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Cats going to work on 'blank canvas' at receiver

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Junior Demarco Robinson caught six passes for 93 yards and a touchdown in UK's Blue/White Spring Game. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics) Junior Demarco Robinson caught six passes for 93 yards and a touchdown in UK's Blue/White Spring Game. (Aaron Borton, UK Athletics)
It was just two years ago that Demarco Robinson was a true freshman trying to find his way onto the field.

Now he's a junior and Kentucky's leading returning receiver, but he doesn't have to look far to be reminded of his former self. Midway through UK's fall camp, a crop of newcomers is competing for playing time, and Robinson can see himself in the likes of Alex Montgomery, Jeff Badet, Ryan Timmons and Javess Blue.

"I remember just being eager to get on the field," Robinson said. "I had a little butterflies sometimes, but I was just ready to get on the field."

But in reality, Robinson and his fellow returnees at wide receiver aren't in that different of a position from his first-year counterparts. Sure, he has two years' experience playing in the Southeastern Conference, but never in Neal Brown's Air Raid offense. And in spite of having more career receptions than the rest of UK's returning wide outs combined, he's still only caught 33 passes for 314 yards.

"I've never been in something like this, where there is no returning anything, really," wide receivers coach Tommy Mainord said. "There's a lot of unknowns. We've got a whole bunch of guys in this group that we don't know a whole lot about. So I think it's more exciting than any group I've ever had, because there's so much that can happen in the next three weeks."

Much of what happens during those three weeks of camp, however, will be determined by the two months that came before. On campus for summer classes during that time, players did their best to simulate the tempo with which Brown wants them to play in 7-on-7 drills. Three practices in, the difference that's made compared to spring ball is plain to see.

"Everybody's a lot more in shape," Robinson said. "We don't have to focus so much on fundamentals. Everybody seems to be bringing what we learned in April to now."

Better isn't good enough for Brown though.

"It's been OK," Brown said. "We've gotta get a lot better. It's the hardest thing. When you've trying to get new guys - and we've got a bunch, as you all know - it's the hardest thing to get them accustomed to is the tempo we're playing at. And really probably, if you came out here and watched, it's not bad, but it's nowhere near what we want to do, it's not near the pressure we need to put on the defense."

Perhaps if UK were deeper at receiver that wouldn't be a problem, but with how heavily the new group is being relied on, Brown is anxious to get the youngsters up to speed. In an effort to aid that process, Mark Stoops has broken the Wildcats up into four teams with action on two fields at all times.

"It's a little bit more work on our part just because the video lasts longer, but it's good," Brown said. "Everybody gets an opportunity. Everybody that's suited up on offense and defense is getting evaluated."

It hasn't taken long for the new receivers to pop up in those evaluations. Stoops has already cited Montgomery, Timmons and Badet as standouts for their playmaking ability, something the veterans embrace.

"I love 'em all," Robinson said of the newcomers. "Everybody's coming in ready to work, expecting to play and fighting for a spot. That competition's going to help everyone."

Robinson is putting that sentiment into practice as well. He may be new to the offense, but the junior is working with the younger receivers as they adjust. And he's not the only one.

"That's the selfless part, the older guys trying to teach us what to do," Montgomery said. "They don't have to because they're not the coaches, but I appreciate them for trying to teach us what to do."

That's a wise approach because UK will need all the receivers it can get. In Brown and Mainord's last season at Texas Tech, 12 different wide outs caught passes as the Red Raiders rotated players frequently at the position. UK will be hard-pressed to develop that kind of depth in year one, but the Cats still believe the unit will be strong.

"We definitely feel confident," Robinson said. "We want everybody to feel like we can make any play and we want the quarterback to believe we can make every play so they have confidence to throw it to us."

Jalen Whitlow - one of the potential starters at quarterback - is already there.

"I think the group that was here all along got way better this summer," Whitlow said. "And of course we've got some talented freshman that came in that are going to help right away. So it's no question mark at receiver."

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