time during the Stoops era. It’s now time for projection to meet production.

Remember, players discussed above are specific to spring practice to include early enrollees. Exciting news popped on Thursday that Kentucky secured the commitment of Alabama transfer receiver Javon Baker. Baker is a former high school All-American that brings yet another electrifying downfield option for Will Levis and Liam Coen. It is unknown at the time of this post if Baker will participate in spring practice. If he’s on campus this semester, Kentucky has a legitimate opportunity to time up a potential Top-15 offense in college football.

Photo by Dr. Michael Huang | Kentucky Sports Radio

Tackle  

For the first time in a long time, the Big Blue Wall is under major construction. This especially applies to the tackle position. Much like the situation with Wan’Dale Robinson, Kentucky must replace an all-timer in Darian Kinnard. The All-American tackle is considered one of the best in program history and was a consistent force on the edge for many seasons. LSU transfer Dare Rosenthal’s surprising declaration for the NFL Draft left Kentucky void of both starters. Factor in All-SEC center Luke Fortner’s departure, offensive line coach Eric Wolford could be playing musical chairs along the front five during spring practice. Mid-year All-American guard Eli Cox may get a look at center. Quintin Wilson is a three-spot, utility player that can align at center or guard. Multi-year starting guard Kenneth Horsey was the team’s third tackle and earned a start in the Citrus Bowl. Lots of mix-matching will take place this spring. Kentucky has traditionally emphasized multi-role offensive linemen in terms of player development; that theory will be tested in 2022. 

There’s still time for Kentucky to dip into the portal for a tackle to be named later. But for now, guard Kenneth Horsey is a likely candidate to man one of the two tackle spots. An abundance of interior offensive linemen afforded the Cats the luxury to move Horsey around to positions of need in 2021. Another option is Jeremy Flax. The Detroit, Michigan product was rated by 247Sports as the top JUCO offensive tackle in the nation in 2019. The 6’6″, 350-pound lineman earned snaps following a redshirt season but struggled at times against SEC pass rushers. DeOndre Buford and David Wohlabaugh will also have a chance to impress and earn clock during spring practice. 

Five-star tackle Kiyaunta Goodwin was a major recruiting win for Vince Marrow. Goodwin was a highly sought-after prospect and has been tied to Kentucky for many years. The 6’8″, 340-pound All American is an early enrollee which will afford him the benefit of much-needed, football-specific reps. Expectation management is the key with Goodwin. Left tackles that are day-one, plug-and-play contributors are extremely rare. You can’t coach his size, reach, and athletic ability. However, there are positional specifics that will take some time to develop. 

What Does All This Mean?

Kentucky won the portal in 2021 specifically with the additions of tackle Dare Rosenthal and receiver Wan’Dale Robinson. The one-and-done duo is off to the NFL. Replacing both will not be easy and it may take time during spring practice to identify and develop their replacements. 

I expect receiver production will be done more so by committee in 2022. Will Levis’ favorite pass catcher Wan’Dale Robinson was extraordinarily targeted and dominated the stat sheet during the Cats’ 10-3 season. Spring practice will be vital for Levis to establish timing and trust with a group of talented yet unfamiliar pass catchers. Tayvion Robinson is expected to be the leader of the receiver room. Javon Baker’s status for spring practice has yet to be determined. However, the Cats have an abundance of potential contributors that will compete for playing time. 

Tackles Dare Rosenthal and Darian Kinnard are preparing for the 2022 NFL Draft. Their combined departure will be difficult to overcome. Rosenthal’s absence during the Citrus Bowl brought light to the fact that the Cats didn’t have a trusted third tackle.  The portal is still an option, but there are players on campus that will get an opportunity during spring practice. Expectations for true freshman high school All-American Kiyaunta Goodwin are extremely high. But, patience may be in order as the rookie finds his way during the transition from high school to college football. 

2022 will feature many new names for the Kentucky offense. But, a familiar face (Levis) will be calling the signals and handing the football off to a running back (Rodriguez Jr.) that has the chance to own numerous school records. Liam Coen will need to identify and develop a two-deep rotation at receiver. The coordinator has a great deal of potential targets at his disposal. The Big Blue Wall will also have a different look to it next season. That room’s culture and personality are unique. Standards are concrete and a drop-off will not be tolerated. Kentucky has recruited well along the offensive line of scrimmage. Spring practice will be a test of that group’s player development. 

Spring practice will be different this year. The coordinator and scheme are in place but new faces and names will litter the two-deep. Rosters will be mandatory at open practices especially for the receiver and tackle positions. Expectations are high for the Wildcats in 2022. Kentucky will likely be ranked in the preseason but there are several offensive unknowns. Liam Coen will certainly earn his raised salary in the months leading up to fall camp.

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2022-05-20