This Kentucky football player is back in the spotlight after disappearing from 2022 offense
As the news of Liam Coen’s likely return to Kentucky football began to circulate in December, Wildcats tight ends coach Vince Marrow noticed a change in tight end Izayah Cummings.
“In bowl prep, he really was like flying around,” Marrow said. “So, I think Liam gave him a lot of confidence in the fact he had a role.”
During Coen’s first stint as Kentucky’s offensive coordinator Cummings looked like a playmaker to watch for the future. After moving from wide receiver to tight end, Cummings worked his way into a larger role as the 2021 season progressed.
In the second half of the season and bowl game, Cummings tallied 11 catches for 142 yards and two touchdowns. Those numbers were not earth-shattering, but on an offense lacking consistent receiving threats other than star wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson, Cummings’ emergence was a beacon of hope for the future.
But Coen left Lexington for the Los Angeles Rams before spring practice. New offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello brought a similar offensive scheme that promised to make heavy use of Kentucky’s tight ends, but Cummings quickly fell out of favor.
The 6-foot-3, 232-pound former Male High School star played in all 13 games in 2022 with one start, but he touched the ball just twice all season, once on a punt return against Youngstown State and once on an end-around rush against Ole Miss.
Meanwhile redshirt freshman Jordan Dingle and freshman Josh Kattus emerged as the Wildcats’ featured tight ends. With senior Brenden Bates also playing an important role until a shoulder injury ended his season early, Cummings was relegated to the sideline.
“I just think Liam had a plan for him, and I think Rich didn’t know what to do with him,” Marrow said. “To Rich’s defense, Kattus and Dingle coming on like that, you watch them and they were pretty good. I think that’s a combination of both.”
Scangarello’s stint in Lexington lasted just one season. Stoops fired him following the regular-season finale after a disappointing year for the offense.
Meanwhile Coen’s return to the NFL also had not gone according to plan and it quickly became apparent a return to Lexington was a realistic possibility. With Bates and Kattus sidelined for the Music City Bowl, Cummings suddenly was handed a new opportunity.
Coen signed his contract with UK on Dec. 12, but the school waited to officially announce his return until the Los Angeles Rams season had finished.
“It was nice having someone that knew how to work with me, put me in those positions to be successful,” Cummings said. “Having him back made me really excited.”
Dingle has since joined Bates and Kattus on the injured list. All are unavailable this spring as they rehab from offseason surgeries.
Those absences mean more reps for Cummings. Freshman early enrollee Khamari Anderson is the only other healthy scholarship tight end on the roster this spring.
“He can’t get enough good reps,” Coen said. “He’ll absolutely be in a position to compete for that same type of role that he had, and then also expand upon that role.
“Love Izayah. Great kid. All he wants to do is do right, so really fun to work with him again.”
Cummings’ 2021 success came as a hybrid receiver/tight end who rarely lined up attached to the line of scrimmage. His athleticism made him a mismatch when paired against opposing linebackers and offered enough versatility to allow Kentucky to use different formations with him on the field.
To find a role in Scangarello’s offense, Cummings added weight in hopes of being able to hold his own as a more traditional tight end. That move appears to have backfired, and Coen said the staff is working with Cummings to cut some of the weight he gained now.
Still, Marrow has challenged Cummings to learn more of the traditional tight end responsibilities this spring since he is on the field for formations where Bates, Kattus or Dingle would likely have been used if healthy. The return of those players in the fall will make snaps hard to come by at tight end again, but Cummings could stake a claim for a spot in the rotation by proving capable of more than his specialized role from 2021.
“If you remember in ‘21, if we had 70 snaps, he might have played 18 snaps, but they were a good 18 snaps,” Marrow said. “He’s too good for us not to have a role for him. He’s a mismatch.”
Asked what he learned from his 2022 frustrations, Cummings said he knows now not to take anything for granted.
That lesson could prove valuable once the players ahead of him on the depth chart return to the field. The return of Coen alone will not be enough to ensure Cummings plays a featured role as a senior.
“That’s up to Izayah,” Stoops said. “There’s a lot of good players around him. … Izayah just needs to worry about Izayah. He’ll have that opportunity in this system.”
UK football open practice
When: About 11:45 a.m. (Gates open at 11:15 a.m.)
Where: Joe Craft Football Training Center practice fields
Admission and parking: Free
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