Earlier I posted my three main concerns going into the season. Now I’m going to dive into my three most encouraging. In a crucial year being played in a new and improved Commonwealth Stadium, a collection of positions will help to usher Mark Stoops to his potential first bowl game.
The first group featured is the pass catchers:
First, the fundamental position differences. Receivers are labeled differently by coaches or scheme. Generally, there are three types: X, Y, and Z. X indicates the outside receiver; Z plays inside and formally titled as flanker, and Y labels the tight end, an additional inside receiver, or hybrid.
The more I write about the 2013-14 seasons, one deficient factor remains constant: lack of consistent middle of the field passing threat from the Z and Y. Alexander Montgomery and Jeff Badet’s absence crippled production. Coupled with little to no TE receptions, throwing over the middle field was non-existent. Result was defenses were able to provide more personnel dedicated to stopping the run.
Moving on, two Shannon Dawson coached WR’s were selected in this year’s NFL Draft. Eventually, UK will have the same claim. Through research, Dawson-led offenses have one commonality: fast and aggressive receivers with excessive YAC (yards after catch).
Sophomore trio of Garret Johnson, Jeff Badet, and TV Williams provides Dawson with big-play WR’s capable of working the void between linebackers and safeties. With Ryan Timmons’ return from spring surgery and true freshman addition Tavin Richardson, Patrick Towles will have more than enough inside targets to force one on ones on the outside as well as keep defenses from stacking the box (7 or more defenders lined up 3-5 yds off line of scrimmage to stop the run). Joey Herrick and Charles Walker will provide proven depth.
Note: Inside receivers are normally the smaller of the two WR positions. Lacking in size; speed is optimal, courage mandatory.
Projected starter: Garrett Johnson/Jeff Badet/Ryan Timmons
Much like pass rushing DE’s, the X position is the headline grabber. Red zone fade routes, vertical throws, and 50/50 passes lead to larger yards/TD per catch ratio. Outside, Dawson will also have his weapon of choice. Blake Bone and Dorian Baker showed early promise but later struggled releasing from the line of scrimmage against veteran SEC CB’s. A year of strength training will likely correct. Adding depth will be promising redshirt freshman Thaddeus Snodgrass along with true freshmen Therrell Gosier (former U commit) and Jabari Greenwood. Side note, Therrell Gosier’s film was captivating. All three can factor. As a group, expect more passes thrown in their direction. See above, effective inside passing threat clears the way for one on one situations. This will highly benefit the X position. Stretching the field by increased vertical completions will give the offense a different look and viability to score more points.
Note: X or outside receivers are preferably over 6’2 with non-negotiable traits being speed, strong hands, excessive vertical jump, and the ability to influence defenders in one on one scenarios.
Projected starters: Dorian Baker and Blake Bone
Prior lack of production has been talked to death. Moving on. Jacob Tamme is the standard. Meeting that expectation unrealistic. Enter two freshmen, CJ Conrad and Darryl Long. Spring practice formed multiple CJ Conrad discussions. To say I’m high on this kid would be a massive understatement. Conrad has every trait to become a quality SEC TE. Remember from earlier post, counting on true freshmen for SEC wins can be misleading hope. Not in this case. CJ may hit the freshman wall, but he’s ready now, today. Darryl Long was a steal in the 14 class. I actually expected him to play as a true freshman but apparently upper body strength, critical in blocking, required improvement. Common in freshman. He and CJ will develop into a legitimate TE duo. Going against instinct, but collectively these two rookies could become the most obvious positional upgrade on the roster. Tavin Richardson could also be utilized as a Hybrid Y or part WR, part TE. I’m not skilled or experienced enough writer to communicate my enthusiasm. Maybe I should have used all caps.
Note: TE’s require a unique blend of size, athleticism, and strength due to varied responsibilities. Blocking and catching equally important. TE’s are also QB’s safety blanket or life jacket. This upgrade alone will increase QB completion percentage by 5%.
Projected starter: CJ Conrad
Receiver’s Coach Tommy Mainord is a recruiting rock star who coined the “Yahtzee” phrase. Tommy Mainord can also flat out coach. Expect a dramatically improved pass catching group of athletes.