By: ASHLEY SCOBY
Some of football’s fiercest battles will probably always remain in the trenches, but for Kentucky, it’s been a “dog fight” slightly closer to the sidelines this spring.
Answering their coaches’ call to be more physical, Kentucky’s wide receiver corps has gotten bigger, stronger and maybe a little meaner during the offseason.
“It’s like a dog fight every time you go out there with the DBs,” said receiver Jeff Badet, who is coming off a 22-catch, 285-yard freshman campaign. “We do a lot of one-on-one drills and blocking drills. It’s a lot of physicality out here between us and the DBs.”
Cornerback Cody Quinn said the intensity has picked up tremendously in practice, and that Badet was one of three receivers that really stood out to him in terms of chippiness.
Demarco Robinson, who is fighting for his spot back on the team after being indefinitely suspended last season, and Rashad Cunningham, who was ineligible for all of the 2013 season, were the other two players Quinn mentioned.
“We go at it every day,” Cunningham said. “It’s an ongoing thing, kind of like a cornerback/wide receiver type of beef.”
Offensive coordinator Neal Brown said that at this time last year, Kentucky’s receiving corps was as “behind” as any unit in the country. Although the team is still a year or so away from achieving the depth it wants, according to Brown, the guys this year are “more coachable” and more willing to study the game. Once players better understand where they’re supposed to be and what they’re supposed to do, physicality can reign supreme.
This year’s wideouts are also more willing to step into the weight room. Of all the wide receivers, sophomore-to-be Ryan Timmons was the one with the biggest jump in weight, going from 185 last season to being listed at 193 for spring practice.
Erik Korem’s “High Performance” program prides itself on helping players lose the “bad” weight and gain the muscle necessary to play in the Southeastern Conference.
“His body looks a lot better,” Brown said of Timmons. “Where he played three sports in high school, which is a good thing, he just wasn’t in the weight room a ton, and he had that shoulder surgery about this time last year so he didn’t get to go through any of our offseason stuff.”
For Timmons, the increased intensity in practice is one thing that has motivated him to get in the weight room.
“I want to try and dominate whoever is in front of me so lifting is one of the main things that I’m trying to focus on,” he said.
The competition in practice is not limited to offense/defense, though. There has even been a little friendly rivalry among the receivers.
Freshman TV Williams came into Kentucky with the reputation of having lightning speed, at 5-10 and 160 pounds. At the same height, Timmons has always had that reputation, too, especially as a two-time Kentucky state champion in the 100-meter dash (and one-time champ in the 200). So obviously, there had to be a race between the two.
“I didn’t kill him,” Timmons said with a smile. “He’s fast, but I beat him. We settled that.”
That kind of competition is what Kentucky’s coaches like to see, especially when last year’s receiving corps was lacking in depth and production. The 2013 season saw Kentucky finish 10th in the SEC in passing offense, and 11th in yards-per-catch.
This time around, coaches are preaching physicality not just as receivers try to get open, but in their blocking schemes, too. From top to bottom, this year’s wideouts are bringing more muscle to their duties.
“We’ve incorporated some drills and half line, things like that where maybe the defense knows screens are coming and so we’re just flying to the ball, making them put their face on the defender and learn how to block and how to be tough,” said head coach Mark Stoops. “We’re getting better.”