When Lamar Thomas arrived in Lexington two years ago, he could not attend a media session without hearing the D-word: drop. He answered every question in stride, even in times of frustration. Now, UK’s wide receivers coach rarely gets that question. When he was asked “what happened to the drops?” earlier this week, he cracked a sheepish smile.
A stat that is not officially recorded, the anecdotal evidence is obvious. Kentucky’s wide receivers are not dropping passes. They are playing their most consistent football since Mark Stoops’ arrival.
“I think we’ve just been more solid,” Stoops said. “There haven’t been any blatant drops. They’ve worked really hard; they’ve been unselfish; they’ve blocked. They’re working and when their opportunity’s arise, they made some big plays.”
They aren’t too proud to let their teammates shine, but they are too proud to hear more criticism.
“Everybody at the beginning of the season, everyone talked about the consistency with the receivers,” Eddie Gran said it’s been a theme before each of his two seasons at UK.
“They’ve been challenged. They know. They read the stuff. I think they’re definitely responding. They’re making some plays and they’re being more consistent and being physical. It’s been really fun to watch.”
Lamar Thomas’ secret to their success is simple. He’s replaced the D-word with the A-word: accountability.
“One of the things I told ’em is that in this offense you have to be able to do your job,” Thomas said. “Whether it’s block or catch the ball, you gotta do your job. That job also entails doing the right thing on and off the field. I feel like it’s very important. I once sat in the same chairs as those guys. To get ready for the future, whether it’s the NFL, or going to a nine-to-five, or even after the NFL, you gotta learn certain things and have accountability.”
It’s not something that can be taught overnight. It’s a tenet that has slowly been built into the receiving room over time. Now it’s being handed down from the veterans to the underclassmen.
On the field, Juice Johnson and Lynn Bowden were graded as two of the SEC’s three best receivers last week. Off the field, Juice has shown the freshman how to act. The two are roommates on each road trip.
“Lynn is still learning, that’s the scary part. It’s a great thing, he watches Juice a lot,” Thomas said. “They room together. It’s a great idea we put together, but it’s kind of scary. Juice is having a phenomenal year so far and he’s really stepping up to the plate as a leader.”
– Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) October 12, 2017
Lynn had a lot to learn when he got to campus. Even though he had never played receiver before, it was not his greatest challenge. He had to learn to become a great teammate and a great person off the field first.
“He wanted to make plays,” Thomas said. “He wanted to get the ball. Other than that Tweet at the beginning of the season, he’s been great. He’s been one of the biggest cheerleaders on the sideline. He loves the game. I like that. I think it’s very contagious.”
As the receivers have faced criticism over the years, they’ve become their own biggest fans. The unselfish attitude is necessary in this offense. Juice is the only player with more than ten receptions, while five others have at least five receptions. Stephen Johnson is spreading the ball around and the offense has never looked better under Mark Stoops.
“I think it’s just the connection I have with the receivers,” Johnson said. “The whole offense is coming together.”
Fewer and fewer fans feel the need to say the D-word thanks to an efficient quarterback and accountable, consistent receivers.