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Blue/White takeaways: Robinson makes case as a playmaker

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Demarco Robinson caught nine passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns during Saturday's Blue/White Game. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics) Demarco Robinson caught nine passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns during Saturday's Blue/White Game. (Barry Westerman, UK Athletics)
Another spring football season has come and gone, capped by Saturday evening's Blue/White Game, which was attended by 4,500 fans in spite of conditions that had the players calling it the "winter game" rather than the "spring game."

The first team overcame the 14-0 handicap given to the team of reserves and posted a 35-28 victory. Quarterback Maxwell Smith led the way, throwing for 353 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 29-of-45 passing. Sophomore wide receiver Demarco Robinson caught a pair of touchdowns, Raymond Sanders ran for two and CoShik Williams added one. The first team defense held the second to just 189 yards on 51 plays.

Since it was a nontraditional game, we're going to structure our postgame coverage a little differently. So, here are a few of the salient themes I picked out from the Blue/White Game and spring practice at large:

Robinson the playmaker
- Joker Phillips and his coaching staff have raved at every possible juncture about the steps forward Robinson has taken in his second season in the UK attack. A season ago, he struggled with a strength deficit and an understanding of the offensive, but during the Blue/White Game, Robinson showed why the coaches believe he can be so dangerous.

Smith looked for Robinson early and often for passes both short and long, and he responded with big play after big play. He finished with nine catches for 146 yards, both game highs, displaying the after-the-catch ability fans already knew about as well as a talent for attacking a jump ball. That was never more apparent than on his second touchdown, when Robinson rose over a defender and reeled in a 21-yard touchdown in the corner of the end zone.

"It's just all about concentration," Robinson said. "(Wide receivers) Coach (Pat) Washington, we've been working on it a lot, back shoulder, throwing into the end zone. It was perfect, Max threw a perfect ball."

Smith and Robinson displayed a chemistry and feel for one another that is encouraging heading into the summer, and the two aren't going to stop working either.

"Over the spring we've been getting a lot of work," Robinson said. "Extra passes and extra throwing and stuff and its really showing that it's helped. We're going to keep it up this summer."

Perhaps the most encouraging part of Robinson's effort is that it wasn't an outlier. In every previous scrimmage, the wide receiver made a play belying his small stature.

"We got an idea of who some of our playmakers are," Phillips said. "I worked a training camp one time with (former Washington Redskins head coach) Joe Gibbs and one of our coaching meetings said, 'There's something to be said about a guy, every time you have a scrimmage, he makes a play.' Demarco Robinson was that guy. Every time we came into this place, he made a huge play for us. Today he made a lot of big plays for us."

If anyone could assess Robinson, it's cornerback Marcus Caffey, who lined up alongside him much of the spring and had to switch onto the second team defense to match up with him one on one.

"He's just quick," Caffey said. "To me, I told him he played like DeSean Jackson. It's hard to check him, you got to always stay on your toes and be ready for a double. He's real shifty. He's just a good player."

Smith not satisfied
- The sophomore quarterback may have led the first team offense to 414 total yards, but Smith was not happy with his play. He had a strong start to the game, but made a handful of mistakes that he is unwilling to accept, which resulted in two interceptions.

"I didn't think I played well to be honest. I made a couple of bad throws," Smith said. "Actually, too many. I didn't think I played too well. I thought as a team, collectively, we played well. We blocked well, ran it well."

UK's 15 spring practices may now be over, but for Smith, the work is just beginning. He plans on further developing his relationships with his receivers, both on and off the field to make sure the Wildcats capitalize on every opportunity afforded them.

"Working with my receivers, getting together more this summer and just working on throwing deep balls because I missed a couple deep balls I probably should have hit," Smith said.

The mistakes he made on Saturday put somewhat of a damper on things, but Smith still feels good about the progress he's made.

"I do feel encouraged," Smith said. "I feel a lot further along that last spring. I have a good understanding of the offense now, a lot better that last year. I feel good, but we got a lot of work to do."

Neloms a leader
- Senior safety Martavius Neloms has long been a contributor on Kentucky's defense. As a sophomore, he was a hard-hitting starting cornerback. As a junior, he transitioned to safety and garnered a big-play reputation.

In his final season, Neloms is taking on another new role: leader.

In the past, Neloms may not have entirely understood all it takes to be a powerful example to his teammates. But with the end of his college career closing fast, he's beginning to grasp that leadership doesn't begin and end on the field of play.

"(Martavius) Neloms is becoming the leader we need him to be," Phillips said. "He's becoming the guy we can trust off the field. He takes care of his business in the classroom and those things. And those things matter. People don't understand. Those things matter and (Martavius) is getting it now."

With defensive stalwarts Danny Trevathan, Winston Guy and Ronnie Sneed now departed, replacing their presence as leaders is perhaps just as important as compensating for their production. Neloms has always been a supporting actor to those stars, but his emergence in all facets is allowing him the chance to step into the forefront.

"He's always been a good player," Phillips said. "Now we think he can be a great player with the way he's leading."

According to Phillips, Neloms thriving in that new role has allowed Caffey to emerge in his.

"The reason why he is picking it up so fast is (Martavious) Neloms," Phillips said. "Neloms is doing a really good job with him."

Tight ends a threat - A season ago, UK's tight ends combined to made just 30 catches for 262 yards and two touchdowns. On Saturday, Tyler Robinson, Ronnie Shields, Anthony Kendrick and Jordan Aumiller had 12 total catches for 165 yards and one touchdown.

The fact that they were featured more prominently in the offense was no accident.

"Ronnie played well," Smith said. "(Kendrick), too made a couple good catches and like I said they really helped stretch the field. Like I said, I really like throwing to tight ends because you know they are big targets and they can beat linebackers one-on-one. They played well for us today."

Shields, who had three catches for 42 yards after a couple early drops, has emerged in the spring as UK's top threat.

"They have a better understanding of separating," Phillips said. "Ronnie Shields is a guy that we didn't trust, we didn't trust him to be where he is supposed to be and on time and now he is getting it."

Spring pleasantly injury-free - Fifteen spring sessions weren't without the occasional bump or bruise, but the Wildcats enjoyed a relatively healthy spring. Considering all the physical work they got in, that's a pleasant development.

"For us to do those things for 15 days and not have any major injuries in spring is really big, really key in that we have nobody that has to rehab from now until fall camp," said Phillips.

The only injury sustained in the spring game itself was a thigh bruise to cornerback Cartier Rice, but that's nothing to be concerned about.

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