LEXINGTON, Ky. — A pair of Kentucky freshmen receivers are emerging through three days of preseason camp: Isaiah Epps and Josh Ali.
There’s no shortage of similarities between the former 3-star wideouts. It’s no surprise they’re roommates.
Both will play on the outside and they’re close in size with Epps a touch bigger at 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds compared to Ali at 6-foot and 180 pounds.
Epps will wear No. 81. Ali will sport No. 82.
Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson pointed to Epps and Ali as “standouts” when asked about the freshmen receiving corps.
“They’re kind of built the same, they kind of run the routes the same,” Johnson said. “They’re both really fast guys.”
Epps, the only Oklahoma native on the roster, is a contender along with Ali to replace Jeff Badet, who transferred to Oklahoma in the offseason. Badet was Kentucky’s big-play receiver on the outside averaging a team-high 21.6 yards per catch. He led the team with 670 receiving yards and was second with 31 catches.
Johnson will have to turn to another receiver in hopes of forming a similar deep-ball connection.
“I don’t know if you can replace a Jeff,” Johnson said. “But those guys are both extremely fast. Given maybe a year or so, those guys are going to be great. They’re going to do great things this year, but given a year, they’re gonna be really, really good.”
Kentucky practiced with pads for the first time Tuesday. Receivers coach Lamar Thomas pointed to the footwork, hands and speed of Epps and Ali, but strength is an area where freshmen can be behind.
“You get the pads on them and I saw Josh get stuck on a couple of press situations,” offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said. “It’s not like that when there’s no pads on. They have to get used to that part of the physicality. I think that’s going to be the next week to see if they adjust to that.”
Epps and Ali, a pair of under-the-radar signees, are getting attention as fellow receiver Lynn Bowden, Kentucky’s most heralded signee, has been absent the first three days of camp. Bowden is in Lexington but won’t be able to practice with the team until he’s deemed eligible by the NCAA.
Bowden will be behind whenever he arrives, but Ali and Epps have forged ahead.
“A lot of freshmen guys will come in here and just try to catch up,” Johnson said. “These guys here are already caught up for the most part.”