Football Season Coverage
By Jack Pilgrim on ©February 23rd, 2018 @ 8:30pm
The coolest name in all of college football is signed on to play at Kentucky next season, as three-star running back Kavoisey Smoke joined the Big Blue Nation.
Tonight, the newest Kentucky running back joined Matt on Hey Kentucky! to talk about all things football, including his recruitment, the Wildcat backfield, and his relationship with Benny Snell.
Most importantly, Matt asked him how he got his incredible name.
Take a look:
For more the entire episode, check it out below:
By Freddie Maggard on ©February 23rd, 2018 @ 7:00pm
Vince Marrow could have up to four NFL caliber tight ends in his meeting room come fall camp. That’s a bold statement. I guess in today’s world that could be considered a hot take.
Regardless, even while rehabilitating an injury, CJ Conrad would have been drafted this year if he had decided to forego his last year of eligibility. He’s back and joined by Justin Rigg to go along with a pair of highly talented freshmen: Keaton Upshaw and Brenden Bates.
Let’s take a look:
Greg Hart | 6’5, 245 | Graduated Senior
-Transfer from Nebraska
-Played in 25 games with 2017. Caught 9 passes for 57-yards, and 1 touchdown.
-Solid blocker as a fullback/H-back.
-Traveled to Ethiopa on a service/educational trip. Graduated with a marketing degree and is currently working on a second degree in communications.
-Excellent teammate and leader. Hart will prosper in whatever post-UK endeavors he encounters. Respect.
CJ Conrad | 6’5, 250 | Senior
-All-SEC performer, 2-time Mackey Award Watch List. Should again be on several preseason honors lists.
-Opponents bracketed Conrad in 2017 after catching 2 TD passes in the team’s first two games. Excellent blocker, considered by some analysts as the most complete TE in the Southeastern Conference.
-Suffered a season-ending injury vs. Georgia. Had surgery on November 21st.
-Averaged 17.9 yards per catch in 2017.
-Has 9 career TD receptions.
-Career: 50 catches, 697-yards, 9 TD’s.
-Career day vs. New Mexico State: 5 receptions, 133-yards, and 1 TD.
-Led all SEC freshman TE’s with 15 catches in 2015. Named 3rd Team Freshman All American. All SEC Freshman Team.
Justin Rigg | 6’6, 250 | Junior
-2 catches for 34-yards vs. Northwestern in Music City Bowl. Averaged 17-yards per catch.
-2017: 3 catches, 40-yards.
-Excels in on line-of-scrimmage or blocking from fullback position.
Brenden Bates | 6’5, 245 | Freshman
-Bigger yet similar version of CJ Conrad coming out of high school.
-Class of 2018 Top 20 TE in the nation.
-Caught 22 passes for 303-yards, and 5 touchdowns as a senior at Archbishop Moeller.
-Has the skill and physical demeanor to compete for immediate playing time. Accomplished blocker and H-back/slot receiver.
Keaton Upshaw | 6’6, 250 | Freshman
-Rated as nation’s 25th best TE in the Class of 2018.
-Bigger version of Brenden Bates.
-1st Team All-Northwest Ohio, 2nd Team All-State.
-Caught 48 passes for 758-yards, and 4 touchdowns as a senior.
-Excellent basketball player.
-Has preferred measurables for an SEC tight end. Should compete for immediate playing time. Like most freshmen, playbook familiarity as well as strength and conditioning gains will be necessary. There are high ceilings, then there’s Keaton Upshaw’s potential. His career possibilities are somewhat unlimited.
What does all this mean?
In typical Marrow fashion; all four tight ends are from the state of Ohio. Pound for pound, this collection could be the second most talented position group on Mark Stoops’ team falling behind the four combined linebacker spots. However, Kentucky will need to develop an over-top receiver and an additional home run hitting running back in order to loosen coverage. This should free up the tight ends in the short-to-intermediate passing game.
The Cat’s offense features its tight ends in the position’s traditional role, as a H-Back, slot receiver, and fullback. UK TE’s combined for 22 catches for 351-yards. However, the group tied the WR’s with 5 touchdown receptions. Telling on both accounts. Understandably, the lack of Conrad touches frustrated the Big Blue Nation. Stephen Johnson and CJ Conrad experienced difficulties connecting over the past two seasons. Also, TE is a position that can be successfully schemed against, especially within the RPO scheme. That happened quite often in 2017. Limiting CJ Conrad was a high objective for opposing defensive coordinators and limited the future pro to 16 catches on the season.
To go along with Conrad, Justin Rigg has also received rave reviews by TE coach Vince Marrow. Both are excellent blockers that have the potential to have a break-out season in relation to catches and touchdowns. Brenden Bates and Keaton Upshaw are two highly skilled athletes. I would not be surprised to see both make an immediate impact.
Remember, the freshmen don’t report until this summer. Therefore, depending on CJ Conrad’s availability, spring practice could get a little tricky with Justin Rigg being the only scholarship TE participating in spring practice. The smart play would be to continue Conrad’s rehabilitation and let the rising senior use the time to add quality weight/strength. He has very little to prove during spring ball.
Vince Marrow has stacked his meeting room with future pro talent. This group needs to ascend in the statistical category in order for Eddie Gran to ease the pressure on Benny Snell and for his offense to reach its full potential.
By Nick Roush on ©February 22nd, 2018 @ 9:30pm
The way the season ended, it’s easy for fans to forget that Kentucky’s defense won the Cats a couple of games at the start of the 2017 season. The biggest of those wins, arguably the most impressive of the season, was Kentucky’s fourth consecutive victory over South Carolina.
The blackout at Williams-Brice Stadium was hyped to be South Carolina’s return to glory, all thanks to Will Muschamp. After an awful start that featured an interception and a one-play Gamecock touchdown drive, Kentucky’s defense absolutely dominated.
The Cats held the Cocks to only 54 rushing yards, they picked off Jake Bentley twice and South Carolina converted just 3-of-12 third downs. Mark Stoops’ defense saved their best work for fourth down.
Trailing 14-6, Muschamp left the halftime locker room with an aggressive gameplan in hopes to recapture lost momentum. After forcing a UK three-and-out, South Carolina went for it on fourth down in no-man’s land near midfield. Derrick Baity stuffed the run for no gain. Kentucky’s offense responded with a made field goal to put South Carolina in the danger zone.
Desperate for a score, South Carolina methodically marched down to the UK two-yard line in 12 plays. Twice Bentley completed passes on third down to keep the drive alive and put the Cats on their heels. The third time was the charm for Kentucky.
On third down Eli Brown attacked the scrambling Bentley, stopping him one yard short of the goal line. Brown was injured on the hit. Down to UK’s third and final option, Boogie Watson was inserted at Will linebacker for the first time in his career. The redshirt freshman scraped to the outside to help Baity make the tackle behind the line of scrimmage. The biggest play of Boogie’s young career silenced the sold out stadium.
The goal line stand deflated the crowd and defined Kentucky’s hard-nosed victory at South Carolina. The Cats could not consistently contain SEC offenses in 2017, but their performance in Columbia could be a preview of what’s to come from the veteran group in 2018.
By Freddie Maggard on ©February 22nd, 2018 @ 7:00pm
Some highly respected analysts project seasons based upon returning experience along the offensive line. If that’s the case, then Kentucky should be receiving higher marks than it’s earned thus far during the silly season. This post will address the UK big fellas in relation to the team’s pending spring practice.
The Kentucky offensive line experienced one of the program’s most dominant seasons from the position group in 2016. Major factors for its success were depth, a quality center, experience, and collective healthiness. Fast forward to 2017. Starting left tackle Cole Mosier’s season ending injury that occurred during fall camp led to a seesaw effect within John Schlarman’s unit. Guards played tackle, left and right tackles flip flopped, and a revolving door at center resulted in bad snaps and other mistakes. Throughout early struggles, Schlarman stayed true to his coaching philosophy of establishing a standard substitution rotation and cross-training players amongst other positions.
Center Drake Jackson solidified the middle of the offensive line-of-scrimmage midway through the season. The rising sophomore’s play improved on a weekly basis. Jackson is said to have gained quality weight and strength in the offseason. He will be the base in which Kentucky builds for the next three seasons. The “Drake Effect” projects confidence for the three prior position groups we’ve discussed through this point prior to spring practice: Quarterback, Running Back, and Receiver.
The Departed Starter
Kentucky returns four out of five offensive line starters to go along with three players that factored in the rotation. The sole departure is long-time contributor Kyle Meadows. Meadows started 35 consecutive games. He started at both left and right tackle.
Projected Spring Practice Starters
Left Tackle: Landon Young 6’7, 305 Junior
- Started 9 career games at left tackle; 6 in 2017
- Rotated with Kyle Meadows and Cole Mosier at left tackle
- Extremely high ceiling. Needs to get “there” this spring. It’s time.
- Registered 27 knockdown blocks as a true freshman
- Former 5-star prospect, US Army All American
Left Guard: Logan Stenberg 6’6, 320 Junior
- Started all 13 games as a sophomore
- Only UK offensive lineman to start all 13 games at the same position in 2017
- Recorded 8 knockdown blocks vs. Tennessee
- Locked down starting role. Considered the group’s “enforcer”
- Registered 37 knockdown blocks as a freshman, missed just one blocking assignment, and allowed one QB pressure in 2016
Center: Drake Jackson 6’2, 305 Sophomore
- Started final 7 games. Jackson’s improvements coincided with Benny Snell’s increase in rushing yardage.
- First start was against Mississippi State after an encouraging performance in a win over Missouri
- Former US Army All-American
Right Guard: Bunchy Stallings 6’3, 318 Senior
- Started 18 games at both guard and center
- Was recruited as a center. Appears much more comfortable at guard.
- Seven consecutive starts within an interior offensive line grouping that consists of G Logan Stenberg, C Drake Jackson, and G Bunchy Stallings. This is an important note going into spring practice. Experience and familiarity are two vital coaches within a football program.
- Joins Stenberg to construct a physical duo of guards. Both play with a necessary nasty streak for the position.
Right Tackle: George Asafo-Adjei 6’5, 315 Senior
- Started in 11 career games at both guard and tackle
- Diverse nature of Asafo-Adjei’s game projects to multiple positions
- Finished 2017 by starting the team’s final 6 games at right tackle
- Played in over 30 games
Available Offensive Linemen for Spring Practice
The UK offensive linemen will be doing a great deal of jersey swapping during the spring game if my math is correct. Eleven scholarship lineman will participate in spring practice. No incoming freshmen enrolled early and will not factor in spring practice.
Sebastien Dolcine 6’4, 305 Freshman
- Redshirted in 2017. Projects inside to guard. Athletic mauler. Excited to gauge Dolcine’s development during the spring.
Austin Dotson 6’6, 310 Freshman
- Preferred measurables and demeanor for a right tackle. Redshirted last season. Much like Dolcine, I’m eager to watch the former Belfry Pirate match up against Denzil Ware, Josh Paschal, and Josh Allen.
Luke Fortner 6’6, 305 Sophomore
- Earned playing time as a redshirt freshman
- Joins Mason Wolfe as returning players that were actively involved in the offensive line rotation. Considered to be in starting rotation and will compete to be counted with the first five.
- A force multiplier, Fortner can play tackle, guard or center.
EJ Price 6’6, 311
- Transfer from USC
- Extremely high potential. Will be interested to see him compete during spring practice.
- Possesses talent, build, and ability to push for immediate playing time within the rotation or perhaps even as a starter at one of the tackle positions.
Naasir Watkins 6’5, 300 Freshman
- Redshirt was nearly taken off following the injury of Cole Mosier and others along the offensive front.
- Talented athlete. Watkins played tight end and offensive tackle at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School.
- Coaches have raved about Watkins’ ceiling. Will compete for starting tackle position. Assuredly will be in 2018 rotation.
Mason Wolfe 6’6, 310 Junior
- Provides quality depth. Considered another starter due to the rotation. Solid, will push for a starting role.
- Showed significant strides from 2016 to 2017
What does all this mean?
Starting positions are effectively locked up at guard and center. The interesting competitions could occur at tackle. Landon Young will have to hold off Naasir Watkins. George Asafo-Adjei should get the role but will have quality backups in Wolfe and Dotson. Fortner will factor somewhere. This group’s ability to play multiple positions paid dividends in 2017.
The Class of 2018 is the best offensive line group that Mark Stoops has signed. We’ll incorporate the rookies in a preseason post. Also reporting in June will be Chris Rodriguez and Kavosiey Smoke. Both are 200-pound plus bruisers that can run behind the pads. The fact that UK returns physical starters at guard-center-guard can only be considered a positive as the aforementioned youngsters will join Benny Snell to make up a group of downhill runners. Break out the Tylenol in fall camp.
Much like the highly successful 2016 OL campaign, experience, depth, and a quality center return in 2018. Will this current group of Cats produce as did Toth and company? Stay tuned as all offensive position groups tie together.
Mark Stoops will be the first head coach to take the podium at the 2018 SEC Media Days.
The longest-tenured coach in the SEC East will speak before two headline-grabbers, LSU’s Ed Orgeron and Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher. Surely, Stoops will tell a story about his former-boss to loosen up the crowd at the start of the day.
SEC Media Days will start Monday July 16. For the first time the four-day event will be held at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta. As always, Freddie Maggard and I will be on the scene for KSR.
Click here to see a complete schedule.
Stoops is listed at the top of the first day’s schedule, but it doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll go first. The itinerary with exact times will be released at a later date.
By Nick Roush on ©February 22nd, 2018 @ 2:00pm
Spring Practice Starts in Two Weeks
What has become a UK football tradition under Mark Stoops, Spring Practice will begin the week prior to UK’s spring break. Starting March 5, the Cats will have three practices, take a week-long break, then return for heavy hitting for one final month.
To celebrate the occasion, Freddie Maggard and The Depth Chart Podcast crew will be at Jack Kain Ford next Thursday at 1:00. Located on Versailles Road near the Bluegrass Parkway, stop by for some popcorn, coffee and a Spring Football Preview with Freddie and the gang.
Pro Day Announced
The Friday after the team returns from Spring Break, UK will host dozens of NFL scouts for UK’s Pro Day. Set to start March 23 at 9:00 a.m., the event will be televised on the SEC Network.
The man with the most to prove is Cole Mosier. The Kentucky left tackle could have earned his way into the NFL Draft with an excellent senior season, but the former walk-on lost that opportunity when he tore his ACL in the preseason. After months of rehab, he’s expected to work out in front of NFL Scouts on Pro Day.
Juice Johnson, Kayaune Ross, Kendall Randolph and Blake Bone are a few other seniors that are expected to work out. For the first time in many years at UK Pro Day, we’ll see a kicker show off his leg when Austin MacGinnis takes the field.
If you follow any UK football social media accounts, you’ve seen videos from the weight room and indoor training facility, but what kind of results are they getting? UK Athletics recently updated the roster and the numbers don’t lie (especially on the defensive line).
- DT Phil Hoskins +26
- DT Abule Abadi-Fitzgerald +21
- NT Quinton Bohanna +20
- C Drake Jackson +13
- OLB Jordan Wright -34
- DE Chris Whittaker -33
- Bunchy Stallings -10
See more of biggest gains and losses from Joe Mussatto at SEC Country.
Wandale Robinson is Turning Heads
If you don’t know the name Wandale Robinson yet, it’s time you got acquainted with the Western Hills do-it-all superstar back. He posted absolutely stupid numbers as a junior — 2,330 rushing yards (13.1 ypc), 33 rushing touchdowns and 6 receiving touchdowns — and is a Mr. Football favorite this fall.
The recruiting services haven’t been too high on Robinson until recently because he’s only 5’8. That changed this weekend. Robinson was the best player at UnderArmour’s Best of the Midwest Camp in Indianapolis. Steve Wiltfong from 24/7 told Ben Roberts one coach clocked him at 4.22 on a 40-yard dash. It’s okay to be skeptical of that speed, so here’s a sample of Robinson out-running the Indianapolis competition.
— Steve Wiltfong (@SWiltfong247) February 19, 2018
Duke and Virginia have some early momentum for Robinson, but Kentucky will be in it until the very end.
Check out UK’s 2018 Promo Schedule
The 2018 home schedule will feature games honoring our Heroes, high school bands and new UK Hall of Fame Members. See the entire promotional schedule here.
Stoops Returned to Youngstown
Each year Mark Stoops returns to Youngstown with all of his brothers to host a coaches clinic and speak at Cardinal Mooney High School’s Hall of Fame Ceremony, which bears his father Ron’s name. There’s an article featuring quotes from both Stoops brothers in Youngstown’s The Vindicator, but the best part of the story isn’t the words, is the following picture. To be a fly on the wall in that conversation.
By Jack Pilgrim on ©February 21st, 2018 @ 7:00pm
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and his foundation have donated $10,000 to Lexington’s youth football program, the largest donation they have ever received.
According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, ten NFL players and dozens of college football stars got their start in the Lexington youth leagues, and a recent upswing in participation has led to their grant from the Bill Belichick foundation.
In 2017, more than 677 players participated in the league. That’s more than double than what it was two years ago, when the number of kids dropped to 319, the lowest in the history of the nearly 50-year program, parks officials say.
Darliene Haley, athletic director for Lexington parks youth, said the grant will help pay for pads, helmets, safety equipment, blocking dummies, agility hoops, and blocking shields, among other things.
“Football is an expensive program to run,” Haley told the Herald-Leader. “We would never be able to afford this equipment without this grant.”
Dermontti Dawson, Frank Minniefield, Marc Logan, Cornell Burbage, and George Adams are just a few former NFL standouts to get their start in Lexington youth leagues.
With Belichick’s help, along with a recent spike in local participation, maybe Lexington’s next legendary football player will be suiting up this fall.
The easy spring practice write and fan fascination will justifiably surround Kentucky’s quarterback competition. However, adjacent offensive positions significantly impact the QB race as well as the offense in its entirety. Today we’ll focus on the running backs.
Benny Snell is now the standard in which Kentucky running backs will be measured. The rising junior has blazed a path through the UK record books. But, is Benny enough? You be the judge. The second half of the Music City Bowl mirrored similar moments throughout last season when the star was sidelined. The Snell-less backfield ignited a genuine sense of concern in Nashville. The Cats mustered very little running back production after Snell was prematurely dispatched to the locker room. To make matters worse, unexpected attrition reared it’s ugly head again in the offseason with the transfer of Bryant Koback, who had been spoken of with high regards prior to announcing his early departure from the program.
Let’s take a look at a comparison between 2016 and 2017:
2017 Running Back Production
2016 Running Back Production
— Benny Snell accounted for 77% of all RB rushing yards and 90.4% of the position’s touchdowns in 2017.
— Kentucky finished 2016 ranked 3rd in the SEC by averaging 234.15 yards-per-game.
— UK averaged 30 points-per-game in 2016. That declined to 25 in 2017.
— 2017 saw the Cats finish 8th in the league after averaging 161.69 rush-yards per contest.
Unexpected attrition took its toll on the Kentucky offense. Boom Williams’ questionable decision to enter the NFL Draft limited the Cats attack much like Jeff Badet’s departure to Oklahoma. So did losing tackle Cole Mosier and Dorian Baker to preseason injuries as well as not having guard Nick Haynes at 100%.
The result; Kentucky rushed for 859 fewer yards in 2017 than it did in 2016. The position also produced 6 less touchdowns. This comparison is also somewhat unfair due to the number of RB participants, a steady offensive line, a deep threat passing game led by a healthy quarterback. But, the above numbers paint a picture of a team that is desperate need of finding quality depth at the running back position. This is common for most teams that possesses a star at the position.
I’d feel safe writing that Benny Snell will be UK’s starting running back. Neither rookie is on campus and will not factor in the spring competition. But again the question remains; who’s next? Which RB will provide quality carries in order to lessen the load for the All American candidate? Will Benny Snell be full-go during spring practice or will he be sidelined for precautionary reasons? I’m on record saying that I’d bubble wrap the Doak Walker hopeful until late in fall camp. That’s a wish but not practical due to familiarization necessities with the new starting quarterback and offensive line.
— 2017 Associated Press 1st Team All SEC
— 2017 SEC regular season rushing leader.
— Two-year totals: 29 touchdowns, 448 carries, 2424-yards.
— Holds school records for points in a season (110), TD’s in a season (19), rushing TD’s in a season (19), rush TD’s in a career (32).
— First player in school history to have 10, 100-yards games prior to their senior season.
— 3rd player in SEC history to have at least 2409-yards and 31 career rushing touchdowns prior to his junior season. Snell joins Herschel Walker and Leonard Fournette in this category.
— Only player in SEC since 2000 to have at least 116-yards and 3-touchdowns in three consecutive games.
— This could go on for a while. For brevity sakes; I’ll shorten Snell’s accomplishments. This should paint the picture of his importance to the Kentucky Football program.
— 2017 totals: 79 carries, 364-yards, 2 TD’s.
— 15 carries, 69-yards, 2 touchdowns in career high game vs. Vanderbilt.
— 5 carries, 64-yards vs. Florida.
— 2017 totals: 15 carries, 37-yards.
— Limited in fall camp due to ankle injury.
— Career high 9 carries, 26-yards vs. Mississippi State.
— Redshirted in 2016.
What does all this mean?
I hope these articles help in explaining how different positions impact the others. Lower production from the WR’s allowed opposing defenses to condense (load the box) in order to stop the run. That strategy worked and is another factor that led to a decrease from the running back position and scoring totals.
Kentucky quarterbacks threw just 10 touchdown passes in 2017 which was a drop of 7 from the prior season. Some of that decline lies on the shoulders of an offensive line that struggled to find its identity until later in the season as well as the WR’s/QB’s not being able to connect on the homerun ball. Offense is an eleven-man operation; it all ties together.
Now back to the running backs.
Plain and simple Benny Snell is a star. However, the team will need Sihiem King and AJ Rose to provide quality carries and perfect the blitz pickup during spring practice. Snell’s future must be taken into consideration in the big picture. Fewer hits from quality reps provided by backups would be the optimal spring result.
Sihiem King is a shifty yet undersized runner that has shown flashes. The rising senior is who we’ve seen for the past three seasons. In other words, I’d expect more of the same from the Georgia native and that’s a pretty darn good change of pace RB by the way. King can also increase his role during passing downs and on special teams.
AJ Rose was a high school quarterback. His learning curve for the position has been steep and was dampened by an ankle injury during fall camp. Rose has a tremendous upside but needs to become more consistent in basic fundamentals that are obligatory for the position. Another spring practice may lead to a discovery of a quality SEC RB. His development is incredibly important for Eddie Gran’s offense. Gran is a proven RB teacher with several pupils having played on Sundays.
Rose’s talent has never been in question. I can’t emphasize enough how important spring practice is for the sophomore. With two promising rookies arriving in June; his time is now.
Back to surrounding positions. Kentucky returns 4/5 offensive line starters and an All SEC TE. Experience can be the best teacher in the facility. Somehow, someway Eddie Gran has to design more non-Snell rushing threats. That could come in the form of a backup RB, the multitalented Lynn Bowden, or the quarterback position. In simpler terms; the Wildcat’s need to expand its rushing attack. Benny needs some help.
By Freddie Maggard on ©February 19th, 2018 @ 11:00pm
Kentucky receivers are in need of enhanced production and depth. The bad news is that the Cats return just eight starts from the position group in a spring practice that will feature a quarterback competition (all eight belong to junior Tavin Richardson by the way). Four true freshmen receivers saw action a year ago; only Lynn Bowden Jr. showed flashes. The good news is that Dorian Baker and his 1,015 receiving yards return to provide leadership and a deep threat for Eddie Gran’s offense. Let’s dive deeper into the receiver position:
Lost Production from 2017
— For two consecutive seasons Garrett Johnson led the team in receptions. Johnson also finished his Kentucky career with over 2,000 receiving yards which ranks fourth in program history. His innate knack to move the chains on 3rd down will be sorely missed.
— Fellow starters Kayaune Ross and Charles Walker will also need to be replaced. Ross finished the 2017 strong but his bid for an additional year was declined. Walker worked his way from walk-on to starting WR and punt returner. The fan favorite also provided clutch catches in key moments of critical games.
— In total; 65% of WR catches, 64% of receiving yards, and 80% of the position’s touchdown catches have moved on.
Returning Production from 2017
|Lynn Bowden Jr.||17||210|
|Clevan Thomas Jr.||1||4|
— Tavin Richardson is the group’s top returning producer and should remain in his role as a consistent starter.
— Sophomore Lynn Bowden Jr. evolved into an essential role within the Cats’ offense and special teams. Bowden Jr.’s role should see a significant increase in 2018. A rise in production is estimated due to his familiarity with the position (Played QB in high school).
— The three freshmen must show strides: Josh Ali, Isaiah Epps, and Clevan Thomas Jr. 2017 saw far too many “near misses” within this trio. Route execution and increased yards after catch are two obvious developmental essentials.
Incoming Freshmen Receivers
— Kentucky has zero early-enrollee receivers. No impact on spring position competition.
How Important is Dorian Baker’s Return?
— Dorian Baker missed 2017 due to a preseason injury. He was the 27th player in program history to surpass 1,000 receiving yards and brings a wealth of experienced to a receiving unit that returns just 8 combined starts, 48 receptions, 665-yards, and 1 touchdown from a year ago. Baker’s health status, leadership, and complete availability are vital to the team’s success.
Who are the Post-Spring Practice Starters?
Tavin Richardson, Dorian Baker, and Lynn Bowden Jr. should emerge from spring practice as the Cats’ starters; however, Baker’s participation may be limited due to continuing rehabilitation. The smart play could be to limit the 5th year senior’s reps. Richardson and Bowden Jr. need to separate from the pack.
— Tavin Richardson is a prototypical X or outside receiver. He needs to become more consistent within the catching process to increase yards after reception.
— Lynn Bowden Jr. simply demands more repetitions at the receiver position. His transition from ATH/QB to receiver slowly developed a year ago; expect the electric sophomore to fly in 2018.
— Developing the second rotation is important. Here’s where new WR coach Michael Smith will earn his keep. Kentucky dropped from 17 TD receptions in 2016 to just 10 a year ago. This statistical drop can be attributed to Stephen Johnson’s injuries as well as not finding an adept replacement for Jeff Badet. In addition, yards after reception seemed to be significantly lower.
— This is a cycle. UK lacked the WR/QB combination to take the top off opposing defenses which allowed opponents the luxury of lying and waiting on the screen game. In other words, with no to little deep threat, the defense could play closer to the line-of-scrimmage.
— While possessing upper-shelf speed, Josh Ali and Isaiah Epps require detailed progress in executing the complete route tree and catching the football in traffic. Clevan Thomas is more of a possession receiver than speed merchant.
What does all this mean?
An incoming freshman or possibly two may see immediate playing time. However, spring practice offers an opportunity for those on campus to develop and improve under new WR coach Michael Smith. Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran must replace the majority of his offense’s receptions, yards, and touchdowns. Last year offered immediate playing time for four true freshmen. Only Lynn Bowden Jr. showed flashes. The other three not so much. Coach Smith’s starters could be Bowden Jr., Baker, and Richardson. The next four-to-six are the players that make or break the position.
Smith has his hands full. Competition will be fierce, as it should be from a position that demands detailed improvement.
By Jack Pilgrim on ©February 19th, 2018 @ 7:50pm
When Mark Stoops announced Kentucky football’s 2018 recruiting class two weeks ago, he immediately expressed regret for not bringing on a local talent.
Today, he fixed that situation.
Three-star quarterback and Christian County product Kolbe Langhi has committed to Kentucky as a preferred walk-on.
— Kolbe Langhi (@KLanghi) February 19, 2018
The 6-foot-6 lefty is Christian County’s all-time leading passer with 9,002 career yards and had 101 total TDs.
Back in 2016, Langhi turned heads of the Alabama coaching staff during a camp in Tuscaloosa, where he had the opportunity to do an extended workout for then-Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. The current FAU head coach then invited Langhi to tour campus following the personal throwing workout, where he expressed interest in the Hopkinsville, KY native.
Over the last year, Langhi visited both Vanderbilt and UofL, but hoped all along for a Kentucky offer.
Jeff Drummond and Justin Rowland of Rivals.com broke the news last week that Langhi was finally offered a preferred walk-on from the Wildcat coaching staff, and he had been discussing the option with his family.
Nice scoop from @JDrumUK and I can confirm that Kentucky has offered a preferred walk on spot to Christian County quarterback Kolbe Langhi. He is discussing the option with his family.
— Justin Rowland (@RowlandRIVALS) February 13, 2018
With Kentucky only bringing on 24 scholarship players in the 2018 class, along with the normal attrition we see each Spring, it’s very likely Langhi ends up as a scholarship quarterback this season.
The 6-6, 220-pound QB also plays basketball for Christian County, is a member of the Future Business Leaders of America, and also has a 3.75 GPA as a senior.
Not too shabby for the newest Wildcat.
Check out Langhi’s impressive senior year highlights:
Welcome aboard, Kolbe!
By Jack Pilgrim on ©February 16th, 2018 @ 11:00pm
When Mark Stoops announced the hire of Vince Marrow back in December of 2012, his credentials didn’t immediately jump off the page. Or ever, for that matter.
Marrow had been a graduate assistant with Nebraska under head coach Bo Pelini, where he looked over the tight ends unit and eventually helped recruit when associate head coach Barney Cotton was unable to travel while recovering from surgery.
Before that, he served as a tight ends coordinator for two NFL Europe teams, the University of Toledo, and the Omaha Night Hawks, and was also a head coach for Springfield High School in Holland, OH. He played in the NFL from 1992-1995, and then overseas until 1998. He even played in the lone season of the XFL begun by WWE’s Vince McMahon in 2001.
Stoops and Marrow had known each other since before they were 10 years old, and played together at Cardinal Mooney High School in Youngstown, Ohio. At first glance, it looked like the newly-hired Kentucky head coach was handing out a favor for a longtime family friend.
Five years later, Vince Marrow is the most valuable element of the Kentucky football program.
“Our logo right now probably the last three years has been the second-most dominant logo recruiting in Ohio,” Marrow said on National Signing Day last Wednesday.
He and the Kentucky Wildcats had just earned a signature from four-star linebacker Chris Oats over Ohio State, the fifth UK signee from the state of Ohio.
Bill Greene, an Ohio recruiting insider for 247 Sports, said despite a hard late push from the Buckeyes, Oats’ relationship with Marrow ultimately won out in the end.
“I always felt they were in good shape when Oats described his relationship with Marrow as a father/son relationship,” Greene said. “I never heard him talk that way about any other head coach or any other assistant coach at any other school. Even when I thought Ohio State might be able to win this one, that always stuck with me.”
Ohio recruiting analyst Andrew Lind reported similar information when the tide started turning blue for Oats, saying Kentucky flat out won the recruiting battle with OSU, with Marrow being one the key reason.
“While questions about his grades will surely be tossed around as a reason why he didn’t end up at Ohio State, Oats’ decision will be more so about his relationship with Marrow and the rest of Kentucky’s staff,” he said.
This is a sentiment we have heard time and time again from talented recruits, specifically from the state of Ohio.
Five of the top 35 prospects from the state of Ohio signed with Kentucky in the 2018 recruiting class. Six of the top 30 prospects from Ohio signed with Kentucky in 2017. In 2016, 10 of Ohio’s top 56 recruits ended up in Lexington.
Since arriving at Kentucky back in 2012, Marrow has been the lead recruiter on 37 Kentucky signees from the state of Ohio, with 16 of those prospects being listed as a four-star by at least one recruiting service.
When Kentucky’s 2014 recruiting class finished as a consensus top-25 group, and easily the highest rated in school history, attention turned toward UK’s lead recruiter. In 2015, Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines did their best to steal the talented recruiting coordinator away from Kentucky, but a hefty raise and promotion kept him in blue and white.
When whispers of other schools laying the groundwork to make another run at him spread last March, Kentucky signed Marrow to a three-year contract extension to keep him at UK as the recruiting coordinator through 2020, including another pay raise worth roughly $500,000 a year.
And even that may be an underpay.
You see, what Vince Marrow does at Kentucky on the surface is appreciated, but that’s not where he holds his incredible value with the program. What he does behind the scenes, however, is where he has become a truly special talent.
He has looked every elite program in the eye while crossing paths on the recruiting trail without flinching and has won at an unprecedented rate. He backs down to no one. Like we’ve seen with Oats, Lynn Bowden, Josh Paschal, CJ Conrad, and plenty others, Marrow competed with the big dogs and won out on National Signing Day. And when those same elite programs come knocking on the door in the weeks leading up to Signing Day, he almost always manages to hold them off.
Even if he loses a recruiting battle initially, he doesn’t give up there. Just this past year, Kentucky signee Nick Lewis committed to Washington State early in the recruiting process, and Marrow called him immediately afterward to tell him he’d end up in blue and white regardless. After constantly prying and digging, he got the 6-foot-9, 348-pound lineman to visit Lexington, and he flipped his commitment almost immediately after.
If Marrow gets his foot in the door with a four or five-star talent, that player will not commit to any school without thinking twice about the Wildcats. It’s a fact. The mutual respect gained is something that never fades, and it has paid off in the end on several occasions. According to multiple sources, Marrow also keeps tabs on former top recruits in case a potential transfer comes to fruition (keep an eye on a former four-star receiver that had Kentucky in his final two from several years back.)
Family. Community. Priority.
When Marrow gets involved with a recruit, he’s all in. When you see some of the other top programs in the nation recruit, they place players on the backburner as second or third options in case other situations arise. They’ll “offer” a scholarship, and then tell them to their face to hold off on visiting or making a commitment until closer to Signing Day. With Kentucky’s top recruiter, every player is a priority, and they are treated as such. Recruits and their families respect that.
“He makes every recruit feel like they are the No. 1 prospect on Kentucky’s board,” said one former top prospect and Kentucky signee. “Once they’re committed, Coach Marrow just takes it to the next level. He creates a family atmosphere that you don’t see anywhere else.”
Even still, everyone knows Vince Marrow is an extraordinary recruiter. He has made raking in four-star talent the norm, and Kentucky fans expect a solid number of them each recruiting class as a result. But what else does he do for the school to separate himself from the pack?
One source close to a Kentucky player that made an NFL decision this offseason said Marrow was easily the difference maker.
“You don’t understand what it’s like to be recruited by Coach Marrow, you really don’t,” they said. “(When he was making his decision), it felt like you could trust him with every aspect of the situation wholeheartedly. He laid everything out, pros and cons, and (the player) was able to make the best decision for him. It truly felt like he was being recruited to Kentucky all over again. (He) felt special.”
Marrow gave his pitch, and made him feel wanted at Kentucky, but didn’t force the issue. He didn’t do what was in the school’s best interest or his own, it was entirely on what was best for the player, and his family appreciated that.
It was a decision that was done the right way, with the right resources to help.
Following Kentucky’s loss in the TaxSlayer Bowl back in 2016, Boom Williams announced his decision to enter the NFL Draft, one that shocked no one. Williams had always loved the spotlight and had dreams of playing in the NFL, and it was no secret he wanted to get there as soon as possible. In the decision making process in the weeks leading up to the bowl game, Vince Marrow put in countless hours of work talking to NFL scouts and teams about Williams’ draft stock, knowing full well he had all but decided he was going pro. Still though, like he had promised to do with every other Wildcat since he got to Kentucky, he went the extra mile.
After receiving draft grades of anywhere from the fifth round to undrafted, Marrow approached Williams’ family about the numbers and strongly advised him to reevaluate his decision. Williams’ family talked to their own people and came to the conclusion that Boom would be selected in the “first or second round,” and went forward with the draft preparation process.
Williams went undrafted and has yet to play a down in the NFL.
If tensions rise in the locker room, Marrow is the one to neutralize the problem. If a player is upset with his current status on the team and threatens to transfer, Marrow talks them back from the ledge. When Kentucky needs to seal the deal with a recruit on the fence, Marrow delivers the knockout blow.
In all aspects of the game, Vince Marrow has been Kentucky football’s most valuable element since he arrived on campus back in 2012. He has taken recruiting to unforeseen heights, developed an inseparable bond with both recruits and current players, and overall, helped build excitement and expectation of success around the program we haven’t seen in years.
In five short years, Marrow has gone from being thought of as nothing more than Mark Stoops’ close friend to becoming a Kentucky football icon.
By Nick Roush on ©February 16th, 2018 @ 12:39pm
Today the University of Kentucky announced how you can get tickets to see this year’s Blue-White Game at Kroger Field.
On Monday February 19, season ticket holders will get first dibs on the reserved lower bowl tickets for UK’s Spring Game. Season ticket holders will be e-mailed a promo code to use on Ticketmaster.com. The following Monday, February 26, the general public will have access to tickets. Students will be able to get two tickets with a valid student ID. All tickets to the game are free.
The game will be played at Kroger Field on Friday April the 13th at 6:30. Spring Practice is tentatively set to begin the week prior to spring break on March 5. Click here for more information.
Get ready to see a familiar name on the Kentucky sidelines for the next four years. Tyler Beisner, son of former KSR editor and KSTV host Thomas Beisner, announced yesterday he will walk on at Kentucky.
The younger Beis played wide receiver at North Oldham, most recently representing Kentucky at the Border Bowl and the Blue-Grey Football All-American Bowl. He shared the exciting news on Twitter last night:
— Tyler Beisner (@TylerBeisner) February 15, 2018
As always, the elder Beis had to make a joke about it:
In all seriousness, as a father, I'm so excited that my son will spend the next four years surrounded by coaches and administrators who care so much about the kids and developing them as more than just football players. So proud.
— TJ Beisner (@tjbeisner) February 15, 2018
Earlier this week, Kentucky’s new wide receivers coach Michael Smith told reporters he was looking to add some walk-ons to his group, a search he takes very personally since he himself walked on at Kansas State in the late 80’s.
“Me,” Smith said when asked if he knew of any walk-ons that turned out to be great. “I was a walk-on that turned out to be great. Me.”
Smith said he uses his success story to inspire walk-ons to aim high. (Get ready to hear this story a lot, Tyler.)
“I do. I’ve even shown them highlight tapes of myself. I want to show them what it takes to be like me. I was pretty good. I want to let them know that they have some big shoes to fill if they want to be like me. I have a great story. I like sharing it because I had an opportunity to walk on, play major, Division I football and I had a tremendous college career and had an opportunity to go on and play professional ball for awhile and it lead into me coaching. I have four beautiful children, a great wife, a great ex-wife, and I’ve got great friends. I’ve got a lot of people in this coaching business that have taken care of me. I’ve just been blessed and I appreciate everything that I’ve been given and I’m definitely going to go out and earn everything I can because I love football. I love coaching. I love being around young men.”
Tyler Beisner’s got a pretty great story himself. If you haven’t yet, read TJ’s story from last year about how Tyler battled health issues to keep playing the sport that he loves. How great is it to see that hard work paying off?
Congrats, Beisner family. Don’t worry, TJ; one day you’ll get back to the beach. Maybe.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©February 15th, 2018 @ 5:45pm
What will the UK Football program look like in 2021? I’m not sure, but I do know they’ll play Akron. According to FBSchedules.com, Kentucky has agreed to a three-game series with the Akron Zips for 2021, 2023, and 2024. Two games will be played in Lexington and one in Akron.
Kentucky will pay Akron $1.3 million for the 2021 game and $250,000 for the 2024 game. The Cats won’t receive anything for the game at Akron in 2023.
Here are Kentucky’s future non-conference opponents as we know them just in case you really want to gt ahead on scheduling:
|9/01 – Central Michigan||8/31 – Toledo||9/05 – Eastern Michigan||9/04 — Louisiana Monroe||9/03 — Miami (OH)||08/31 — Akron|
|9/15 – Murray State||9/07 – at Eastern Michigan||9/19 — Kent State||09/18 — Akron||09/16 — at Akron|
|11/17 – Middle Tennessee||11/23 – UT Martin||11/20 — Chattanooga|
|11/24 – at Louisville||11/30 – Louisville||11/28 – at Louisville||11/27 — Louisville||11/26 — at Louisville|
KSR Road Trip to Akron in 2023??
By Nick Roush on ©February 15th, 2018 @ 1:08pm
We now know exactly how much money Brad White and Michael Smith will make at Kentucky. The outside linebackers and wide receivers coaches have signed to two-year deals that will take them through the 2019 season.
Smith’s contract will not fully kick-in until July 1, when his Arkansas buyout expires. He’s then set to make $375,000 in 2018 and $400,000 in 2019. His predecessor, Lamar Thomas, made $300,00 last season.
White’s contract mirrors Smith’s. The former Indianapolis Colts linebacker coach will make $ 375,000 this year, followed by $400,000 in 2019.
Click here to see the full details of each contract.