LEXINGTON, Ky. -- In a lot ways, Kentucky’s Randall Cobb is a throwback.
The difficult part is finding something he can’t do on the football field -- and do well.
Ask any coach in the SEC about Cobb, and you’ll typically get the same response.
“He’s just a football player.”
The beauty of Cobb’s game is that he’s not the fastest guy, the biggest guy and isn’t going to wow anybody over with all the measureables.
They could have a race in the 40-yard dash right now without pads, and he might finish in the middle of the pack.
But if you put on the pads, turn on the scoreboard and throw a few defenders out there, he’s the best playmaker on the field.
“He’s one of those special guys that plays big,” Kentucky quarterback Mike Hartline said. “I’ve seen receivers that were 6-3 or 6-4 in height that didn’t seem like they were open all that much. Randall is a smaller guy, but he’s always open.
“He just gets your attention. You’ve got to always know where he is on the field.”
Cobb was the only player in the SEC last season who totaled more than 300 yards rushing, receiving, returning punts and returning kickoffs. He was second only to Alabama’s Heisman Trophy winner, Mark Ingram, in scoring with 15 touchdowns.
“I’ve just always loved the game,” Cobb said. “I don’t care where you put me. If you want to put me on defense, I’d love it. The biggest thing is that I love the game so much that I’m just going to play with so much heart. I’m going to do whatever I can to get to the end zone, whether that means breaking a tackle or out-running a guy. And if I have to throw it, so be it.”
Cobb was a quarterback in high school in Alcoa, Tenn., and spent a lot of time back there in the Wildcat formation the last two seasons.
That’s still going to be a big part of his repertoire. But he also feels like with Hartline coming back from his knee injury and other players such as Chris Matthews coming into their own at receiver, that he won’t have to wear quite as many hats next season.
Having a deeper supporting cast has allowed Cobb to concentrate more this spring on becoming a more fundamentally sound receiver.
“I’ve been able to work on my technique and get in and out of my breaks and work on beating press coverage,” Cobb said. “I think focusing on so many things led to me being injured so much. I played injured almost the whole year last season. With more guys stepping up, I think I’ll be healthier and won’t be beat up so much.”
The 5-11, 191-pound junior was Kentucky’s leading receiver a year ago and second leading rusher. After Hartline went down in the South Carolina game, the Wildcats had to lean on him way too much.
Even then, teams had a tough time stopping him.
“He’s still going to be our go-to guy, the guy we look to to make plays for us,” Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said.
Phillips also wants to see Cobb take on more of a leadership role and be more vocal.
“He’s kind of been in the back seat leading,” Phillips said. “But he’s a third-year guy now. His first two years, he was kind of hesitant to get out front and lead. He did some, but we’ve put more of a leadership role on his plate because he’s earned it. He has the respect of all of his teammates, and we need strong leaders on this football team like we had in 2006 and 2007.”
More than anything, Cobb wants to be healthy for the stretch run. He tore his meniscus against Tennessee in the second quarter as a freshman and finished the game. And then last season against the Vols, Cobb said he was playing on “pure heart” after battling through an assortment of things.
“That’s all I had left,” he said.
Suffice it to say that the Tennessee game is an important one to Cobb, who grew up about 15 minutes from Neyland Stadium and used to sell hotdogs at the games when he was a kid.
He can’t go anywhere when he’s home without hearing about the Vols’ 25-game winning streak over the Wildcats.
“The hardest part about it is having to go back and listen to all those people,” Cobb said. “They always talk about the streak and how they beat us 25 years in a row. I don’t say much about it because I wasn’t here for 23 of those years.”
Cobb wouldn’t trade his time at Kentucky for anything. He says it’s been the perfect fit.
“I’ve enjoyed every second of every day that I’ve been up here, on the field and off the field, with all the people in the community and the students and the teachers,” Cobb said. “I’ve grown so accustomed to everybody here and love that part about it.”
It’s hard not to love his game, too.