Receivers, defensive backs push each other to get better

Wide receivers Garrett Johnson, Dorian Baker, and Ryan Timmons pose together during the University of Kentucky Football media day on Friday, August 5, 2016 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Hunter Mitchell | Staff

Anthony Crawford

There are a million and one interactions that happen daily in a college football locker room. Some good, some bad, but none more indicative of UK Football’s improvement in the offseason than the one that occurred between wide receiver Jeff Badet and cornerback Derrick Baity last week.

“Today, I saw Jeff today in the locker room and he could not do nothing but smile at me and he was like ‘you got me better’,” Baity said to the media after last Thursday’s practice.

Competition was a common theme throughout fall camp and the rest of the offseason, and most often that referred to the internal races among the position groups.

Related: Offense looks ready at close of fall camp

UK had some groups experience this competition because of lack of depth and the injection of youth and inexperience, but some like the defensive backs, running backs and wide receivers are full of players ready to prove themselves.

“It’s a friendly competition but we all go hard everyday to make the plays. I feel like we are out here just doing what we can do,” wide receiver Kayaune Ross said.

While that type of competition is important for building the confidence in younger players and adding to the team’s overall depth, it is lighter in comparison to the other battles that occurred in the offseason. The biggest and most productive being the battles that Baity mentioned between the guys lined up across from each other at the line of scrimmage, the defensive backs and wide receivers.

“We have guys that are outstanding playmakers, just so many guys that you have no choice but to compete,” cornerback Chris Westry said. “Because those guys want to get better and they will make you look bad if you don’t compete.”

One of the first things wide receiver’s coach Lamar Thomas did when he stepped on campus was let on how he was tested the most during practice while in the NFL, and he cited that as a major way the group could improve for the upcoming season. After that the two position groups discussed it and decided that going at it in the offseason and in practice with more intensity could only help them.

The competition has been everything but one sided. Individuals have been able to break through and make big plays. The performance of the two groups have also heavily influenced whether it was the offense or defense walking away from the two fall camp scrimmages with more praise.

One of the things that bodes well for UK is the array of players that suit up for the Cats from each group. Sophomore wide receiver Tavin Richardson, who has been one of the emerging names out of camp, noted how complete the receiving corps is. “We have skill players, big and small. We have everything,” Richardson said.

Richardson, standing at 6’3”, is among the category of big, physical receivers that will look to provide matchup nightmares for opposing defenses this season. UK also boasts three receivers 6’5” or taller, not including Dorian Baker who physically dominated at wideout last year in route to tallying 608 yards and three receiving touchdowns.

On the other side of the spectrum, UK rolls out guys like Badet, Ryan Timmons and last season’s leading receiver Garrett Johnson, all able to beat their man with either speed, agility or just overall ability to make a play on the ball.

And all the players mentioned have only improved by going up against the defensive backs the UK defense has to offer. While the wide receiver looks to be a strength moving forward, it was actually the defensive backs that received the most praise heading into the season. Sophomore cornerbacks Baity and Westry burst onto the scene last year for the Cats after earning starting spots. In the offseason, the two were selected by the SEC Network as the cornerbacks for the SEC ‘Dream Team’.

Related: Chris Westry has more in store for sophomore year of UK football

The rest of the secondary is a combination of veterans and young guys who did well to carve out a role for themselves during fall camp.

Sophomore safety Mike Edwards finished strong last season after being named a starter for the last five games. Following in the footsteps of Edwards, Baity and Westry, freshman Jordan Griffin was a player that received praise often from the coaches and will likely contribute this season.

Then there are seniors like Blake McClain, Marcus McWilson, J.D. Harmon, who give the secondary some versatility and a lot of experience of playing in the SEC.

Fans will have to wait until the season starts to see the improvement, but both groups head into the new year ready after pushing each other so much this offseason.