Kentucky football: How Dorian Baker’s return, new coach will affect receivers
We tackle the best question asked by Kentucky fans every day. If you’d like to submit a question, tweet to Kyle Tucker here and Joe Mussatto here. Look for the Question of the Day every Monday through Friday.
It’s the offseason, but there is plenty of Kentucky football to talk about. The question of the day comes from Brian Gaskin on Twitter: “What can we expect from the passing game next year with yet another new WR coach coming in? Will Dorian Baker need to be the leader during this time of flux with no coach on staff?”
Kentucky chose not to renew Lamar Thomas’ contract as wide receivers coach after two seasons with the Wildcats.
When he was hired, Thomas’ most valuable attribute appeared to be his recruiting skills. He recruited Heisman winner Lamar Jackson at Louisville, but Thomas wasn’t credited as the lead recruiter for any Kentucky signee during his time in Lexington.
That lack of recruiting likely factored into Kentucky’s decision to move on more than any dropoff with the wideouts. Kentucky’s receivers were largely reliable this season. They just didn’t get many chances.
The receivers position at UK had a couple things working against it.
First, Jeff Badet was in line to be Kentucky’s most productive receiver. He and Stephen Johnson established a deep-ball rapport in 2016 that Johnson couldn’t match with any receiver this past season. Badet’s decision to transfer to Oklahoma removed Johnson’s go-to option.
With Badet gone, Dorian Baker and Garrett Johnson were expected to lead the receiving corps. Johnson had another solid season, but Baker suffered an ankle injury in a preseason scrimmage that sidelined him for the season.
And then there’s the Benny Snell problem that’s not really a problem. Kentucky’s offense fundamentally changed when quarterback Drew Barker’s injury and Benny Snell’s emergence collided. It’s been a run-first attack ever since, and will be until Snell leaves. It’s probably not the offense Eddie Gran envisioned when he came to Lexington, but he quickly adapted to the strength of UK’s personnel.
That’s a long setup to say that the passing game next season isn’t likely to look different no matter who fills Thomas’ place on the staff. Again, it wasn’t necessarily a production problem. I think Mark Stoops is just looking for somebody to recruit at a high level.
The passing game might not look different, but it should be better. Even if the ceiling for Terry Wilson and Gunnar Hoak is equal to Johnson’s, the passing game should improve for a few reasons: Baker will be back, the staff is high on Tavin Richardson, and the soon-to-be sophomore group of Lynn Bowden, Isaiah Epps, Josh Ali and Clevan Thomas should be better.
Baker could be the X-factor. He led the team with 55 catches as a sophomore, but struggled through injuries as a junior before redshirting last season with the ankle injury.
Getting Baker back to a former version of himself will be one of the top priorties for whomever Stoops hires. That, and recruiting.