Spring storylines: Replacing Cobb no easy task

While many members of Big Blue Nation will have their eyes on new UK starting quarterback Morgan Newton this spring, a major focus for Newton and UK football head coach Joker Phillips will be a brand new receiving core, and more specifically on the tremendous hole left in the offense with the departure of do-it-all playmaker Randall Cobb for the National Football League.

In 2010, Cobb led the Cats with 84 receptions for 1,017 yards. He was also second on the team in rushing yards and managed to get the ball in the end zone four different ways (three passing touchdowns, five rushing touchdowns, seven receiving touchdowns and a punt return for a score).

But as Newtown takes the helm of Phillips’ offense, he remains optimistic that Cobb’s talent can be replaced in 2011.

“We have Raymond Sanders and (CoShik Williams) and hopefully some (Brandon) Gainer, and we are all very excited about those guys,” Newton said. “We still got (Matt) Roark and La’Rod (King) and Brian Adams, and we got E.J. (Fields). We got a lot of guys, and hopefully we got some freshmen that can come in after spring ball and possibly contribute. We’re excited about what we got.”

While Newton is pleased with talent at the skill positions around him, the question still remains: Who will become the Cats new go-to guy on the outside this season?

The leading candidate early this spring is rising-junior wideout La’Rod King. In 2010, King was third on UK’s roster in receptions (36), receiving yards (478) and receiving touchdowns (5). He will return as the Cats most battle-tested and proven wide receiver, and at 6-foot 4-inches he provides a big target on the outside to stretch the field deep and make play in the middle of the field.

UK returns a few other receivers from 2010, but none have been standouts in their time as Cats. Among them are Brian Adams, who is one of the fastest players on the team but has been splitting time this spring between playing receiver for the football team and center field for the baseball team, and Matt Roark, who has three years of experience at UK but only 18 career receptions and no touchdowns for his career. Whether one of these guys is able to step up into a starting role and be a leader on an offense littered with new faces remains to be seen.

Then there are the guys who look deadly on paper but must now show it on the gridiron. First among these names is Gene McCaskill, a quick receiver with good hands who had 32 catches in his first two seasons before missing his junior year due to injury. McCaskill is an early contender for the starting job opposite La’Rod King when the Cats open their 2011 season.

There is also Fields, a sophomore from Frankfort, Ky. Fields has a lot of speed and the ability to beat defensive backs off the line of scrimmage with his experience as a track athlete in high school, but like McCaskill has been plagued by injuries and has yet to catch his first catch as a Cat. If Fields can stay healthy in 2011, the team and the coaching staff expect him to be a weapon in the passing game.

With this much turnover in the offense, UK still searches for the guy who can replace Randall Cobb. As dynamic as Cobb was at UK, it may take all of these receivers together to fill his shoes. But Phillips recalled the offensive turnover after the 2007 season with the departure of quarterback Andre Woodson, and says that the team’s success the following year in 2008 can be replicated in 2011.

“In 2007 we lost similar to the same amount of production,” Phillips said, “but then we come back the next year and are sixth in the league in scoring. We’ve been here before, it’s a familiar place for us.

“It’s very similar that with Dickey Lyons coming back as our leading receiver now we have La’Rod King. We actually have more experience at the wide receiver position this year than we did when we came back in 2008 … We’ve lost production before, but it’s not a concern of ours.”

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