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Football Season Coverage

NFL Draft: Will any Cats hear their name called?

bud-pittsburgh

Last year Bud Dupree heard his name called on the first night of the draft, taken off the board with the #22 pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Za’Darius Smith had to wait until Saturday, selected in the 4th round at #122 overall by the Baltimore Ravens.

This year’s draft eligible Wildcats could be waiting even longer.

Josh Forrest, A.J. Stamps, C.J. Johnson, Melvin Lewis and Jordan Swindle are the five highest-rated Wildcats by NFL scouts.  However, they have not been able to exponentially improve their stock leading into the draft at All-American games, Pro Day or the NFL Combine.

Forrest and Stamps were initially on the fringe of the seventh round and free agency.  Forrest struggled at the combine in Indianapolis, apparently fighting off an illness at the time, but managed to bounce back at Pro Day.  Stamps never did anything bad, but never did anything great.

The other three have showed promise as of late.

Scouts do not like C.J. Johnson’s measurements, but he could be a surprise success coming out of free agency.  Melvin Lewis could have been a lock for the league before his injury.  The one silver lining from the injury is that timing is on his side.  He has been able to workout and could start using his injured leg in drills soon, if he hasn’t already.  Swindle might have more momentum than any other player.  The offensive tackle had visits with the Rams, Browns and Texans earlier this week.

Last year was an exciting first night, but you could be waiting all weekend to hear a Wildcat’s name called.  However, that might not be a bad thing.  “Everybody gets a shot,” Jacob Tamme told me at Pro Day.  Signing as a free agent will give them all an opportunity, and maybe an even better one because they get a say in where they are going.


Lane Kiffin’s Bitmoji’s Thursday Morning Wakeup

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve slowly accepted that some trends will just pass me by, and I’m totally fine with that. Bitmojis are a good example. I thought I was pretty hip and with it when I discovered the Bitmoji app and used it to make the cover for my OTT podcast (currently on hiatus, about to make a major comeback!) until I found out that Nick Roush’s mother has been using bitmojis FOREVER, GOSH. So, when Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin started using bitmojis on Twitter yesterday, I had to laugh, not only as a person over 30, but because Kiffin, is well, Kiffin. I mean, the man posed for this photo when he got the job at Tennessee:

(Speaking of, why is there is there not a bitmoji of this? #KnoxvilleSwag)

I’m sure Kiffin is using bitmojis to connect with the kids these days, but the rest of the social media world has been having fun at his expense, laughing at each one he’s put out:

Lane Kiffin said after using Tinder.

…Lane Kiffin said after — you know what, this is a PG-13 blog, I’ll stop myself.

Anyways, let’s turn our eyes to what’s happening in the world of UK sports…

What will happen with UK Hoops today?

Yesterday, Matthew Mitchell did the damage control media tour, coming on KSR and doing a press conference to address the state of the women’s basketball program after recent turnover and turmoil. Although Mitchell came off better during his presser than he did during his appearance on the show, we still have more questions than answers, and I doubt that will change anytime soon. My theory: Mitchell struggled to put together a staff with good chemistry and a coach or two to balance his sometimes harsh coaching style. Mitchell himself admits that he can be a very demanding coach, and without a “good cop” on staff, players grew frustrated and left.

But, who knows. Mitchell did say that he will announce further additions to the staff in coming days, so stay tuned.

Ed Davender is on life support

On Tuesday, the former UK great suffered a massive heart attack and remains on life support at UK Hospital. There are some reports on Facebook that he has passed, but we have yet to hear that from a legitimate news source. Yesterday, Kenny Walker told the Herald-Leader that Ed’s friends, family, and former teammates were holding a bedside vigil. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers.

The NFL Draft starts tonight

Round 1 of the NFL Draft is tonight in Chicago, but don’t expect to hear any UK players called until rounds 4-7 on Saturday. Right now, Josh Forrest and CJ Johnson have the best chances of any UK players of being drafted, with Forrest projected to go in the fifth or sixth round and Johnson in the sixth or seventh.

Is there a Marques Bolden upda—

No.

Here’s where you can catch Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray this week

Something tells me the crowd to see Ulis at the Tin Roof in Louisville tonight will be NUTS.

Finally…

Hey, how about them PREDS! Looks like I need to learn about hockey real fast.


Six Things Eddie Gran said this morning on The Leach Report

Six Things Eddie Gran said this morning on The Leach Report

gran-presser

Lost in the madness with Matt’s early morning guest was Tom Leach’s second-hour superstar, new Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran.  After digesting the spring game over the last ten days, Gran talked about a successful start to his tenure with 15 solid spring practices.

“I was pleasantly surprised with how well they picked it up.”

Eddie Gran’s new pro-style system brings completely new terminology and a new, pad-popping running style to the offense.  They picked up things well during the three-day install period, with limited setbacks.   Near the end of spring ball they added a few kinks to the system he did \n’t expect to get to until the summer.

Luckily, he’s got a good group inside.  “It’s a really smart group, ” allowing for Gran to put in some pulling packages for the offensive guards.

“What he did was grow.”

Drew Barker consistently improved upon his game.  Even though he struggled early on with decision-making and ball security, once he learned more of the offense, things started coming naturally.

“I’m really excited where he is right now,” Gran said.  “All 15 practices he worked to get better.  He was a sponge with Coach (Darin) Hinshaw.”

“It was crazy that he threw that one where he threw it.”

Gran was proud of the way Barker bounced back during the spring game.  After throwing an interception late in the second quarter, back responded by leading a two-minute drive that finished with a ‘crazy’ throw.

“Absolutely huge.  We always talk about recovering and short term memory.  You have to do that.  And when you get into the red zone, everything changes.  You have to flip the switch, the windows become smaller — the throws, the catches — everything you do.”

A Little Name Dropping

Mark Richt, Chuck Pagano, Lane Kiffin and Bobby Petrino were a few names he threw into the mix when elaborating on how his style has progressed throughout the various stops of his lengthy coaching career.

Achieving Spring Game Goals

They did what they came to do:

“We were out there to make sure that nobody got hurt.  We were out there to look right, like a dang football team.  We were out there to see if we’ve gotten better and I think that’s what we did.”

“When the bullets start flying”

Gran used his favorite phrase on himself, rather than how one of his players’ reacts to said bullets.  It’s taken some time for him to figure out the play-calling thing, but after three years of trial and error at Cincinnati, he’s ready to roll.

On how they script plays, their summer goals and more, listen below.


The KSR Football Podcast Covers the Spring Game

barker-spring-ukathletics

After a brief hiatus the KSR Football Podcast is back to break down the Blue/White Game.  There’s plenty of random shenanigans thrown in there too, making for a fantastic hour and a half of entertainment.  Some highlights:

—  Just how great are Kentucky’s cornerbacks?

—  How the Cats can cover up deficiencies.

—  How did Freddie and Jared’s Spring Games work?

—  Jared’s NFL Draft story and who is the most likely Wildcat to have his name called.

—  What Freddie learned from his Q&A with Mac Jones.

To listen, just subscribe to “Kentucky Sports Radio” on iTunes or stream on Podbay.


The First Look at Southern Miss

Southern Miss closed out the offseason with the Gold Team beating the Black Team 10-7 in the spring game. The defense won the day by holding one of the nation’s top passers, QB Nick Mullens, to six completions on ten attempts for a mere 35 yards. In limited action, the senior was also sacked three times.

As we slug through the summer, I’ll post additional updates on UK’s opening day opponent. As for now, the following is an overview and a brief glimpse into what to expect on September 3rd.

Southern Miss finished 2015 with a 9-5 record. USM lost their final two contests by losing to Western Kentucky in the Conference USA Championship 45-28 and later falling to the Washington Huskies 44-31 in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. Prior to National Signing Day, Head Coach Todd Monken departed Hattiesburg for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Former Southern Miss defensive coordinator and Alcorn State head coach, Jay Hopson, returned to assume the duties as the leader of the Golden Eagles’ football program. The last time USM defeated an SEC team on the road was in 2000 when it beat Alabama 21-0.

OFFENSE

Former Kentucky offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson was selected to oversee an explosive offense. 2015 saw USM rack up 509.4 yards per game while averaging 39.9 points.

QB Nick Mullens returns for his senior season after throwing for 4,476 yards and 38 touchdowns in 2015. The 6’1 signal caller from Hoover, Alabama is one of the nation’s top quarterbacks. Mullens also completed 63.5% of his 521 attempts last fall.

Running back Ito Smith returns after contributing 1,643 total yards and 13 touchdowns. Smith will run behind an offensive line that is looking to replace tackles Rashod Hill and Norman Price. Ty Pollard and Jacob Fleming are in the mix to anchor the edge while guards Bates Oliver and Brandon Farmer as well as center Tom Cameron return in the interior. 

Mike Thomas and Casey Martin led the USM receivers with a combined 2,316 yards and 21 touchdowns. Both have moved on. DJ Thompson, 55 receptions for 776 yards and 6 TD’s, Marquis Ricard, and Korey Roberts will move up to featured roles. In addition, three junior college transfers, Allenzae Staggers, Shannon Smith, and Isiah Jones will provide depth and speed to the receiving corps.

DEFENSE

Defensive Coordinator Tony Pecoraro followed Jay Hopson from Alcorn State. Hopson is a highly respected defensive mind and is expected to be heavily involved while installing his 4-2-5 scheme. In 2015, Southern Miss surrendered 25.6 points per game while giving up an average of 379.5 yards per contest.

Much like Kentucky, the secondary is its strength. Returning starters include cornerback Cornell Armstrong, Safety/Linebacker D’Nerius Antoine and Picasso Nelson Jr.

The defensive line dominated the spring game. Defensive end Dylan Bradley recorded 12.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 quarterback sacks in 2015. Bradley and Darius Yancey anchor a unit that gained an offensive tackle transplant in 6’7 280 pound Wil Freeman. Ja’Boree Poole and LaDarius Harris combined for three sacks in the spring game.

Linebackers D’Nerius Antoine and Elijah Parker come back from the Conference USA’s third ranked defense. Jay Hopson is looking for replacements from a talented group of underclassmen and junior college transfers.

Southern Miss is a formidable opening day opponent. With a new coaching staff, it is uncertain how it will gel prior to September 3rd. Stay tuned for more USM posts later this summer. 


Neal Brown dances like nobody’s watching

Neal Brown dances like nobody’s watching

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Earlier today, we showed you the video of the UK Football team doing the #RunningManChallenge in the weight room, and this afternoon, an even better video has emerged of former UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown breaking it down. The former Cat and current head coach at Troy stars in a video of Trojans staff and players dancing for the 2016 Trojan Tribute Award Show, showing off several moves, including the dab, the whip, and the nae nae:

Neal’s great, but we can all agree that the older coach doing the Stanky Leg is the best, right??

stanky


UK Football gets in on the Running Man Challenge

UK Football gets in on the Running Man Challenge

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If you’re not familiar with it, the Running Man Challenge has taken social media by storm over the past month. First started by these two kids, the challenge went mainstream in March when Maryland basketball players Jared Nickens and Jaylen Brantley did the running man dance to the 1996 hit “My Boo” by Ghost Town DJs.

Since then, sports teams everywhere are doing the challenge, including the UK Football team in the weight room this morning. JD Harmon kicks things off by doing a backflip off a box, and teammates Marcus McWilson, Chris Westry, and Josh Allen join him in the dance, along with who we think are Blake McClain, and Nico Firios.  (Confession: Nick Roush helped me identify everyone.)

The memes are taking Twitter by storm right now. Who knew Firios had such a mean Charleston?

Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 11.03.42 AMScreen Shot 2016-04-27 at 10.56.35 AM

UK Basketball, you’re on the clock…


Former EKU head coach on Mark Stoops’ list of potential hires

Former Eastern Kentucky head coach Dean Hood is in the mix for a spot on Mark Stoops’ staff at Kentucky, WKYT reports. That would likely be as a replacement for Andy Buh, the former outside linebackers and special teams coach.

Hood coached the Colonels for eight years up until the end of this past season when he was let go after coaching the team to a 6-5 record. He accepted a job as assistant head coach and tight ends coach at Charlotte back in December.

WKYT’s sources say Stoops was in Charlotte today to meet with Hood to discuss coming back to the Bluegrass.


After the Spring Game and Levels of Concern

Mark Zerof | USA Today

Mark Zerof | USA Today

With all SEC spring games now complete, it’s now time to analyze the conference based on glorified scrimmages with incomplete rosters. At least I’m honest enough to say that at this time I cannot accurately and with good conscious project the eventual East or West champion. Lots of time and opportunity for attrition between today and the first weekend in September.

So what’s been happening since last Saturday? Players are taking some well-deserved time off. The waning weeks of the spring semester present an unrestrictive time for college football players. Student-athletes are actually allowed to be, well students. Once finals are complete, summer workouts kick into full gear.

As we head into the summer doldrums, let’s take a look at each position group and rate them by levels of concern going into fall camp. This will be a two-part post, first up is the offense. Categories will be broken down into three classifications: Low (concern), medium, and high.

OFFENSE

Quarterback-Medium

Drew Barker was named the starter coming out of spring practice. Does that mean he will be taking snaps when the Wildcats square off against a dangerous Southern Miss team? Not sure; but for now and throughout summer workouts, he’s the man. Barker’s spring game performance was steady with two exceptional courage throws for touchdowns. Mechanically he is improved and executed upgraded pocket mechanics. Stephen Johnson is more than a capable backup as displayed by his spring game elusiveness and practice performance. The junior college sensation will continue to push for the starting nod and provides Eddie Gran with a unique change of pace. True freshman Gunnar Hoak will redshirt while Davis Mattingly is an adept third team quarterback.

Why medium? Although the spring game was played in front of a crowd and in Commonwealth Stadium, I’ll continue to be somewhat anxious about this position until I see it operate in a true game environment.

Running Back-Low

Senior JoJo Kemp and junior Boom Williams have combined for 2,701 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns. Mikel Horton is steady and Sihiem King showcased his speed while making a case to be in the rotation. With the additions of incoming freshmen AJ Rose and Benny Snell, Kentucky has an explosive as well as deep stable of running backs. Combine current as well as incoming personnel with Eddie Gran’s intent on a physical run game and you have the potential for a ground game extravaganza.

Offensive Line-Medium

Much like in the spring game review, we could have broken this group into two categories. Guard-Center-Guard, concern level low. Jon Toth is the best center in the conference with two backups that are capable of playing now in Bunchie Stallings and Drake Jackson. Guards Ramsey Meyers and Nick Haynes will have to hold off redshirt freshman Logan Stenberg and sophomore George Asafo-Adjei. Both reserves excelled in the spring finale. Within the middle of the line of scrimmage, the Cats are in good shape. Offensive tackle is another subject. While Cole Mosier will play somewhere, right tackle may be the most suitable spot for his body type. Kyle Meadows is better and ten pounds heavier. But for UK to have an SEC caliber offensive line, an additional OT must surface. Landon Young enrolls in June and Tate Leavitt will have the summer to further adapt to the Southeastern Conference. Overall, Coach Schlarman’s big fellas are improved.

Why medium? See above offensive tackle dialogue. 

Tight End-Low

A legitimate three deep position group, Kentucky TE’s are led by Freshman All American CJ Conrad. Behind Conrad, Greg Hart and Darryl Long will play key offensive roles in 2016. Unsure of schematic capability, Eddie Gran has the personnel to utilize multiple tight ends sets.

Of all the position groups on the football team, TE and cornerback are two of the most obvious talent upgrades of the Mark Stoops era.

Receiver-Medium

Deep, talented, fast, and skilled. Quite the description for a position group that somewhat underachieved in 2015. Enter Coach Lamar Thomas. But, with expectation comes responsibility. With all the tools necessary to achieve, Thomas’ crew has to produce results on the football field. No more talk, no more speculation or expectation. Production is the only category that matters. It’s time.

Dorian Baker, Blake Bone, Ryan Timmons, Garrett Johnson, Jeff Badet, Charles Walker, Jabari Greenwood, and Tavin Richardson construct the unit that will be under the microscope in 2016.

Why medium? Talent wise, I have no concern whatsoever. But the four inches between the ears leave me unsettled. Drops and at-times uninspired effort are too fresh in memory to favorably project. However, I do expect the receivers to be one of the most improved position groups this fall.

Stay tuned for the defensive levels of concern.


Measuring the Impact of Stoops’ First Class

In late November of 2012 Mark Stoops was named head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats and took on the unenviable task of rebuilding the desolated UK roster. With just over two months until national signing day the first time head coach went to work. In the end Stoops signed 17 new recruit and 7 prior Joker Phillips commitments. With that first class now heading into their fourth year it’s time for a little retrospective on the hits and misses of the first Stoops batch:

Moved On

Za’Darius Smith– Drafted in the fourth round by the Baltimore Ravens

Javess Blue– Signed with the Green Bay Packers, missed season due to injury.

Nate Willis- Finished in 2014

Steven Borden– Finished in 2014

Melvin Lewis– Finished in 2015

Jason Hatcher– Dismissed in February following an arrest.

Jaleel Hytchye- Transferred to Georgia State.

Khalid Thomas- Dismissed in 2013 following a violation of team rules.

Reese PhillipsTransferred to FCS.

Justin Day– Did not qualify

Za’Darius has been arguably the most successful recruit that Mark Stoops has brought to campus as the first player the coach brought in to be making a major impact on Sundays. Jason Hatcher, the prized steal of the class, never played up to his potential and had a very public fall from grace earlier this year. Losing 20% of the class to transfer or dismissal is a high rate of attrition but overall much lower than the classes of Joker Phillips.

The Returners

Seniors

Ryan Timmons- WR

Jeff Badet- WR

Alex Montgomery- WR

Marcus McWilson – S

Jojo Kemp- RB

Blake McClain- CB

Tanner Fink- TE

Alvonte Bell- Spent two years at Junior College.

The 2016 Kentucky football senior class may not leave with an impressive list of accomplishments but the group has laid the ground work for future success. Badet has had some highlight reel touchdowns in his career but hasn’t made the plays against top tier opponents. Timmons has been plagued by key drops at big moments. Montogmery has been decimated by injury for his entire career. Despite the inconsistency, the three wideouts have made contributions the past three seasons and could be key for the upcoming season.

Redshirt Juniors

Nick Haynes- G

Regie Meant- DT

Kyle Meadows- OT

Ramsey Meyers- G

Jacob Hyde- FB

Austin MacGinnis- K

The redshirt group of the class also has several key members for the upcoming season with the highlight being 16-game starter Kyle Meadows and the boss of boot Austin MacGinnis. The 2013 class may lack the star playmaking appeal of the 2014 and 2015 classes but on short notice Stoops pulled together a solid core that has made major returns on the rebuilding job.

Hopefully, they’lll be rewarded by making a bowl game for their four years of hard work.

 


@g85hart

Kevin Williams has made it to Campus

@g85hart

@g85hart

Nebraska nose tackle Kevin Williams is looking for a new home for his final season as a graduate transfer.  He arrived in Lexington today and made his way over to Commonwealth Stadium with some other Ohio boys — Greg Hart, Courtney Love and Vince Marrow.  Marrow has connections with almost everyone in Ohio, but his connection with Williams is closer than most.  Marrow was Williams’ head coach at Springfield High School.

Texas A&M has also been mentioned as a possible destination.  Even though injuries have plagued Williams throughout his career, they need his presence on the Kentucky defensive line.  If you don’t believe me, here is what Freddie had to say about Williams’ potential impact.


UK Athletics

We’ve Only Seen the Beginning of Chris Westry’s Greatness

UK Athletics

UK Athletics

After Saturday’s Blue/White game, Mark Stoops said what we’ve all been thinking about for quite some time.  “When I see the ball going down the field on his (Westry’s) side, immediately I’m like, ‘that’s not going to be complete.'”

Chris Westry doesn’t see it so simply, but he appreciates his coach’s confidence.  “Even though he says that, I still have to go out there and do it.  It’s not a given,” he said after the Spring game.

However, that was exactly the case Saturday afternoon.  Stephan Johnson was wise enough to not throw it to his side often, but when Westry had the opportunity he made sure Tavin Richardson never had a chance to see the ball.

The returning All-Freshman SEC selection has used the offseason to get bigger.  So much so that Stoops joked about him becoming a linebacker.  He’s kidding, but only kind of.  I could feel my face emote a “WTF” when I stood next to him for a postgame interview.  If you thought he looked like an impressive specimen before, he’ll make you think twice. But his physical gains aren’t what he took away from the Spring.

“It’s really different.  As a freshman I was a little more nervous, but now I’m a little more settled into actual football.  I’m able to see more of the game.  I’ll be able to understand what’s going to happen before it happens.”

Last year he had to often rely on his athleticism in order to make a play.  Now that he understands the nuances of the position — body positioning, hand placement, receiver tendencies — he anticipates becoming a consistent playmaker on the outside.

“You already had the getting your feet wet aspect of it.  It’s already over.  So you have to keep the car in drive and go faster,” he said.  “They’re not expecting me to make freshman mistakes any more.  It’s time to grow up and be able to do great things. “

One more view of that deflection from UK Athletics, because "Why Not?"

One more view of that deflection from UK Athletics, because “Why Not?”


Check out the progress on UK Football’s new practice facility

UK Football’s $45 million, 90,000 square foot practice facility is schedule to open this summer, and the @UKStoopsTroops Twitter account has done a good job keeping us updated on its progress in recent months. Today, the account posted some new pictures of the facility, which will have an incredible impact on the program.

Above, you can see the aerial view, which includes the new part of the facility under the white roof and the new practice fields. Here’s

Here’s the locker room:

Which will eventually look like this:

The locker room hot tub area:

And finally, the team meeting room:

Keep up the good work, everyone.


UK Basketball posts perfect APR score, UK football’s score improves

poythress-1000

Last week, we found out that the UK Basketball team scored a perfect 1,000 on its academic progress rate (APR) for 2014-2015, and today, the NCAA released the rest of the scores. The football team scored a 950 in the four-year composite, which covers the 2011-12 through 2014-2015 school years; that’s up five points from last year’s score of 945. In order to avoid penalties, all teams must stay above 930.

In the SEC, the basketball team’s 1,000 ties Florida for the best in the league, while the football team’s 950 was the second lowest behind LSU’s 941. As for other UK teams, the women’s basketball team scored a 987, and the baseball team was close behind at 984. Men’s golf, mixed rifle, and women’s cross-country were the only other teams besides men’s basketball to get a perfect 1,000.

A live look at Bobby Knight:


Georgia Paid a Hefty Price for Ludacris to Perform Before “G-Day”

Georgia Paid a Hefty Price for Ludacris to Perform Before “G-Day”

luda

Georgia pulled out all of the stops this year for their spring game, dubbing their welcome home party for Kirby Smart as “G-Day.”  If Kirby wasn’t enough to put fans in the stands, an opening act from ATL’s finest, Ludacris, would surely get them between the hedges.

Through an open records request from The Telegraph, it was revealed that to get Luda to the game it cost the Georgia athletic department $65,000 for a 15-minute pregame performance.  There were also a few amenities included in the deal.  Ten members of his crew received a meal valued at $40.  His dressing room was fully stocked with items like Hanes t-shirts, vodka, cognac, wine, tequila, batteries and a big box of Trojan Magnum condoms.

Here’s a snippet from the show that featured a mix of “Money Maker,” “Stand Up,” “What’s Your Fantasy?” and “Yeah!”  The fans seem…excited?

Georgia set an SEC Spring Game record with 93,000 in attendance, but was Ludacris’ 15-minutes of fame worth $65,000?

[The Telegraph]