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Multi-tasking Shields bidding to take over at tight end

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Ronnie Shields saw action in seven games as a redshirt freshman in 2011. (Brett Marshall, UK Athletics) Ronnie Shields saw action in seven games as a redshirt freshman in 2011. (Brett Marshall, UK Athletics)
There might not be a player on the Kentucky roster being asked to balance more on the field than Ronnie Shields. By the nature of his tight end position they play, he toes the line between blocker and receiver, but Shields has an even more crowded plate.

In the words of head coach Joker Phillips, Shields is moving "all over the place" in fall camp. Not only is he juggling responsibilities as a pass blocker, run blocker and receiver from a spot alongside the offensive tackles, he's also splitting out wide to line up in the slot to take advantage of his athletic 6-foot-5, 243-pound athletic frame.

"It's not easy," Shields said of his workload. "But I try to take it as a challenge and better myself with it and help better to the team so we can move forward and win more games."

His coaches wouldn't ask so much of him if they didn't believe Shields could deliver. He played in seven games in 2011, but made just two catches for 10 yards in sharing time at a crowded position. A year later, UK is still deep at the position with four players who have seen extensive time, but Shields has begun to distinguish himself even though he's the least experienced of his peers.

He entered the spring listed atop the depth chart with Tyler Robinson, but a solid offseason has seen him become the first player mentioned at his position.

"He's coming along," tight ends coach Greg Nord said. "He's gotten a lot of reps through spring. He's had a pretty decent camp so far. He's going to have to continue to grow and get better and do some things for us this year."

Shields would seem to have plenty more room for improvement. Even though he is only a redshirt sophomore, Shields is probably even younger in practicality than his designation suggests. It wasn't until his junior year in Stone Mountain, Ga., that he took up football. Even then, Stephenson High School -  where Shields and four of his UK teammates played - utilized a run-heavy offense and Shields had just 14 catches as a senior.

"He's gotten bigger. He's gotten stronger," Nord said. "He's got to continue to grow. He hasn't had a great deal of game experience, but he has played in games. Every day he's learning something new and getting a little bit better."

With two years of practice and some limited experience on the field at UK, Shields thinks he's now ready to bloom.

"I feel like this is my year," Shields said. "I finally know everything I need to know to be successful on the field. It's a developmental sport and I think I developed these past couple years. I'm ready to use what I've learned."

Although he's the leader in the clubhouse for the starting role, Shields will be far from the only tight end to see the field this season. Robinson, Jordan Aumiller and Anthony Kendrick give offensive coordinator Randy Sanders a variety of options with different sets of strengths. Shields, for one, doesn't mind things being crowded.

"You know that you can't mess up," Shields said. "Any day you could lose your spot. It makes you work your hardest out there and give your best."

Ultimately, what differentiates Shields is the fact that he can do so many things. With Shields in the game, it will be close to impossible for opponents to predict where he'll line up, much less what his assignment will be.

"He's a big, tall athlete that can run pretty well," Nord said. "Hopefully we create some mismatches with him. By asking him to do a lot, it makes us much more versatile."

That's what the position is all about.

"Those are the true special attributes of a tight end," Nord said. "You're a little bit of everything."

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