Following the Wildcats second scrimmage of the fall on Saturday, Mark Stoops announced that senior Dorian Baker suffered a “substantial” ankle injury and further evaluation would determine how long the senior would be out of action. The tone in Stoops voice signals concern that the injury will most likely costs Baker the entire 2017 season. The injury is a blow to the Wildcats; however, it is not a fatal one. Coaches have recruited and stockpiled talent at the wide receiver position, as a number of guys are options to fill Bakers spot.
The Wildcats leaned on their rushing attack last season, behind one of the best offensive lines in the SEC. The same is to be expected this fall, but with explosive playmakers at receiver, Kentucky has plenty of reasons to go vertical. In Bakers absence, a number of passes will now be thrown in a different direction and the Wildcats have a couple of returning players who could be on the receiving end. So, who are some guys that could possibly break through and replace Baker, who led the Wildcats in catches and touchdowns as a sophomore?
Bone, a former four-star recruit by Rivals out of high school, is entering his final season with Kentucky. To this point, the senior fromWoodruff, S.C., has had a quiet career, with 486 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Bone played in eleven games a year ago, making five catches for 82 yards. His best game came at Tennessee, where he hauled in two catches for 57 yards.
Bone has great size on the outside at 6-5, 213lbs. He knows this is the end of the line for him and his college career is quickly coming to a close. Two weeks ago, Stoops said at media day, that he “drew a line in the sand”, meaning he explained to Bone that this is it. The word through camp has been that Bone has responded to that message in a positive way.
Kentucky needs production from Bone, especially as a big target for Stephen Johnson to throw to in the red zone. Not only would his production be a major help, his experience would be a shot in the arm for the offense.
Ross, a 6-6, 225lb junior, is entering his second season with the Wildcats. A junior college transfer from Phoenix College, Ross participated in six games last season, before missing the last five due to an injury.
Ross began his first season at Kentucky on a promising note, hauling in a nine-yard touchdown reception vs. Southern Miss for his first career catch. Like Bone, Ross has excellent size on the outside and flashed his potential in the blue/white spring game in April.
Now, with Bakers injury, Ross will have every opportunity to earn more game reps, something most people expect him to do. His first season in Lexington may have not gone as planned; now Ross is ready to emerge into a playmaker for the Wildcats.
Richardson, a 6-3, 214lb sophomore from Greer, S.C., is coming off a season where he saw action in thirteen games. The redshirt sophomore made nine catches for 160 yards a year ago, including an all-important two-point conversion in a 40-38 victory vs. Mississippi State.
Richardson, a former three-star recruit, is a popular pick for a breakout season. Chris Doering, a former Florida Gator and now an analyst for the SEC Network, picked Richardson as his No. 5 most likely receiver for a breakout campaign this fall. Doering joined the Go Big Blue Country Podcast the morning after making the statement on SEC Now, and he reiterated the same thought. Seeing action in thirteen games a year ago leads you to believe Coach Gran and staff like what they have seen from Richardson.
Stoops says freshmen will play
Regardless of who gets the start in Bakers spot, Kentucky needs all three guys to step up, along with some new playmakers who have arrived on campus. Freshmen Clevan Thomas, Josh Ali, Lynn Bowden, and Isaiah Epps will all see action this season, according to Stoops during Saturday’s press conference.
An injury to a starter and veteran like Baker is a significant loss for the Wildcats and it’s something that would have derailed any success a couple of years ago. However, this is a new era at Kentucky and the Wildcats have talent and depth to soften the blow.