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UK football positional preview: Wide receivers

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La'Rod King led all Wildcats with 40 catches for 598 yards and seven touchdowns in 2011. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) La'Rod King led all Wildcats with 40 catches for 598 yards and seven touchdowns in 2011. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Leading up to Kentucky football's season opener against Louisville on Sunday, Sept. 2, Cat Scratches will be taking a look at each positional group on the 2012 roster. We'll be breaking down possible contributors and giving an outlook for the position as a whole.

Possible contributors

La'Rod King, senior - King has been a fixture in the UK receiving corps since his freshman year. That season, he made a clutch one-handed catch to send UK to victory against Georgia. He evolved from there, becoming a reliable third option in 2010 (36 catches, 478 yards and five touchdowns), then the go-to guy in 2011 (40 catches, 598 yards and seven touchdowns). King was by far UK's best receiving option in his junior season and opposing defenses treated him that way. If receivers around him improve this season, he could take another big step forward as a senior. After an uneven and distraction-filled spring, King was focused over the summer and fall, serving as a leader.

Demarco Robinson, sophomore
- Robinson was the lone freshman wide receiver to see the field in 2011, but his season was a forgettable one. He tallied just five receptions for 17 yards, but has hardly resembled his freshman self over the spring, summer and fall. He exploded in the spring game, catching nine passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns and has not looked back since. Robinson was singled out for praise by Joker Phillips probably more than any other player on the roster during fall camp and seems poised for a breakout season. He is still working to build on his 5-foot-10, 158-pound frame, but he has a nose for the ball in spite of his size and quickness that should allow him to get separation against the most physical of opponents.

Gene McCaskill, redshirt senior - McCaskill never quite regained his form last season after reconstructive knee surgery that caused him to miss the entire 2010 season, but he reports feeling as healthy as he has at any time since the injury. McCaskill looked to have a bright future during his freshman season, when he started four games and caught 15 passes for 181 yards and he has one more college season to deliver on that potential. His experience and versatility allow him to line up on either side of the field and in the slot.

E.J. Fields, redshirt senior - At media day, wide receivers coach Pat Washington was talking about speed at the position. The first name he mentioned among his fastest players? Fields. The issue, as Washington explained it, is showing that speed on game day. Fields had established himself as a reliable special teams player, but had not yet caught a pass entering his junior season. That changed in a big way early in 2011, as Fields reeled in seven passes for 57 yards and a touchdown in a loss to Louisville. Unfortunately, he would catch just three passes the rest of the season.

Daryl Collins, redshirt freshman
- Of all last year's freshman, Collins was getting the most preseason hype. Coaches raved about his playmaking ability and even made comparisons to Randall Cobb. A knee injury derailed all of that and forced him to redshirt, but Collins has a clean bill of health and is ready to go. Collins is still working to regain his form, but will be ready to go for UK's opener. His emergence could make a world of difference for this group.

DeMarcus Sweat, freshman - Sweat is the Daryl Collins of this preseason, exciting coaches with his combination of size, speed and potential. He is expected to play immediately as both a receiver and a returner. It also can't hurt him that he spent fall camp as quarterback Max Smith's roommate at Smith's request.

A.J. Legree, freshman
- Legree combines with Sweat to give UK its most exciting pair of true freshman receivers in recent memory. How much he sees the field right away is a bit of question with so many players at his position, but he figures to make an impact sooner or later.

Aaron Boyd, redshirt senior
- Boyd has the size and hands that could make him a contributor in short-yardage and goal-line situations.

Bookie Cobbins, redshirt freshman - Cobbins was a popular player from his arrival on campus as a charismatic quarterback. During his freshman season, the decision was made to move him to wide receiver and redshirt him. The transition is still in progress. Phillips has said he doesn't expect Cobbins to contribute much early in the season, but that his time could come later in the year.

Rashad Cunningham, redshirt freshman - Watching UK's receivers, Cunningham is probably the first player to catch the eye. At 6-foot-4, 216 pounds, he looks like he might have wandered over from the tight end group, but it's that size that makes him so intriguing. Like Cobbins, Phillips also expects Cunningham's opportunity to come later in the season.

Outlook

In taking over for Tee Martin as wide receivers coach, Pat Washington was brutally honest with his new group. After evaluating tape, he concluded that UK's wide receivers simply weren't very good in 2011.

Obviously, his goal was to turn that around in 2012, but that wasn't his first priority. Before doing anything else, Washington had to make his wide receivers understand they had not performed up to par and why. With that taken care of, Washington and Co. went about the business of getting better.

It started with building some confidence. UK's wide receivers worked hard during spring practice, and it showed.

"From the beginning of the spring to the end, they began to have a confidence in themselves, not necessarily because of me," Washington said. "I think it's because of what they were doing on the field. They were making some plays in some situations we didn't make plays last year. Coaches were encouraged by what they did and they kind of let them know."

While they were building confidence, they were also building a rapport with Max Smith. With Morgan Newton sidelined, Smith got basically every rep with the first team. Since Smith is now the starting quarterback - due, in part, to all that work during the spring - that work figures to pay off.

Heading into the summer and fall, the hard work continued. Players took it upon themselves to watch film independently of the coaches. Then, the position got another boost when freshmen arrived on campus. Sweat and Legree wasted little time in showing what they could do. Sweat and Legree add depth to a unit that already had plenty of it. UK now has 10 wide receivers who would surprise no one by making a big catch in a big game.

That depth will be crucial as Phillips and Washington try to build a group with no go-to guy. King was far and away the most consistent performer last season, but his production could increase if his fellow wide outs are able to keep double teams away from him. Coaches are also fairly certain about what they will be getting out of Robinson, even though he hasn't produced at a high level yet. The question then becomes, who will be UK's third option?

Kentucky's best offensive seasons has come when the Wildcats have had at least three major threats in the passing game. Remember Keenan Burton, Dicky Lyons, Jr., Stevie Johnson and Jacob Tamme? What about Randall Cobb, Chris Matthews and La'Rod King?

This year, who will be No. 3? Could it be a rotating cast of characters? Will a senior like Fields or McCaskill step up in his final campaign? Or will a freshman like Sweat or Legree come up big?

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