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By LARRY VAUGHT
First-year Kentucky receivers coach Pat Washington spent most of spring practice trying to instill confidence into his players who struggled at times last season to make catches and has done the same during preseason workouts. He’s seen senior Larod King, last year’s top receiver, emerge as a more vocal leader but continues to insist he wants to have at least three “guys who can make plays” at any time whether they are in space or ready to take a big hit when the pass arrives.
After Thursday’s practice, Washington talked about some of his younger, inexperience receivers who may or may not be big-play contributors this season.
Question: How is redshirt Daryl Collins coming back off his knee injury?
Washington: “I think he is progressing well. Coming back from an injury, particularly like him with his kneecap, is not as easy as it seems from the outside. Any kind of cut you make, it feels a little funny and you are afraid the same episode will happen. Has progressed well. has a setback here and there, but for the most part he’s good.”
Question: Does he still have that explosiveness and big-play ability that had UK coaches so excited a year ago?
Washington: “In time I think he can be a big-time playmaker. It’s a process. I don’t think it is going to happen overnight, but he does have the ability. As long as he continues to work and gains more confidence in what he is doing and his knee improves, he will be okay.”
Question: How have redshirt freshmen Bookie Cobbins and Rashad Cunningham done in preseason camp?
Washington: “They still have work to do. Bookie being a quarterback (in high school) and being new at the position and Rashad playing in a Wing-T offense in high school, it is all different for them. I think they are getting better. They are not quite where they need to be, but they are getting better.”
Question: Does it take time even for players to realize it is not an easy transition to a new position, new offense?
Washington: “Some guys, it is more natural. Like Randall Cobb, you could put him at cornerback and he would start tomorrow. He’s just a natural football player and athlete. Some guys have to train themselves to be a good position player. That’s very hard and frustrating. They are good athletes. Some guys can run around and play football and you put a basketball in their hands and they can’t dribble a ball or shoot it.
“It is frustrating when you are an athlete thinking you can do these things and then you have to do it and you can’t. I have patience and I hope they have patience as well.”
Question: What makes true freshmen Demarcus Sweat and A.J. Legree so good that coach Joker Phillips is already calling them special players?
Washington: “They just get it. They are receivers. The only thing with freshmen is the learning curve and learning the system and playing with guys that are playing as fast daily as maybe the best team they played against in high school. It’s like playing their toughest opponent every day, which is tough. I remember a guy I coached who went to pro football that I coached and I asked him how it was. He said, ‘Coach, it is like playing Florida every day.’ That was pretty tough back in the days when (coach) Steve Spurrier was there. So for them, it is the same thing. It’s like playing their best high school game every day, so they have to compete at that level every day. Sometimes it is hard to get yourself up to compete at that level. If you don’t, you look bad. If you do, sometimes you do well.”
Question: When they are competing at a high level, are they special?
Washington: “I think so. They have the ability to play the position like you want them to play. Just the natural things of coming out of cuts, catching the football. They both have really good hands, really strong hands. You don’t have to spend a lot of time teaching guys that have played the position all the little points that you have to teach guys who have not played the position. These guys have been doing it in high school and can understand it. They get it quick.”
Question: Experience is great in the SEC, but how much better is just pure talent like they seem to have?
Washington: “You would like to have both and sooner or later we will have both with those guys. Experience is a huge factor, particularly early in the year, but talent usually outweighs experience and they have talent.”