Lamar Thomas seeks to lift play of Kentucky wide receivers
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Lamar Thomas is never short on words, chatting up anything and anybody no matter the subject.
He's especially talkative discussing the art of catching the football and turning it into a game-changing play, which are his primary goals coaching Kentucky's wide receivers. Developing that same big-play ability and swagger begins with mastering the important first step of consistent pass-catching, the bottom-line strategy being stressed by the former University of Miami standout and NFL veteran.
Thomas is among five new assistants brought in by Wildcats coach Mark Stoops this season in hopes of making the program's first bowl appearance since 2010. Thomas arrives after two seasons at rival Louisville, which has denied Kentucky that critical sixth victory necessary for bowl eligibility the past two seasons thanks to a dynamic receiver corps he coached.
Though mindful of how his cross-state move raised eyebrows in the Bluegrass State, Thomas prefers not to discuss his former job and is more focused on establishing consistency for a unit that has lacked it.
''Guys in that room are striving to be better,'' Thomas said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. ''I'm jovial and let them know I want them to be better. Being across the field from them, I saw and heard stuff around here that guys have been very inconsistent, and they can't run from that.
''They have to accept it, but they've got to get better.''
That's especially important with Kentucky switching to a pro-style offensive scheme with new co-coordinators Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw. Asked this week whether that means receivers could be free to improvise routes, Stoops said they must understand what defenses are showing and be able to alter them.
Improvement is necessary for an offense that averaged 11.5 yards per reception and managed just 10 touchdowns last season.
Thomas believes the first step is finishing plays. Rather than watch video of past performances to gauge where his receivers needed growth, he viewed their workouts this spring and focused on tweaking mechanics, footwork and concentration in an effort to get it right.
''It's just repetition and getting them to be able to do it in their sleep,'' said Thomas, adding that he began noticing improvement by the end of drills.
Kentucky begins practice Thursday with the return of top receivers Garrett Johnson and Dorian Baker, who each had more than 600 yards receiving and combined for five touchdowns last season. Thomas has sought to instill his passion for playing the position to them and other receivers while making sure they develop off the field.
Gran credits Thomas for making an immediate impact.
''(He's) someone that's been there, someone who played at a great program and played in the NFL,'' Gran said. ''All these guys want to play at that level, so he brings credibility. He gets after their tails and lets them know you can't perform like this if you want to get to that level.''
The Wildcats will be hard pressed keeping pace with Thomas' loquaciousness, especially on social media. On Thursday, he told his nearly 10,000 Twitter followers on his UK account that he was ''retiring'' from the site before returning 30 minutes later to tweet: ''I just couldn't Live with myself !!!!! ... I'M BACK.''
Stoops welcomes Thomas' outspokenness and notes that personality is key to effective recruiting and coaching. For a Kentucky squad seeking its first bowl bid since 2010, it's definitely part of the process.
''I like the way Lamar coaches, I like the way he goes about his business,'' the coach said. ''If it was just the flair I wouldn't be very into it (because) you've got to have some substance behind what you do. ... I want to see results with our receivers - by any means necessary.''