Leary leans on Robinson’s experience

Published 11:05 am Wednesday, September 27, 2023

By Larry Vaught

Contributing columnist

Sophomores Barion Brown and Dane Key came into this season touted as Kentucky’s go-to receivers based on what they did as freshmen in 2022. However, offensive coordinator Liam Coen warned that a second season could be more difficult and talked about how the two needed to get even better running routes.

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Senior receiver Tayvion Robinson’s productivity fell off dramatically the second half of the 2022 season but Coen’s return to UK seems to have rejuvenated Robinson.

“I think he is becoming that one of those guys (quarterback) Devin (Leary) looks for and is becoming very comfortable in his route running,” UK Radio Network analyst Jeff Piecoro said.

Leary certainly made it sound that way about Robinson’s big game against Eastern Kentucky.

“He’s a gamer. He’s one of those dudes that’s going to do what he’s coached to do. He’s going to do his job, but when he calls for the ball, when he wants to make a play, you gotta get the ball in his hands,” Leary said.

Former UK running back Anthony White knows Robinson has “really good” footwork while Brown is just an athlete running routes and Key is mainly running vertical routes.

White ran for 1,758 yards and 11 touchdowns at UK from 1997-99 and averaged 4.8 yards per carry. He also caught 194 passes from Tim Couch and Dusty Bonner in those three years for 1,520 yards — 7.8 yards per catch — and eight scores. The only UK players with more catches are Craig Yeast (208) and Derek Abney (197).

To get separation (from defensive backs) you have to put your foot in the ground and break sharp. Tayvion does that really well,” White said. “Dane has had some tough catches to try and make but that’s because he’s not setting guys up and getting separation. If you put your foot in the ground and round off guys have a chance to jump the route. You have to break it off sharp.”

Former all-SEC defensive back Van Hiles believes Leary does trust Robinson more than Brown and Key.

“He knows he (Robinson) will be where supposed to be and he will catch the ball. When you don’t catch the ball for a veteran quarterback, he will get the ball to someone else,” Hiles said. “His first look will be to Tayvion Robinson until the other guys earn his trust again. That’s just where it is.

“Barion Brown has been missing too many balls. Dane Key’s are tough catches but ones he should make. We need the super sophomores to run better routes and catch the ball cleanly and then this offense can be more explosive.”

Brown and Key rebounded against Vanderbilt with a combined 15 catches. Brown had eight receptions for 105 yards, including a long of 55 yards. Key pulled in seven catches for 58 yards including a dramatic touchdown grab.

White said when former NFL No. 1 overall draft pick Tim Couch was his quarterback that receivers knew if they wanted the ball they better get open.

“Guys don’t like to throw interceptions. If there is a question or whether or not you will catch the ball or if the coverage is too tight and it might get intercepted, then you may not be an option (for the quarterback). That’s just the way it is with big-time quarterbacks,” White said.

Robinson had four catches for 23 yards and one touchdown in the win over Akron. He now has 16 catches for 283 yards and three scores, all team-high totals.

Brown has 15 catches for 214 yards and a touchdown, while Key has caught 13 passes for 196 yards and a pair of scores.