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McCaskill, veteran receivers hope to lead offense

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Gene McCaskill is slotted to start at wide receiver Sunday against Louisville. (UK Athletics, Chet White) Gene McCaskill is slotted to start at wide receiver Sunday against Louisville. (UK Athletics, Chet White)
So far in the day-to-day media efforts to dig up the best stories of fall camp, a lot of attention has been paid to the freshmen and younger playmakers at the wide receiver position. Yet when you take a look at the depth chart heading into Sunday's game against Louisville, seniors Gene McCaskill and E.J. Fields sit atop two of the receivers spots.

So what gives?

Well, much of that can be attributed to last year's struggles from the wide receiver position. Guys who have been at Kentucky more than one season have been pretty much written off as potential difference makers this year. Those same guys are players who have had some tough moments in their careers when it comes to getting on the field.

Each wide out saw some opportunities last season, but in limited roles. Fields had a big game against the Cardinals last year, catching five balls for 57 yards and a touchdown. But he only made five other receptions the rest of the season and saw most of his live action on special teams. McCaskill, on the other hand, has been cursed by the injury bug for much of his career, even leading into this season.

With little returning experience from last year's team, the UK staff decided to try and keep McCaskill as healthy and fresh as they could by holding him out of contact drills in the spring and having him alternate practice days this fall. McCaskill's injury history has caused him to have multiple surgeries, and the tender handling of the wide receiver has helped him stay healthy heading into the season opener. He's worked hard with strength coach Rock Oliver to help rebuild the necessary muscles in his legs, and now he's good to go.

While McCaskill would rather be out there every day getting better, he knows just how important his presence on the field has become.

"Whatever my team needs, I am trying to stay healthy," says McCaskill. "As long as I stay healthy I will do good things. Just being on the field, my team loves me being on the field. That's what I want to do."

A glaring weakness in last season's offense was the inability to find success in the passing game. Whether it was ineptitude on the offensive line, inaccurate passing, or problems on the receiving end, the passing game rarely showed any signs of life as the Kentucky football team failed to make a bowl game for the first time in six years.

This season, the jury is still out on the passing game with an eye toward the receivers. They need them all to step up and provide big plays.

A fifth-year senior, McCaskill has been around the block and has seen the program's ups and downs. And while the young guns at the position have shone bright at times, McCaskill gives the group an experienced, consistent option that may prove to be even more valuable.

Sometimes, though, those injuries can dress themselves only to later reveal themselves as blessings. McCaskill may not be the player he is without having the opportunity to watch and learn from the sideline while nursing his ailments.

"It was good and bad," said McCaskill of his time away from the field. "It was bad because of the injury itself, but it was good for me to watch from the sideline and see the stuff that I don't see on the field. And I can take that and bring it back into the meeting room, and teach the younger guys."

That's exactly what McCaskill has been doing. Instead of focusing on himself and how he can have the best possible season in his senior year, McCaskill is working to make the team better. He is working with the wide receiver group as a whole, sharing his knowledge and experience, with hopes of teaching those younger talented receivers.

"They know their roles as leaders," said receivers' coach Pat Washington. "Each group is positioned with leaders, and those seniors are leaders in our group. They know their role helping the young kids. The smallest detail, to the most critical, toughest detail, they're helping those guys out, and those young guys are getting better every day."

It's that same experience, though, that has earned them the starting positions. From what has been displayed on the field during the dog days of fall camp, it's only evident that the "experience factor" is more important that raw skill and ability.

"The experience factor is really big," said Washington. "They know how to practice. They know how to prepare every day. They know how to work through the grind. Some of the younger guys quite don't know how to do it yet, so they are not as consistent as they want to be. But they are getting there. They are getting better, and hopefully by game one, if not, game two, they are ready to go."

While the youth at the position is still bridled, the veterans are ready to go. McCaskill, Fields and La'Rod King are three senior receivers who figure to see a lot of playing time early and often. As one of the most tenured groups of the offense, McCaskill thinks that last year's biggest weakness may become the driving force of this year's offensive attack.

"As a group the expectations are high for us anyway, just coming off of last season," said McCaskill. "That was a really bad season for us. And coming back I can see it in all the guys, coming to camp with the young guys, everyone is learning stuff quickly. I feel like we can be the leaders of the offense. And with the tempo that we running, it's going to be really good for us this year."

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