This is the fifth in a series of posts which will break down the '08 football Cats. Today we break down the receivers.
As with the linebacker corps and the running backs, UK's receiver brigade will be relying on some new faces to replace two very talented graduating players. The loss of Keenan Burton and Steve Johnson severely impacts a position that has been very strong for the Cats for several years. Last year alone the two terrific wide-outs accounted for 126 catches, which were good for 1,782 yards and 22 touchdowns. Their individual career numbers are as follows:
- Burton -- 2,376 yards ( second to Craig Yeast in UK history ), 25 touchdowns ( also second to Craig Yeast in UK history ). Burton's 16 touchdown catches his junior year tops the UK record books for most TD receptions in a single season.
- Johnson -- 1,200 yards receiving in only two years, topped off with 1,040 yards last year. He scored 14 TD's in his career, with 13 coming last year, which is good for the third most TD's in a single season by a receiver in Kentucky history.
Burton and Johnson are two of only four receivers in UK history to amass 1,000+ receiving yards in a single season ( joining Yeast and James Whalen ). Even more important than eating up yardage, the two also made big play after big play:
- Johnson broke the hearts of Card fans with his 57 yard game-winning touchdown last year, his second TD of the game. In the '08 Music City Bowl Johnson caught the game clinching TD with 5:19 left in the game versus Florida State. He also scored the game winning TD against LSU last year, catching a 7 yard toss in the third overtime. Last year versus Tennessee Johnson brought UK within three points with his 8 yard TD grab with 6:11 left to go in regulation, his second TD of the day.
- Burton scored a game-clinching 22 yard touchdown with 4:02 left versus Arkansas, which put the all-important UL follow-up game in the books as a victory. He also had two huge touchdowns versus Tennessee last year.
Both players exhibited tremendous leadership through their hard work off of the field, and great performance on the field. Their numbers will be sorely missed, but the example they set for the younger players will be missed just as much.
Dicky Lyons 5'11", 190 lb senior -- 56 catches, 655 yards, and 7 TD's last year. For his career Lyons has 108 catches for 1,488 yards and 16 touchdowns. Lyons is the clear leader to be the number one option for UK at the receiver position in '08.
The senior has displayed an uncanny ability to get open, and elude after the catch. His bravado and self assuredness sometimes rubs his head coach the wrong way, but he backs up his overactive vocal cords with results. As an example; two years ago versus Mississippi State, UK was coming off of a beat-down administered by LSU in Death Valley ( 49-0 ). Lyons proclaimed the following week that he "guaranteed" Kentucky would beat MSU. Brooks cringed, and probably yelled a bit, but Lyons backed up his talk with one of the best touchdown catches I have ever seen; a back-of-the-end zone, one-handed, toeing the line, circus catch for six. His talent has never been in question, this year though the coaching staff and his younger teammates are looking for more from the Louisiana native.
Offensive Coordinator Joker Phillips had this to say about Lyons in the spring:
"I've challenged Dicky this summer. I've challenged him to bring our young guys up to speed on the offense and what they need to do. I told him that will only help his game, because if we can get some help outside, teams won't be able to double him."
If there was ever an indispensable player, it is Lyons, this year. Not only for his on-the-field production, but as Phillips has stated, his leadership. The group of players backing up the starters ( heck, one may start ) are all very young and inexperienced. Lyons is the only player available with extensive real life experience playing receiver in the SEC, against some of the fastest defensive backs in the country. His input, and positive example are needed in order for UK to continue to grow terrific wide-outs.
DeMoreo Ford 5'10", 186 lb senior -- 7 catches for 47 yards in '07. For his career Ford has made 20 catches for 236 yards and 2 touchdowns. He is currently rehabbing a torn patella tendon. According to the coaches he is on schedule to return for fall camp, with the possibility of returning to full contact drills by mid-to-late camp.
Although Ford has not been on the receiving end of many passes in his three years on the gridiron, he has played extensively over the last two years: He caught a 70 yard touchdown pass in the Music City Bowl two years ago versus Clemson, showing off his ability to make yards after the catch, which is something the younger group of receivers have not done as of yet.
Ford returning to full speed is vitally important to the '08 passing game. His knowledge of the playbook, and experience make him invaluable when considering the lack of the aforementioned attributes in the other receiver candidates.
Kyrus Lanxter 6'3", 180 lb sophomore -- 1 catch for 6 yards in five games.
Lanxter arrived at UK as a highly regarded recruit, but with the plethora of talented receivers last year, he did not see much playing time. This year though, the opportunity for Lanxter to make an impact is most certainly present. Lanxter is currently listed as the second receiver at one of the two wide-out spots behind DeMoreo Ford. Considering Ford's injury, and the lack of experience behind him, Lanxter will have ample opportunity to gain a starting position.
Lanxter was 1st Team All-State in Tennessee both his junior and senior years at Alcoa High School. His senior year he caught 27 passes for 888 yards ( that's an incredible 32.9 yards per catch ), and 16 touchdowns. He was also MVP of the State Championship game as a senior, posting 6 catches for 173 yards and 2 touchdowns in his teams win. He was rated one of the Top 25 prospects in Tennessee by Rivals.com. Like many of his comrades at the receiver spot he was a track star, running a 21.9 in the 200 meters.
Lanxter's speed is not in question, but his ability to gain yards after the catch has been brought into question. Coach Brooks had this to say about Lanxter's struggles in this area:
"I was joking with Kyrus telling him that it looks like every time he catches the ball, it paralyzes his legs."
It's one thing to have great speed, it's another to know how to use that speed. With the help of his older teammates and the coaching staff, Lanxter should be able to overcome his inexperience and thrive in the Wildcat's offense.
Anthony Mosley 6'0", 170 lb redshirt freshman -- Mosley didn't begin playing football until his junior year in high school. His senior year he didn't drop one ball, according to his coach. He also runs a 4.36 - 40. Going into spring practice Mosley was listed second behind Dicky Lyons at one of the receiver spots.
Terrence Jones 6'2", 192 lb redshirt freshman -- Jones, an Atlanta native, was voted All-South Region by PrepStar. He ran a 4.5 - 40, and is considered a physical receiver. He is listed behind Anthony Mosley and Dicky Lyons at one of the receiver spots.
The True Freshman
Offensive Coordinator Joker Phillips had this to say about the incoming freshman receivers:
They are "as good a class of receivers as I've ever brought in. There are 5 or 6 kids in that group who could potentially have an impact at the position."
Coach Brooks countered Phillips' remarks with this:
"You never know with freshman, whether they'll be mature enough to do what you need them to do."
Aah, the angst of a head coach, live and in color. The following players will be granted the all important opportunity of grabbing playing time. Which ones will be "mature enough" to handle the load? Only time will tell.
Aaron Boyd 6'3", 210 lb freshman -- Boyd is the first four-star recruit since Micah Johnson in '06. He is considered one of the elite receiver recruits in the country. Boyd was rated the #18 player in the Midwest by Scout.com, and the #1 college prospect in Kentucky by both Scout and Rivals.com. The Henry Clay product produced big numbers his senior year: 55 catches for 1,157 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Boyd was a fixture at spring practice, and he brings an aggressive attitude with him. He had this to say about his expectations:
"I see an opportunity there ( receiver ) and I want to seize it. Joker ( Phillips ) quizzed me a lot on what's going on, and I talked a lot with the other receivers. I pretty much have the offense down pat. I feel like I'm a step ahead of everybody else who will be coming in. If we were to play tomorrow I feel like I could come in and contribute."
The only real knock on Boyd is his speed; he was clocked in the 4.6 range in high school. Boyd had this to say about those who question his wheels:
"I've been around a lot of NFL people ( Aaron's brother is former UK and current NFL quarterback Shane Boyd ), so I think my knowledge of the game will help me adjust. I've got the size and strength, and Keenan Burton has worked with me on getting off the line, so I think that will be a strength as well. As far as my speed, I've got good game speed, and once the coaches start working with me, I think I can get it ( 40 time ) down in the 4.4 range."
Regarding Boyd's proclamation that he would like to catch "70 to 80" passes, and his four-star rating, head coach Rick Brooks had this to say about the talented freshman:
"He has the ability to be in the mix. He's got to work hard. He's got the tools, but he's got to work hard. We'll see how all that plays out. We've seen how a lot of people put pressure on a four-star guy saying, 'This guys going to be an immediate impact player', I don't like to do that to anybody, but he's got an opportunity."
"He's got an opportunity"; that may qualify as the understatement of the year. Brooks and Phillips will take a long hard look at Boyd as the third receiver, but he has some strong competition for playing time.
Randall Cobb 5'11", 180 lb freshman -- Cobb played quarterback at Alcoa High School ( where he was a teammate of Kyrus Lanxter ). He was Tennessee's Mr. Football in Class AA. He was named one of the Top 11 prospects in Tennessee by the Orlando Sentinel. Rivals.com has Cobb rated as a Top 20 Tennessee prospect. He is considered to be a superior athlete who rushed for 793 yards ( 9.0 yards per carry ) and 13 touchdowns in his senior year.
The biggest question surrounding Cobb is where to play him. He was promised the opportunity to compete at the quarterback position, but he is realistic enough to know that UK is stocked at the position, although the question remains as to who will be the starter. Cobb voiced his opinion on his possible playing time:
"I don't like sitting on the bench. Curtis (Pulley ) and Mike ( Hartline ) are both good quarterbacks who are experienced, and it's going to take a lot of work to get to that level. I just want to do whatever I can to get on the field and help our team win."
Joker Phillips echoed those sentiments:
"He's going to play. We've just got to figure our where." Phillips continued, "He's a Keenan Burton-type worker, he's got a Keenan Burton-type attitude, and he's a Keenan Burton-type of athlete."
The aforementioned Keenan Burton praised the youngster with these words:
"I've watched him in seven-on-seven drills, and he can play. He seems like a humble guy that works hard, and that's better than a talented guy who doesn't."
Truer words have never been spoken.
Even though Cobb last played receiver his sophomore year in high school, he has been getting instruction from Dicky Lyons and Kyrus Lanxter on his route running. Cobb is considered the most athletic and versatile player on the squad, coupling that with his attitude and work ethic means keeping him off of the field will be a tough task. It's also possible Cobb could see time on special teams returning kick.
E.J. Fields 6'2", 190 lb freshman -- Fields, a Frankfort High School product, was rated the #4 prospect in Kentucky by Rivals.com. He was rated the #63 all-purpose athlete, and the #45 safety prospect by Scout.com. In his illustrious high school career Fields ran for 2,677 yards and 39 touchdowns. His senior year alone he amassed 1,400 yards rushing and 25 touchdowns. He played both quarterback and corner-back. He's been timed at 4.5 in the 40. He's a three-time state champion in the 400-meters, and won the 200-meter state title his senior year. He ran a 11.2 in the 100-meters.
With the receiver position being Olsen twin thin, Fields will probably be given the opportunity to earn a spot at one of the wide-outs. He was recruited for the secondary, but his offensive skills, i.e. speed and elusiveness, dictate that he be given a shot at receiver. As with Cobb, Fields is an incredibly athletic player who will see time on the field somewhere.
Eric Adeyemi 6'0", 165 lb freshman -- Adeyemi, a Miami, Florida native caught 31 passes for 455 yards and 4 touchdowns his senior year while operating in a run-first offense. He was named All-Dade County, which is a great honor considering how talent rich that area is. He's been timed running a sub-4.4 - 40, so he, like his receiver teammates brings tremendous speed with his game. He won state championships in the 110-meter hurdles, and the 300-meter hurdles.
Adeyemi will be given a look at receiver this fall, but with a myriad of others fighting for spots, he may be relegated to learning, instead of performing on Saturdays.
Gene McCaskill 6'0", 175 lb freshman -- The Chester, S.C. athlete produced more than 2,500 yards passing, rushing and receiving, along with 30 touchdowns during his senior year. He was named 1st Team All-State as as all-purpose performer. He was named one of the Top 11 prospects in South Carolina by the Orlando Sentinel. He played both quarterback and wide receiver. He's been clocked running a sub-4.6 - 40.
McCaskill finds himself in a very similar position as Adeyemi; fighting for a chance to play, along with many others. If he can gain some separation from his teammates he might see some game action, but if not, his freshman year may be a season of watching and learning.
Possible position switch
E.J. Adams 6'0", 190 lb junior -- Adams has been playing in UK's secondary for the last couple of years. He snagged a huge interception ( which he ran back 49 yards ) on the goal line versus Vanderbilt two years ago, which secured the victory and bowl eligibility for UK. He runs a 4.4 - 40, and boasts a 41-inch vertical leap.
With the secondary saturated with talent, the coaching staff felt like Adams could contribute at wide-out. He made the switch in the spring and impressed the coaching staff by making several super plays. He's another great athlete who's trying to find some playing time. A good problem to have if your name in Rich Brooks, and a huge motivating factor if you're a player. Adams will probably see time somewhere. How much time and where, is yet to be determined.
In the spring Phillips had this to say about the receivers:
"You might have five straight plays where you run down-field, but you've got to get back into that huddle and be ready to go. We're getting into that ( fatigue ) a little bit right now. If you run the wrong route, it throws the whole process off, and we've had way too many missed assignments. We're working to get our guys mentally tougher."
Youth, the only cure is experience, which is why it is so important for Lyons and Ford to demonstrate all that it takes to be successful in the SEC. The talent is apparent, but can the talent adjust to a faster game speed? Can the talent adjust to the demands of the coaches? Can the talent accept that they must get better in order to win?
All of those questions will be answered starting August 5th. I certainly look for Lyons to be the #1 option for whomever the quarterback is, but as Phillips astutely pointed out to Lyons; if there is only one viable option at receiver, then that receiver will see a multitude of double and triple teams.
Ford's ability to stretch the defense also is a huge factor in the passing game. Lyons isn't blessed with blazing speed, so Ford is the only returning player with any experience who has the ability to give the opponents secondary pause, as far as the big play is concerned. The health of his knee will be watched very closely by Cat fans.
In order for UK to enjoy winning weekends this year one or more of the youngsters will have to step up and demand playing time through their performance in practice. Which player that will be, I don't know, but the talent is abundant. Certainly Lanxter, Fields, and Boyd all possess the physical abilities, but will they excel in route running, as well as learning the intricacies of the offense in time to cash in on their athleticism?
My bet is that at least one of those above mentioned players will have a big year. UK's receiving corps has looked thin before, going into the season, but someone always surprises. Two years ago it was Dicky Lyons, last year it was Steve Johnson, this year it will be ... I'm not that smart.
Who holds the UK record for the most pass receptions in a single game?
I failed to ask a trivia question at the end of my running back preview, so here goes:
Which running back holds the UK record for most rushing touchdowns in a season?
Thanks for reading, and Josh Hamilton IS Roy Hobbs!