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Football Season Coverage
You know that Stephen Johnson rocks No. 15 and Jordan Jones rocks No. 34, but when there’s 22 Cats on the field at once instead of just 11, it helps to dive deeper into the roster. Before you ask, “Who made that play?” and double-check your roster, remember these players before the Blue/White Game.
Inside linebacker Jamin Davis just got to campus in January, but he doesn’t look like it. He’s built more like a defensive lineman that a linebacker. Remember the thought you had when you saw Kash Daniel in uniform for the first time? Davis is a lot like that, minus the cowboy collar.
Derrick Baity changed his number from 29 to 8. He’s not the only experienced member of the secondary to switch to single-digits. Mike Edwards, formerly 27, dropped the two to be No. 7.
The much-anticipated return of Darius West will probably not produce too many fireworks. After all, he can’t peel back and lay into his own teammate like that idiot from Miss. State. Still, it will be great to see him back on the field.
Clevan Thomas will be the most targeted receiver by the second/third team. The slot receiver received praise from Eddie Gran early in spring ball, something Gran doesn’t do often. Anxious to get in the end zone Friday night, the early enrollee will push Juice and Walker for early playing time this fall.
Jamar “Boogie” Watson spent his redshirt freshman season learning the difficult outside linebacker position. Denzil Ware’s backup played disciplined football in Saturday’s scrimmage, frequently making fundamental plays at the line of scrimmage.
Redshirt freshman safety Tobias Gilliam drew comparisons to Melvin Johnson as a recruit. In Saturday’s scrimmage he made the highlight reel with a Pick Six.
59 & 90
This pair of defensive tackles from the Class of 2016 has performed exceptionally well during the spring. Kordell Looney and T.J. Carter will turn heads at least once during Friday night’s game.
Logan Stenberg is the odds-on favorite to replace Jon Toth as Freddie’s favorite player. Watching offensive linemen isn’t entertaining for many, until you see Stenberg bury defensive linemen.
Normally the number of a defensive lineman, Tyler Pack looks the part but he’s actually a kicker. The 6’4″ 275-pound Johnson Central product has quite the boot.
— JD Hαrless (@JDHarless) August 26, 2015
A redshirt freshman athlete from McCracken County, Zy’Aire Hughes started the spring strong at wide receiver, but depth forced Stoops to try him out at defense last week. Where he’ll play will be interesting to see under the lights Friday night.
The number worn by the winner of the 82nd Heisman Trophy, Chuck Walker.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©April 12th, 2017 @ 1:00pm
Mark Stoops was his candid self during his interview on KSR this morning, talking for about 15 minutes about his team’s progress going into Friday’s spring game. Although Stoops can’t discuss recruiting directly, Matt did manage to get him to talk about what it feels like when recruits that have committed to Kentucky then get offers from bigger schools, like, say, Alabama, who offered 2018 UK QB commit Jarren Williams yesterday. That has to frustrate Stoops, right?
“Of course it does. Anybody who doesn’t say, ‘It’s not personal,’ well, it is personal because we spend so much time on it. We work at it, we evaluate, we watch tape, we watch these kids for years, we build relationships with them on the phone, by them coming to campus, social media, just all the time we put into it.”
That being said, Stoops pointed out that schools continuing to go after players who are committed to other schools is just a part of life in football recruiting, and to pretend that Kentucky doesn’t do it too would be hypocritical.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get frustrated, but I’ll tell you this, it’s just part of our job. It is. It’s part of our job. We’ve taken guys that were committed to other schools and other schools have taken guys that were committed to us.”
Stoops said he’s adjusted to that reality over the years and does his best not to overreact when another coach comes after one of his commitments…even if that coach is his own brother, Bob, who recently accepted a transfer from former UK wide receiver Jeff Badet.
“It’s gone on in our sport for ten years,” Stoops said. “We used to take it personal, get mad, maybe if you saw the coach that took him, you’d say something to him, whatever. Nowadays, shoot, my own brother will recruit my player, I’ll recruit my brother’s player, my best friends are in coaching at other schools, we’re going to recruit them, you know what? You don’t even say a word. Want to know why? It’s a part of our landscape. It’s just what we do.”
Stoops’ mantra these days? Que sera, sera…
“What’s meant to be is meant to be,” Stoops said. “We’ll get the players that are meant to be at Kentucky.”
Great interview from Stoops, who also throws shade on guys with beards, in today’s second hour. Check it out starting around the midway mark of today’s podcast:
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©April 12th, 2017 @ 9:00am
Happy Wednesday, everyone, and shoutout to this baby, who, even at a very, very young age, has his or her priorities in order. Flattery will get you everywhere, friends…even if it comes in the form of a baby picture.
Now, let’s make that baby happy and go over today’s agenda, shall we? It’s a busy one.
1. Today is the first day of the spring signing period
Starting today, prospects can make their commitments official, which means that in some point over the next few days, we’ll see signatures roll in from Jarred Vanderbilt, who committed December 23 after the early signing was period was over, and Jemarl Baker, who committed yesterday.
2. Landing Baker was huge
Jemarl Baker’s commitment may not seem like a huge deal because he’s only a four-star, but he’s a player Kentucky desperately needs for next season. Baker is probably the best shooter of the remaining prospects, and although he may not be an elite guy like Kevin Knox, he’s still good and will be around for more than one year. Plus, he’s committed now, whereas Knox is going to wait until April 28 or May 1 to decide. Knox is an incredible talent, but waiting on him is a gamble Calipari can’t afford to make with so few shooters on next year’s roster.
3. Who else will join the class?
Obviously, Mohamed Bamba is priority #1, followed closely by Knox. Kentucky has offers out to Illinois Mr. Basketball Mark Smith and Pitt transfer Cam Johnson as well. I think you can count on at least two of those five joining the squad, possibly three. If I had to put money on it (and I won’t because I’m not Drew), I’d go with Bamba and Johnson.
Speaking of Bamba and Knox…
4. Today is Media Day at the Jordan Brand Classic
Get ready to hear more from Bamba, Knox, Quade Green, Nick Richards, Jarred Vanderbilt, and PJ Washington, because today is Media Day at the Jordan Brand Classic, the final high school all-star game of the season. KSR contributor Colleen Wagoner will be on the scene for us to bring you video of the future Cats, so keep an eye out.
5. Derek Willis heads to Portsmouth
Willis was selected to participate in the annual Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, a pre-draft camp that features some of the best seniors in college basketball. The tournament actually starts today, but Willis’ team doesn’t play until tomorrow night at 9 p.m. Willis will play alongside Bryce Alford (UCLA), Jabari Bird (California), Matt Jones (Duke), Mangok Mathiang (Louisville), Erick McCree (Louisiana Tech), DeWayne Russell (Grand Canyon) and Steve Taylor Jr. (Toledo).
(Cue the Matt Jones jokes.)
If you missed it yesterday, Derek and Dom recapped the season in this video for KyWildcatsTV, and it’s great:
6. I can’t stop watching this video of a guy getting run over by a deer
A Canadian man was run over by a deer last weekend after getting out of a coworker’s car, but because it happened on April Fool’s Day (and, you know, who gets run over by a deer?), nobody believed him when he said it happened. Luckily, there was a security camera rolling, giving us the best viral deer video since that poor runner got tackled by one a few months ago.
— ABC News (@ABC) April 11, 2017
Turns out the guy is a rapper and plans to write a song about the incident. Of course.
7. Drew Barker probably won’t play in the spring game
Friday night’s Spring Game is right around the corner, and yesterday, both Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw hinted that Drew Barker won’t play. Barker told reporters he’s 75-80% recovered from his back surgery, but the staff doesn’t want to take any chances. On the flip side, Barker said he’s on track to graduate from UK in August and will enroll in the MBA program, and although the temptation to be a grad transfer must be there considering Stephen Johnson’s success last season, Barker said he remains committed to staying at UK and winning his job back.
Barker’s journey at Kentucky hasn’t always been a smooth one, but as someone who helped him write the Drew Barker Diary for KSR back when he was in high school, I’m very proud of how he’s matured, especially after watching this video from yesterday’s media opp:
8. Speaking of quarterbacks, can Alabama please stay away from ours?
If you heard a collective groan across the Bluegrass last night, it’s because Kentucky’s 2018 QB commit Jarren Williams picked up an offer from Alabama:
Blessed to recieve my 21st offer from the University of Alabama pic.twitter.com/ijp5JJMko3
— Jarren Williams (@Jarren2Williams) April 11, 2017
Go away, Alabama. Seriously.
9. Get ready for the Spring Game with the KSR Football Podcast
Nick, Freddie, Drew, and Jared reunited yesterday at the iHeart Radio studios to bring you a special Spring Game edition of the KSR Football Podcast. It’s been too long since we’ve heard tales of the Versailles Kroger, Forrest Gump jokes, or Nick’s cheesy puns, so do yourself a favor and pull it up on the KSR feed on iTunes or the countless other podcasting services.
Need more? Mark Stoops will be on the radio show at 11:30 a.m. to get you ready for the Spring Game as only he can.
10. The Mavericks claimed DeAndre Liggins
Earlier this week, the Cavaliers waived Liggins, but he didn’t stay out there long. The Mavericks claimed Liggins yesterday and he’ll join fellow former Cat Nerlens Noel on the roster with one game left in the regular season. That’s right, the playoffs start this weekend, which means today is your last chance to see most of Kentucky’s best players in the league. More on that later today in the BBNBA roundup.
Until then, get some work done because the radio show starts in one hour. Remember, STOOPS at 11:30.
By Nick Roush on ©April 11th, 2017 @ 9:30pm
What to Expect Friday Night
After Gran’s irate reaction to Saturday’s scrimmage, he said the offense bounced back in their final true practice today with “better Kool-Aid.” Moving forward from the atrocity, Gran will leave Commonwealth Stadium happy if the team is injury-free.
“Spring games, I love them. They’re great. I can’t wait to see all the fans. Love the support, but at the end of the day, the meat and the potatoes are done. It’s going to be very basic. Let’s line up and be 100 percent on assignment. With the plays I’m gonna call, if we don’t get lined up and there’s a M.A. (missed assignment), we’re going to have some serious issues. Everyone should be perfect. We should have 100 percent. The effort should be 100 percent. Our technique should be 100 percent.” Gran added: “I want 100 percent.”
LT’s Quote of the Day
“I really like this group. Everybody seems to want to make this team better and that’s very important because as we well know, I try to preach to them all the time, we are playmakers. We’re the guys that put the butts in the seats. We gotta do our part and I think they really look forward to the challenge.”
Lamar Thomas also revealed why Charles Walker now goes by Chuck: “Because it’s a lot easier calling him Chuck.” I doubt that’s the reason. We’ll find out from the horse’s mouth Friday night.
How are 18 year olds this mature?
Clevan Thomas has a lot to learn, but he’s already wiser than most 18 year olds. Rocking a pair of red shoes with his red shorts, when I asked him what his problem was he said, “Ya’ll caught me on the wrong day.” He hasn’t figured that out, but the early enrollee is proud of how much of the playbook he’s figured out in such a short amount of time.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s a hard playbook. It took me the whooooole spring to know it. I still don’t have all the kinks worked out,” Thomas said.
To find the field this fall, he knows he must master all of the kinks at both slot positions. It’s in his offseason plans, but if he still isn’t on the field, he can live with it.
“I just gotta be humble and be patient. I’m eager, ’cause that’s just how I am, but I just think if I’m more patient, it’ll come to me.”
I needed to indent that quote for extra emphasis because that’s exactly what I needed to hear when I was 21 (I still didn’t have anything to work for during the dumbass phase of my first two years of college). The fact that he’s mature enough to understand that to reach his goals it will take hard work over a long period of time displays wisdom beyond his years. It’s admirable.
Dorian Baker is Different and I love it
It’s not that the receiver is four years older. It’s not the fact that he’ll be playing in his first spring game Friday night. There’s something different, and I can’t quite put my finger on it. This interaction from a typically introverted athlete is the best example.
KSR: “Who jaws more between Baity and Westry? I have a feeling I know the answer to this.”
Dorian Baker: “You tell me and I’ll correct you.”
DB: “It is Derrick. It is. He’s always on it man. Me and him always go back and forth, like today.
What happened was, we were in the locker room. He came in our section. I kicked him out and said, ‘What you doing in the receiver section? Feel me? You can’t come over here.’ We come outside. He starts talkin’ all that RA-RA so….I hit him in the head.”
We’re warming up, he comes over and slaps me back in the head. After that we were just going at it all day. That’s what we do. As soon as the practice ends, we’re back to being friends.”
I don’t appreciate the new Dorian because he tells me funny stories; I appreciate the Dorian Baker that is joyful on the football field. There were times when he looked miserable, fighting through injuries and criticism more than cornerbacks. Now, he’s enjoying the grind, competing like it’s his last day because there aren’t many left.
“It’s my senior season. I gotta do or die right now. I can’t waste anymore days. I have no time to waste days. I’m literally out here just busting my balls everyday,” Baker said. “I’m feeling good. I’m playing better, playing confident. Usually when I’m playing I gotta worry about protecting something. Last spring I had the cast (on his left arm), so I had to worry about catching with a cast on. I got too much on my mind. Now I’m just playing free. Joy.”
If that won’t sell you Dorian Baker stock, listen to Jared Lorenzen on the KSR Football Podcast.
By Nick Roush on ©April 11th, 2017 @ 7:00pm
We got the gang back together to discuss Spring Practice and preview Friday night’s Blue/White Game. Drew, Jared, Freddie and Nick discuss all of the important stories from spring, sprinkled in with plenty of shenanigans, including:
— Has Jared changed his mind about Dorian Baker?
— It’s no longer Charles, it’s Chuck Walker.
— Jared’s favorite player has “the touch of a baby gorilla.”
— What did Drew do Sunday to get into trouble?
— Clevan Thomas’ early impact.
— Players you haven’t heard of that will shine in the Spring Game.
You can easily listen on the KSR App, available on iTunes and Google Play. Streaming online is simple through Pod Paradise. You can also get it directly to your phone by subscribing to “Kentucky Sports Radio” on iTunes or via Android’s Podcast Addict app.
By Drew Franklin on ©April 11th, 2017 @ 5:27pm
While getting the plans together for my spring game tailgate a little earlier today, I decided to go ahead and take a peek at the forecast to make sure everything is all set to be picture perfect Friday. I’m really excited about a fun afternoon and night at Commonwealth Stadium and I really need Mother Nature to do her part here.
I did not like what I saw in the forecast.
According to Weather.com, which is the Bill Meck of the internets, there could be rain in the air on Blue-White day. It’s a higher chance in the afternoon when the party begins, and drops down a little bit during game time hours.
This, my friends, is what I like to call BS:
So if you or someone you know, like Bill Meck, has any control over the skies, please find the sunshine for all of us UK football fans on Friday. I was really excited to wear my new Motorsport 4s to the game and I can’t be doing that with rain everywhere.
Optimism is high. Kentucky is being mentioned as a legitimate SEC East contender. What lies ahead for the Cats? 2017 opponents combine for a 79-73 record. Nine teams are coming off bowl appearances. However, no team on the slate won double digit games a year ago.
What does that mean? Not a great deal. Several foes return a high number of starters to include the reigning Heisman Trophy winner in Lamar Jackson and 2017 Heisman hopefuls Nick Fitzgerald and Nick Chubb.
Let’s take a quick look:
At Southern Miss
-2016 record: 7-6
-11 returning starters: 6-offense, 5-defense
-Top player: RB Ito Smith 165 carries, 1459 yards, 17 TD’s
-Summary: The Golden Eagles sustained Kentucky’s best first half shot and then commenced to beat the Wildcats in all phases of the game as well as on the scoreboard. Star QB Nick Mullens and several defensive contributors have moved on. UK has a score to settle in Hattiesburg.
-2016 record: 3-8
-13 returning starters: 6-offense, 7-defense
-Summary: New OLB Coach Dean Hood will reunite with his former team. The Colonels controlled the Cats but fell short in overtime in its last trip to Lexington. That close call should serve as motivation for the Cats in week 2.
At South Carolina
-2016 record: 6-7
-16 returning starters: 10-offense, 6-defense
-Top Players: QB Jake Bentley completed 65% of his passes for 1420 yards and 9 TD’s in just seven games.
-Summary: Carolina will receive a plethora of preseason media love due to its talented quarterback, strong finish, and youthful roster. Kentucky has won three straight in this series. This game could play a factor in the early SEC East race. Vital, crucial road game for Mark Stoops.
-2016 record: 9-4
-16 returning starters: 10-offense, 6-defense
-Top Players: OT Martez Ivey, RB Jordan Scarlett 889 yards, 6 TD’s
-Summary: The Streak…..
-2016 record: 7-6
-16 returning starters: 8-offense, 8-defense
-Top Player: QB Brogan Roback 2964 yards, 18 TD’s
-Summary: EMU played in its first bowl game in 29 years and enjoyed its first winning season since 1995. For those thinking this was a cupcake, think again.
-2016 record: 4-8
-14 returning starters: 8-offense, 6-defense
-Top Players: QB Drew Lock 237-434, 3399 yards, 23 TD’s. RB Damarea Crockett 153 carries, 1062 yards, 10 TD’s
-Summary: The Barry Odom era did not start off with an abundance of success. However, Mizzou did beat Arkansas in its season finale. The Tigers will sport a wide-open offense with stars that can rack up yards and points. UK currently holds a two-game winning streak in this series. Just like a year ago, UK’s games against the two schools from Columbia (Missouri and South Carolina) will greatly influence its win-loss column. Must win here.
At Mississippi State
-2016 record: 6-7
-15 returning starters: 8-offense, 7-defense
-Top Players: QB Nick Fitzgerald 1375 rushing yards, 16 TD’s on the ground. Passing: 196-361, 2423 yards, and 21 TD’s.
-Summary: Mark Stoops finally beat Dan Mullen when Austin MacGinnis hit a 51 yard, game-winning field goal at the end of regulation. The Dogs loaded up on JUCO players and will be out for retribution. Miss State is my surprise team in the West and could be vastly improved. Extremely difficult road game.
-2016 record: 9-4
-14 returning starters: 7-offense, 7-defense
-Top Players: RB John Kelly 98 carries, 630 yards.
-Summary: The Volunteers were supposed to climb back into national prominence in 2016. That didn’t happen. Kentucky has experienced very little success in this series. Unlike most seasons, 2017 will feature a game between two evenly matched teams. This one could be decided by turnovers, big-plays, and special teams.
-2016 record: 5-7
-11 returning starters: 5-offense, 6-defense
-Top Players: QB Shea Patterson 880 yards, 6 TD’s.
-Summary: The Rebels state of mind could be in question coming off a disappointing 5-7 season and in the midst of an NCAA investigation for rules violations and a self-imposed postseason ban for the upcoming season. UK dodges Alabama, Auburn, and LSU from the West. Mississippi presents a winnable cross-divisional game for the Wildcats.
-2016 record: 6-7
-17 returning starters: 9-offense, 8-defense
-Top Player: RB Ralph Webb 250 carries, 1283 yards, 13 TD’s.
-Summary: The Vanderbilt defense has given UK recent fits. It’s ring leader, LB Zach Cunningham, is gone to the NFL. The Wildcats laid an egg during its last trip to Nashville. A repeat performance could damage season momentum.
-2016 record: 8-5
-18 returning starters: 8-offense, 10-defense
-Top Players: RB’s Nick Chubb 224 carries, 1130 yards, 8 TD’s. RB Sony Michel 152 carries, 840 yards, and 4 TD’s.
-Summary: Georgia returns all but one starter on defense and a talented corps of offensive skill players. That combination will catapult the Dawgs as favorites to win the SEC East. Georgia stole one in Commonwealth Stadium in 2016.
-2016 record: 9-4
-13 returning starters: 7-offense, 6-defense
-Top Players: QB Lamar Jackson 1571 rushing yards, 21 touchdowns on the ground. Passing: 3543 yards, 30 TD’s.
-Summary: Stephen Johnson stole the show in Papa John’s Stadium a year ago as the Cats brought the Governor’s Cup trophy back to Lexington. The Cardinals lose several key defensive players and must rebuild an offensive line that struggled in its final three games of 2016.
Challenges and potential road blocks litter the 2017 schedule. But, there are also several opportunities to squelch naysayers. There are no “unwinnable” games which is a significant change from past seasons.
September 2nd vs. Southern Miss is the only date that this team should have on its mind. There will be no lack of offseason motivation with a 44-35, 2nd half butt kicking lingering.
By Nick Roush on ©April 11th, 2017 @ 11:40am
It’s unlikely that Drew Barker will play in Friday night’s Blue/White Game, according to quarterback coach Darin Hinshaw. Eddie Gran said they planned on officially addressing his status later today, but it appears that he will not be returning to the Commonwealth Stadium turf this week.
Barker’s back condition has progressed faster than expected. Restricted to individual and group work to start the spring, he returned to 7-on-7 and team drills after Spring Break. In one Saturday scrimmage, he was inserted into a series and led his team a ten-play touchdown drive.
Restricted to simply walking for an hour and a half a day leading into Kentucky’s bowl game, he’s happy to be back to the normal grind. “It’s just good to be back out there with my teammates,” he said. “I’ve been away from them for awhile so just to be back out there with everybody is great. I’m just taking it in everyday, soaking it in and just trying to get better by just shaking off the rust.”
Barker’s back problems began long before we knew about it, starting with a little tweak last May.
“It wasn’t anything serious. Then I was going through the summer workouts and I kind of started aggravating it a little more.” Barker said they started restricting slowly workouts, until one big hit. “The Southern Miss game I got hit on a fumble and I really just had a ton of shooting pain down my leg. I went numb. That’s when I was really just trying to fight through it from that point on. Pretty much every hit from that point on was making it worse. Maybe I should’ve said something a little earlier but that was my first opportunity to be out there and I just wanted to give everything I had.”
So far there have been no setbacks. To fast-track the rehabilitation process, he’ll stay in Lexington over the summer. Barker will walk at commencement in May and complete his degree with a class in May, allowing him to stay on campus until he starts Kentucky’s MBA program in the fall.
I’ll have practice notes later today, but that must wait for the return of the KSR Football Podcast.
Philosophical Changes on the Defensive Line
There’s no denying Kentucky’s weak link on the 2016 team was the defensive line. The addition of Derrick LeBlanc made the unit more active in practice and philosophically changed their approach in the trenches.
“We’re working on more fast-pace, penetration style,” T.J. Carter told Freddie Maggard. Kordell Looney added: “Coach LeBlanc wants us to move faster, get more in, in the same amount of time. So get 10 minutes of work in 8 minutes. He just wants us to play faster.”
Rather than creating space with the offensive lineman, then reading what’s happening in the backfield, LeBlanc wants to play more aggressively be penetrating the assigned gap to create chaos behind the line of scrimmage. For a young unit, it simplifies their assignment and allows them to play without thinking. It should create more tackles for loss for the linemen without slowing down the linebackers.
It’s a storyline that can be written every year. What makes this year different than the norm is that Kentucky’s bowl game gave the team very little time away from the football training center. Their longest break since August of 2016 was the week off for Spring Break. The constant training has worked for the guys who needed it most.
Stephen Johnson’s durability was a question mark last year. He’s eating 5,000 calories a day with a workout plan to add mass. Chris Westry’s sophomore year wasn’t explosive as his freshman year, but the long corner has filled in to look like a much different player than he did in his first two years. Naquez Pringle has tightened up; better conditioning will keep him on the field longer. Josh Allen has transformed into a freak, nearly 50 pounds heavier than he was when he arrived on campus. At inside linebacker, Jordan Jones’ only problem was his size, but that’s no longer the case. His backup, Eli Brown, needed to gain weight to earn playing time and he’s done just that.
Normally we spend most of spring practice discussing a quarterback competition. The return of Drew Barker is encouraging but it does not diminish the fact that this is Stephen Johnson’s team. His physical improvements are important and necessary — quicker release, bigger body etc. — but his leadership is exactly what this team needed.
It’s easy to be “the guy” when things are going well. How a person reacts when faced with adversity reveals character. Johnson does not shy away from the challenge when the ish hits the fan, like it did during Saturday’s scrimmage.
“It’s all on me. This is my offense. This is my team,” Johnson said after the offensive beatdown. “I have to be able to bring our guys up when we’re in a little lull like that. That’s really all on me.”
Outside Linebacker Depth
Last year it was the Josh Allen and Denzil Ware show. Luckily, injuries never kept them off the field for long. If it did, UK’s only option was a late-arriving JUCO transfer, Jordan Bonner. Mark Stoops addressed the need by signing two studs in the 2017 class — Joshua Paschal and Jordan Wright — but this spring proved they will not be needed immediately.
Stoops believes the only good way to learn the difficult position is by getting a ton of practice reps and that’s exactly what Bonner, Jamar “Boogie” Watson and Jaylin Bannerman got this spring. As Ware missed Saturday’s practice to deal with a personal issue, Watson filled in seamlessly. He didn’t play like an all-star, but he did not disappoint; he played sound, disciplined football. Paschal, Wright and Co. will need a ton of reps to be game-ready. In the meantime, Bonner, Watson and Bannerman will be formidable reserves behind Allen and Ware.
Aggressiveness from the Wide Receivers
It’s hard to quantify this intangible for a position that isn’t defined by tenacity. Still, you see the receivers playing much more physical to get separation from UK’s talented cornerbacks. They are attacking the ball with their hands, a basic fundamental that is much easier said than done. Many of UK’s drop problems can be credited to simple stuff: letting the ball come to them instead of attacking it or not watching the ball all the way into their hands.
Three players consistently played aggressive in their routes on Saturday: Dorian Baker, Charles Walker and Clevan Thomas. When the ball went their way, I was confident they’d make the play, unless the defender made an incredible play. There were also early reports that Kayaune Ross and Tavin Richardson caught difficult “money balls” when the offense needed them to on third down. If the receivers makes in-game mistakes, they will be aggressive mistakes, a step forward for Lamar Thomas’ unit.
The pipeline keeps pumping.
Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports is predicting Leonard Taylor, 247’s 3rd ranked tight end in the class of 2018, will become a Wildcat. Ohio State is currently leading the Crystal Ball predictions, but Wiltfong’s coverage of Nike’s The Opening football camp seems to have indicated to him that UK is in good shape for the 6’4″, 250 lb. TE.
Does Vince Marrow ever sleep?
Stephen Johnson is the Real Deal
Johnson has done everything asked of him this offseason: gain weight, speed up his release and improve accuracy on intermediate throws. Even though his unit had their worst 20 minutes of the spring earlier today, he did not shy away from the disappointing performance, he accepted responsibility.
The final unanswered question will remain unanswered. No, we didn’t seem him throw the tight end dump out of the run-pass-option to C.J. Conrad for two reasons:
1. C.J. Conrad is wearing a red jersey, playing sparingly because of injury.
2. Run pass options aren’t LIVE in spring practice because they don’t want Stephen to get hurt, negating the live simulation that affects the timing of the route.
Regardless of circumstance, Johnson will get figured out over the next five months.
Don’t Doubt the D-Line
An easy target for “experts,” they showed they aren’t nothing to mess with during today’s scrimmage. Focusing on penetration and aggressive play, they’re getting into the backfield and creating chaos as soon as the ball is snapped.
Naquez Pringle is evolving into a vocal leader, Adrian Middleton played exceptionally well, while the young guys — T.J. Carter and Kordell Looney — surprised on numerous occasions. Carter’s pass deflection in coverage off a zone blitz proved he has the elite athleticism necessary to succeed in the SEC.
Believe the Hype: Clevan Thomas
I have a good feeling this No. 18 will live up to the number’s lofty expectations. His body has changed in just a few short weeks on campus. He’s sturdy in the middle of the field, unaffected by swarming defenders. His hands attack every ball thrown his way, and there are a lot of balls thrown his way. As the second team slot receiver, nobody was targeted more than Thomas. He’ll play an important role this fall.
Buy Dorian Baker Stock
You’ve heard it before, but you’re going to hear it again. Dorian Baker is back. Deal with it.
It’s like a switch has gone off in his head. There’s an aggressive aura surrounding the stoic personality. It’s not just the way he’s attacking passes with his hands; it’s the way he’s separating from his opponent. He didn’t win every ball against Chris Westry, but he did win a few in spectacular fashion. More importantly, he’s making routine plays look routine.
Josh Allen is a Monster
Without Denzil Ware on the field, the defense didn’t skip a beat. Allen was making plays all over the field. He’s made plenty of tackles for loss in the past, but I was most encouraged by his ability to drop back into pass coverage. Last year his reaction time was a half-second slow; now he’s much more comfortable.
More Rotation at Offensive Line
It’s hard to tell who will be John Schlarman’s first five on the field. The first unit featured (from left to right) Mosier, Stenberg, Bunchy, Big George and Meadows. However, that wasn’t the first team every time. Pieces were constantly shifting, making it difficult to track throughout practice. It will be interesting to see where the chips fall when he’s forced to pick starters at Southern Miss.
Sihiem King Brings Something Different
It’s been a long time since Kentucky had a running back that could consistently catch passes out of the backfield. King does it well, and looks comfortable with the ball in his hands. Previous “scat backs” were slated into that role simply because they were small running backs. King plays with the confidence of an every down back, but with the skill set of an NFL scat back.
Run Defense Discipline
This was the best thing I saw today. The biggest defensive emphasis all spring is starting to show on the field.
Last year Mike Edwards and Jordan Jones made a ton of tackles by scraping and making plays a few yards downfield. That was not the case today. The front seven read their keys well, and it wasn’t limited to the first string. There was interior penetration and outside containment. Benny Snell still found a few small holes, but he never got too far. The greatest weakness on last year’s team may become a strength, thanks to the rush offense the defense battles every day in practice.
It was an “Awful” Day for Eddie Gran’s Offense: “I think they’re drinking some Kool-Aid, and it’s bad Kool-Aid.”
By Nick Roush on ©April 08th, 2017 @ 10:30pm
Stephen Johnson’s blunt description of the offense’s performance during the 20-minute scrimmage of this morning’s practice is accurate. Eddie Gran minced no words to describe the way his offense finished practice No. 12.
“They were awful,” the offensive coordinator said. “They whipped us. I don’t know what else to say. Their 11 whipped our 11. For an hour and a half today we whipped them. For the last twenty, we got smoked.”
The scrimmage started with a few disruptive plays from the Kentucky defensive line. After a few tackles for loss, the defensive sideline was energized. They weren’t just talking smack, they were screaming, feeding off one another to create insurmountable momentum. Gran was extremely disappointed, calling it “an absolute joke.”
“I think they’re drinking some Kool-Aid, and it’s bad Kool-Aid and I gotta get ’em to quit drinking it,” Gran said.
When the tide was starting to turn and the defense began jawing, Gran was hoping to see somebody take charge of the offense. Instead of fighting to get out of the hole, nobody answered the call. “I’m looking for somebody to be that guy. I’m looking for those people and I didn’t hear a word,” Gran said.
Stephen Johnson let the blame fall on his shoulders. “It’s all on me. This is my offense. This is my team. I have to be able to bring our guys up when we’re in a little lull like that. That’s really all on me.”
The offense has two practices to turn things around before the spring season culminates in Friday’s Blue/White Game at Commonwealth Stadium. Eddie Gran knows how to solve the problem:
“It’s time to drink new Kool-Aid.”
Today I discovered redshirt freshman walk-on kicker Tyler Pack. The 6’4″ 275-pound Johnson Central product has quite the boot. Don’t believe me? Just watch.
— JD Hαrless (@JDHarless) August 26, 2015
Kickers don’t usually get you fired up for football, but this might.
In the world of basketball, Dakari Johnson is getting things done in the final week of the D-League before it turns into the G-League.
— NBA D-League (@nbadleague) April 9, 2017
At the other end of the spectrum, these highlights from the Nike Hoops Summit will get you excited about the future.
Throughout spring practice there’s been a lot of talk about who will replace Boom Williams as Benny Snell’s righthand man. The name that often gets left out is the guy who still hasn’t made it to campus: Lynn Bowden.
The greatest athlete recruited to Kentucky during Stoops’ tenure, the Youngstown five-star athlete is finishing his high school career tonight at Thomas More College in the Kentucky-Ohio All-Star Basketball Game. He’s only 6’1″ but he doesn’t look that small when he’s dunking. Our friend from WLAP, Curtis Burch, is there to witness Bowden’s greatness.
Lynn Bowden has hops pic.twitter.com/pPXy6S5Ykb
— Curtis Burch (@curtisburch) April 8, 2017
This is the kind of stuff you see in dunk contests…
— Curtis Burch (@curtisburch) April 8, 2017
…but it’s not his best work.
Bowden makes the windmill jam with ease. He is a very good athlete pic.twitter.com/385GSUQzBk
— Curtis Burch (@curtisburch) April 8, 2017
Beware of the windmill, Coach Stoops. Keep Calipari away.
Denzil Ware and Mike Edwards were Absent
Two of Kentucky’s three best defensive players did not practice today, but it wasn’t because of injury. Ware was out of town for a funeral and Edwards was attending his sister’s wedding.
Stoops was encouraged to see the defense succeed despite their absence. “It’s good to see other guys step in, get some reps, get some quality reps and get better.”
Alex Reigelsperger was Present
The 2018 defensive end from Dayton, Ohio has been a frequent flyer to Lexington since he committed to Kentucky. On the sideline for today’s practice, he spent some time hanging out with his main man, Dawson.
Format for Blue/White
Friday’s spring game will likely look a lot like last year’s. Stoops has yet to finalize the format, but he said he’ll probably keep it close to last year’s, pitting the first string and some reserves against the second and third team. Special teams will be involved but in a minimal, simulated capacity.
Matt House Sees Growth
Obviously the defensive coordinator enjoyed seeing his defense dominate during the scrimmage period of today’s practice, but he’s not getting too overzealous. The short-lived success isn’t what’s making his unit better, it’s the consistent competition.
“The great thing about spring is the competition, and it goes back and forth, go back and forth,” House said this morning. “Tuesday, we better bring it again or the offense is gonna come out and kick our tail. That’s when you grow as a program. You grow as a program when it is back and forth and competition, like I said, whether it’s in your position group or within your football team. That’s what brings out the best in all of us.”