Kentucky football: Keaton Upshaw suffers injury leaves questions at tight end

The excitement for Kentucky football at the Southeastern Conference Football Media Days on Tuesday had a damper placed on it when word spread that tight end Keaton Upshaw suffered what is being rumored as one that will force him out for an extended period of time.

The indefinite timeline for a return leaves huge question marks at the position that was expected to play a big role in new offensive coordinator Liam Coen’s offense. It was nearly dormant and underutilized under the previous coordinator Eddie Gran who focused on the run.

CJ Conrad had sure hands but was rarely thrown to unless the Wildcats were desperate. Then there is Justin Rigg who stepped up more last season and is expected to be one of the main threats this year along with Upshaw.

Thin depth at tight end could be a concern for Kentucky

Upshaw is a junior but his 6-foot-6 build made him a big-time target. He played in all 11 games last year getting the start four times hauling in 16 passes for 198 yards and three touchdowns.

But Rigg has been prone to injuries that have included a ruptured spleen in the past and should he go down for any reason the experience level drops to the bottom. Rigg is a fifth-year senior and has played in 50 games catching 30 passes for 358 yards and one touchdown his first of his career on a 14-yard grab against Vanderbilt.

From there it falls on Brenden Bates who is a junior who saw action mostly on special teams two years ago and last year made one catch for 14 yards appearing in just six games. But the Cincinnati Moeller alum also missed five weeks of action last year with an injury.

After that, it’s all true freshman in Jordan Dingle and Jai Williams. Dingle signed with the Cats out of Bowling Green and was one of the highest-ranked signees in Kentucky’s 2021 recruiting class. A four-star prospect by ESPN and a three-star recruit by Rivals and 247sports, he also came in ranked the No. 5 player in Kentucky and a top-25 tight end nationally by Rivals and 247sports

That’s all there is right now unless there is someone out there who has some untapped experience. The Cats need a big body to line up along the Big Blue Wall and there aren’t many.

With depth at wide receiver, it could be a stretch, and ask the two tallest of them to take some reps. That would include Michigan State transfer Tre’Von Morgan and Izayah Cummings out of Louisville Male.

Having seen Cummings play numerous times it’s his playmaking off blocks that helped him into consideration for Kentucky Mr. Football under coach Chris Wolfe. This may be the place for Coen to get creative with Cummings on the field getting that 10 yards after a bump, catch, and big 39-inch vertical leap for linebackers to cover. Just another target for defenses to be concerned with.

Morgan stands 6-foot-6 218 pounds and has the body type. He didn’t see a lot of action at Michigan State so he remains a mystery.

Upshaw is the third player this offseason to suffer an injury that will result in missed playing time. In spring practice Clevan Thomas (ACL) and D’Eryk Jackson (lower-body) both suffered likely season-ending injuries. Also still on the mend is JJ Weaver also tore his ACL near the end of last season and has yet to be publically cleared for a return. With all his upside I would think this would be a slow and cautious process to get the stud from Louisville Moore High school back on the field.