Last month, Shannon Dawson told fans gathered for the Kentucky Football Kickoff Luncheon that he has more wide receiver depth to work with this season than he ever has.
The first-year offensive coordinator saw what that depth could mean on the field at UK’s eighth practice of fall camp on Friday.
“We had some big plays, which I think that kind of stands out when you sit there and think about it,” Dawson said. “We did make some tough plays, which was good to see. We were covered and we made some good throws and good catches, which we haven’t really been making the last couple days.”
That sort of up-and-down is to be expected with a group so young. Of the 13 receivers listed on UK’s depth chart entering the fall, all but two are freshmen or sophomores.
The promise is there nonetheless.
Though Dawson was hesitant to pinpoint any individual standouts among the group, he couldn’t help but mention Dorian Baker.
“We had a lot of (big plays),” Dawson said. “I mean, heck, I couldn’t, Dorian’s making plays every day. That kid made a lot of plays today, but we had a lot of kids make plays today. I couldn’t sit here and pick one out, to be honest with you. I mean, we had a bunch of people making plays, which is good to see.”
Drew Barker, one of two quarterbacks competing for the starting job and throwing to Baker, noticed two in particular.
“Today he made two great catches, one-handed back-shoulder catches,” Barker said. “Just great.”
Baker is listed at 6-foot-3, 208 pounds, but to hear Barker and Patrick Towles tell it, he plays much bigger. Towles likened the sophomore to a “brick wall.”
“I wouldn’t fight him. I think there’s some guys that are offensive linemen who wouldn’t,” Towles said. “He’s quick to learn, he’s asking all these good questions and he just makes good plays on the football. I feel really, really comfortable throwing the ball near him. (receivers) coach (Tommy) Mainord talks about ‘just get it in our guys’ zip code,’ and he’s like a two-car garage out there.”
A two-car garage that also happens to have some pretty good wheels. In fact, Barker expanded the string of Baker-related analogies to one of the Commonwealth’s signature traditions.
“They call him American Pharoah because he’s so big and runs so good,” Barker said. “It’s just awesome to have a guy like that on your team and making a lot of plays. Hopefully he can go out tomorrow and he can make some plays in the live contact and everything.”
What Barker is talking about is Saturday’s scrimmage in The New CWS, the first of three during fall camp. The scrimmage has been the subject of much talk related to its role in the quarterback race, but it’s important for UK’s receivers too. With so many capable playmakers, there’s plenty of competition among the wide outs.
“We have so many people who can play, which is a really, really good problem to have,” Towles said. “We have a lot of depth out there, which we haven’t had in a while. It really, really helps when a receiver can pick me up and make a good play on the ball. It just adds a lot of energy to practice and a lot of confidence for me too.”
“It’s really awesome to have a great wide receiving corps,” he said. “They’ve really been stepping up this whole camp. I’m just glad to see them in a live situation tomorrow and see them break some tackles and score touchdowns.”