Kentucky football: C.J. Conrad, coaching staff explain drop in production
LEXINGTON, Ky. — If Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran based his game plan off fan requests from social media, the Cats would pass the ball to tight end C.J. Conrad about every play.
The offensive coordinators on Twitter and Facebook always want to know why Conrad isn’t catching more passes.
And that brings us to the Kentucky Question of the Day. “Why can’t we get the ball to our AWESOME tight ends??” Sandy Browning @Brown_slb asks. “They ROCK.”
Let’s split Conrad’s season up. In Kentucky’s first four games, Conrad had 9 catches for 195 yards and 3 touchdowns. He averaged 22 yards per reception.
In Kentucky’s last three games? No catches for Conrad. Despite the three-game skid, the tight end is first on the team in touchdowns and second in yards.
“C.J. needs to play better,” Mark Stoops said earlier this week. “I mean, I think we threw it to him on the second play of the (Mississippi State) game and he dropped it. When you get opportunities you make them.”
Gran was asked Tuesday why Conrad’s production has dropped off.
“He’s been banged up a little bit. In and out. It’s like everybody. You can pick out a lot of guys. C.J. can handle it. Motivate him, get him going, get him ready to roll. It can be everybody. I can go right down the list. But, yeah, we’ve got to get better on all 11 positions.”
So, there are a couple layers to the Conrad quandary. First, Kentucky remains a run-first team. That limits the amount of targets any receiver or tight end is going to get. Second, the offensive scheme doesn’t shoulder all of the blame. Conrad has to get open, and Stephen Johnson has to get him the ball. Third, and maybe most telling, defenses started playing Conrad differently — something that’s to be expected when a tight end is averaging 22 yards per catch.
“They’re definitely keying me now,” Conrad said Tuesday. “I noticed that after the Florida game. That has something to do with it, but overall guys get keyed all the time and you just have to make plays at the end of the day and I haven’t been doing that.”
Conrad pointed out that Kentucky is 2-1 in the three games he doesn’t have a catch.
Kentucky tight ends coach Vince Marrow said the staff is going to find creative ways to get him the ball. Conrad said the lack of production has been frustrating, but Marrow hasn’t noticed any change in attitude.
“C.J.’s a tough kid,” Marrow said. “I’m hard on him more than anybody. I’m the one who said he needs to play better to my standards, to other people’s standards maybe he’s playing OK. But, watching how he played last year, his first four games he played at a high level, he needs to play better.”
The player-coach relationship goes way back. Marrow recruited Conrad as a 4-star prospect from LaGrange, Ohio.
“He expects a lot out of me,” Conrad said of Marrow. “Sometimes that’s hard but I love that. I love that he’s coaching me as hard as he can cause that means he thinks I can be better. And I definitely can after these past three weeks.”