September 13, 2011

Melillo: UK TEs not worried about catches

Early in the first quarter of Kentucky's 14-3 win over Western Kentucky on Sept. 1, junior quarterback Morgan Newton dropped back to pass. He saw sophomore Jordan Aumiller in the middle of the field and fired.

Newton's pass was intercepted. There hasn't been another pass targeted for a Kentucky tight end since, a span of 33 pass attempts, 23 possessions and over 110 minutes of game time.

Aumiller, who made the All-SEC freshman team last year, dropped on the depth chart from first to third this week. Sophomore Tyler Robinson is listed as the starter, followed by senior Nick Melillo. Robinson and Melillo have both drawn praise from the coaches for their aggressive blocking, while Aumiller is considered to be more of a threat in the receiving game.

Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips said Aumiller's demotion was partly based on his play and partly based on wanting to insert Robinson and Melillo more.

"He didn't play especially well in the first game," Phillips said. "Melillo played decent in the first game and you have Robinson coming back after the first game. Just because you get called up for a game, you have to take care of business. We have competition at the tight end position and you can't afford to not play well in the game or in practice."

Tight ends coach Greg Nord said Robinson's promotion to the top of the depth chart probably isn't the last time there will be moves at that position. A logjam of tight ends battled for playing time in fall camp before Aumiller, Melillo and Robinson separated themselves. But he expects there to be more change there in the weeks to come as competition there continues.

Even though there haven't been many passes sent towards the Wildcat tight ends, there has still been playing time to spare. As the offensive line has struggled while missing two starters in the first two games, multiple tight ends have often played simultaneously to provide extra blockers.

Melillo hadn't always been known for his blocking prowess. He arrived at Kentucky as a walk-on wide receiver from Lindenwood University in Missouri, an NAIA school, for the 2008 season. He moved to tight end in 2009 was in the mix to start there in 2010 before a high ankle sprain forced him to miss half the season. He's bounced back since then and

"Blocking is something I've come into a little bit more, being a former wide receiver," Melillo said. "But I pride myself on being a tenacious blocker and being a guy who's going to fight you on every single play."

Melillo is a little surprised there have only been two passes thrown to the tight ends through two games, but he's not concerned by it.

"I think the most important thing is doing what's best for the offense, so we might need to stay in a max protect," he said. "We want to be a physical football team. The passes getting thrown to us, I don't think we're really worried about that."

He hopes the tight ends can help establish a solid running game, which he thinks will open up the pass. When that happens, he hopes Newton will look to his tight ends again.

"We have great confidence in him, just like he has great confidence in us," Melillo said. "There's nothing that's ever going to waver anything that we think."

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