Wide receiver Rahsaan Lewis wasn’t a complete revelation during Kentucky’s open practice for fans on Saturday — his name was mentioned by fellow receivers and prominent defensive backs a few times during the spring as a guy to keep an eye on — but the impression he left was much more sizable than anticipated.
The son of Hall of Famer Ray Lewis is a walk-on who enrolled at UK last fall following one-year stints at Central Florida (2018) and Florida Atlantic (2019). He didn’t play in a game last year, but based solely on his performance Saturday, Lewis is destined to see the field this season.
Fifth-year senior Josh Ali and star transfer Wan’Dale Robinson were as good as expected, but it was Lewis who stood out among a crowded receiving corps full of fresh faces shouldering higher production expectations than has been asked of that group in years past. He twice made sensational, frame-twisting grabs for “touchdown” scores of about 40 yards against double coverage in 11-on-11 drills, and was as consistent as anybody catching balls through practice. His biggest highlights were versus No. 2 and No. 3 defensive backs, but if he continues to impress there he ought to have a chance to prove himself against the 1’s soon.
Lewis told the Herald-Leader on Friday that he was battling an injury last year that kept him from earning some run in 2020. That’s fueled the 5-foot-11, 180-pound junior, who only played one season of high school football. He dove into the playbook — his sixth in the college ranks — and was taken under the wing of Ali, a fellow Floridian.
“He’s been a big mentor to me,” Lewis said. “ … He’s like, ‘Bro, I know what you can do, you just gotta play ball.’ So that’s what I did (in the spring). I see myself playing well and having a great year.”
Lewis offered a further glimpse into the offensive philosophy of coordinator Liam Coen, who’s taking over after a few seasons as an assistant with the Los Angeles Rams.
“The biggest part is the way the plays are called,” Lewis said. “I feel like, with Liam, he calls the plays to be able to make a play, whether it’s a deep ball, a hurry-up, whatever it is, it’s to benefit us to be productive through the pass game and not just through the run game. “
This is what you came for, right?
Joey Gatewood ran with the 1’s all practice and looked like the guy most comfortable with the playbook. He operated mostly out of the pistol (as opposed to Beau Allen and Will Levis, who were often under center), and had issues with his release timing. At least a handful of plays would have ended in sacks if tackling was allowed, (including an incredible burst off the edge from Vito Tisdale) and his hesitation led to the only interception of the day; Carrington Valentine read a short toss beautifully and snatched it away.
Levis spent Saturday with the 3’s but one suspects that’s a result of his late arrival more than his actual standing in the quarterback conversation. If the decision were determined solely on arm strength, Levis would have the job signed, sealed and delivered; he has a monster dangling to his right. It was a big reason why a potential disaster of a play — a botched snap that rolled around for a couple seconds — ended with a touchdown throw to Ali, who was double covered. He flung it hard and fast.
Levis’ zip at times was too much, particularly on mid-field deliveries and early on in practice. For his second practice with a bunch of new teammates, overall, he looked solid, but as of Saturday I’d say Gatewood has the slight leg up. There’s plenty of time for that to change in the coming weeks.
Beau Allen was with the 2’s and looked solid, but he’s just not in the physical ballpark with Gatewood and Levis at the moment. He had several nice throws, and at times looked like the most improvisational of the three front-runners.
▪ Marquan McCall did not participate in Friday’s media interview sessions or in either of UK’s first two practices. The Herald-Leader was told that he’s been held out for precautionary reasons and should be back on the practice field soon. McCall, a key reserve the last couple of seasons, will start at nose guard for the Wildcats.
Josaiah Hayes was UK’s No. 1 nose guard Saturday, lining up with Josh Paschal and Octavious Oxendine.
▪ If Lewis was 1A in terms of guys who earned some shine Saturday, JuTahn McClain was firmly 1B. The speedy running back showed burst out of the backfield but was especially effective as a receiver, curling out for several short receptions in 11-on-11 drills and breezily racking up several yards after catch.
▪ Coen’s desire to get running backs more involved in the passing game isn’t lip service. That group in unit drills spent more time passing and throwing, and was responsible for at least 10 percent of UK’s receptions in 11-on-11 drills. Chris Rodriguez had the best highlight, reeling in a throw on a short seam route that would have had a chance to go for six against a real opponent.
▪ Kavosiey Smoke was spotted with ice on both calves toward the end of practice and did not participate in 11-on-11 drills. He looked off most of practice; McClain for at least one practice looked like UK’s No. 2 running back, but Smoke obviously will make it a great battle behind Rodriguez.
▪ Izayah Cummings looks eager to assume the role tight end Keaton Upshaw would have had in UK’s passing attack. He’ll need to prove he can block SEC-level defenders with regularity, but his speed at the position was on full display Saturday.
▪ Your No. 1 offensive linemen on Saturday: Darian Kinnard, Kenneth Horsey, Luke Fortner, Eli Cox and Jeremy Flax. Your 2’s: Dare Rosenthal, Austin Dotson, Quintin Wilson, Jager Burton and David Wohlabaugh. The last two are true freshmen.
▪ Senior defensive back Davonte Robinson was running with the No. 1’s Saturday at nickel. That was good to see after he struggled to stay on the field last season, his first time seeing action since suffering a torn quad ahead of the 2019 campaign.
2021 UK football schedule
(Home games in all capital letters)
Sept. 4: LOUISIANA MONROE, Noon
Sept. 11: MISSOURI, 7:30
Sept. 18: CHATTANOOGA, Noon
Sept. 25: At South Carolina
Oct. 2: FLORIDA
Oct. 9: LSU
Oct. 16: At Georgia
Oct. 23: No game
Oct. 30: At Mississippi State
Nov. 6: TENNESSEE
Nov. 13: At Vanderbilt
Nov. 20: NEW MEXICO STATE
Nov. 27: At Louisville