The Kentucky football team had several major NFL draft decisions this past offseason, where every player on the fence announced a return to Lexington for senior campaigns.
Two of the most important pieces? Star linebacker Josh Allen and tight end CJ Conrad.
Both of them are expected to build toward elite draft status for the 2019 draft, but in order to do that, they have some things to fix this summer. As stars on both sides of the football, the opposition locked in on each of them last season, causing slight mid-season slumps they each had to overcome. Double-teams were the norm, and it affected both mentally.
At SEC Media Days this afternoon, Allen and Conrad addressed those adversities and how they’ll build off of them in 2018.
“I definitely learned a lot,” Conrad said of his mid-year struggles. “It was kind of the first time since I’ve been here that I’ve had a target on me. You know, I couldn’t tell defenses were scheming toward me, I wasn’t used to that before. A lot of that was the mental prep during the week. I acted like I was surprised by it last year, and I think that’s why I had about two or three games where I didn’t have a catch. And I wasn’t even just not catching the ball, I actually wasn’t blocking that well either. I was struggling all around.”
Conrad failed to pull in a reception in four consecutive weeks, ranging from September 30 to October 28. He didn’t have another catch until his breakout performance against Ole Miss on November 4, where he caught five balls for 75 yards and a touchdown. He had 286 yards and four touchdowns on the year.
“I just had a tough stretch there, my body was beaten up, but I think that just comes with maturity. As the season went on, I got a lot better with it, and I plan on taking that into this year,” Conrad said.
And with that, 6-foot-5 tight end out of LaGrange, OH says he expects that to translate to major success in the win-loss column.
“My personal expectations this year is to get this team to play in the SEC Championship game,” said Conrad.
As for Allen, he was able to overcome being a key target on the defense by establishing a professional mindset. He asked himself how the pros beat the attention year after year and tried to emulate that, something he’ll continue to do as a senior.
“I had to become a professional, become a pro,” Allen said. “My mindset is ‘I bet in the NFL they do the same thing,’ the superstars at their positions, they were getting double-teamed, they were getting chop-blocked. They were getting all that. But how did they get over it? That’s my mindset, how can I get over that? This year I’m expecting a lot, but I expect our defense to pick up this year so I won’t be getting all the attention. I have to get better, I have to know that it might come. So what do I have to do to beat that?”