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Position Changes are Adding Depth in the Secondary

UK Athletics

UK Athletics

Kentucky’s secondary has a ton of young talent.  After losing three seniors to graduation and Kendall Randolph, the only senior left in the unit, to an ankle injury, Mark Stoops is searching for depth in different places.

The biggest change happened just two practices ago.  Stoops is trying out redshirt freshman and McCracken County product Zy’Aire Hughes on the defensive side of the ball.  He may not stay, but Stoops wants to see what he can offer.

“It’s a double-edged sword. We lose a bunch of wide receivers after this year, and he’s doing a good job at wideout.  But we’re getting thin in the secondary, and he’s just so quick.  He has such great change of direction.  He can run, so I just wanted to look at him a bit.”

As of now the change is in the exploratory stage , but Hughes impressed the crowd soon after practice started.  In one-on-ones against a slot receiver, Hughes made a leaping one-handed pass deflection.  He was forced to completely extend his body horizontally to the ground, creating one of the most impressive plays of the day.

“He’s a quick twitch guy, now,” defensive coordinator Matt House said excitedly.  “I’m excited to see him improve. He’s been in there with Coach Clink a bunch, so he’s hungry to learn, which is huge.”

Hughes is starting against slot receivers in a nickel-type role, one that Jordan Griffin has been thrust into following Randolph’s injury.  It’s not an easy position to learn, but Stoops believes the sophomore is taking it in stride.

“We’re overloading him right now. To his credit he handles it very well. Playing that nickel position, you’ve heard me talk about it through the years, there’s a lot to it. He’s playing corner. But I have a lot of confidence in him. He’s a guy that has an unbelievable work ethic. Just a quality kid and he’s very talented,” Stoops said.  “It’s trial and error at that position. He needs a lot of reps and he’s been getting it.”


Benny Snell Runs Angry

Photo by UK Athletics

Photo by UK Athletics

How angry does Benny Snell run?

“That man runs like somebody hit his mom, every play,” cornerback Chris Westry said after this morning’s practice.  They’ve emphasized stopping the run all spring, but it’s much easier said than done against. Snell.

“You’re not going to want to hit him every play, but you know you have to.”  Westry added, “I’m glad I play corner sometimes.”

Despite Westry’s statement, the defense got the best of the offense during the scrimmage portion of today’s practice.  More from an angry Eddie Gran is on the way.


Views from Saturday’s Spring Practice

The scrimmage at practice #12 is about to start.  Until then, enjoy some sights and sounds from the beginning of practice.

Wide receiver drills:

Barker to Johnson:

Benny Good.

The D-Line vs. the sled:

Tyler Pack (#91), UK’s new 6’4″ 275-pound kicker.


The Nike Hoop Summit’s Saturday Top 10

The Nike Hoop Summit’s Saturday Top 10

Jarred Vanderbilt via USA Basketball

Jarred Vanderbilt via USA Basketball

Malik Monk is Honored

Before sharing a few stories from the Nike Hoop Summit, we must begin with Malik Monk, the 2017 Jerry West Award Winner, given each year to the nation’s top shooting guard.  Anytime you win something named after the logo, it’s a big deal.  Monk is the first Wildcat to win the prestigious award, a year after Jamal Murray fell just short of Buddy Hield.

Malik took after his coach and went to the event without a tie.  He pulled it off much better than his coach.

@ESPNU

@ESPNU

Jarred Vanderbilt is the Unofficial MVP

Don’t take it from me, take it from those who watched him all week.

Vanderbilt came off the bench to lead all players with 19 points and 10 rebounds, one of only three players to post a double-double.  Even though you didn’t see much of it during the McDonald’s All-American Game, Vanderbilt’s improved his shot (8-12 FG) has taken him to another level, one he was far from when he missed the cut for last year’s U17 World Championship team.  He used that cut as motivation.

“It motivated me a lot,” Vanderbilt said after the game.  “I felt like I had a chip on my shoulder, considering that I didn’t get to play last (summer). Just being able to step back on the court with USA Basketball across my chest is a great feeling. It’s a very prestigious game, and I’m just thankful to be here.”

In addition to his 19 points and 10 rebounds, Vanderbilt dished out 3 assists, stole 2 passes and blocked 2 shots to lead Team USA to a 98-87 victory.  His future teammate loved it.

No Quade Green

Dealing with the lingering effects of a concussion suffered in practice this week, Kentucky’s next point guard was forced to watch the game through a pair of sunglasses on the sideline.

@UKBIGBLUENATION

@UKBIGBLUENATION

Ups and Downs for the ‘World’ Players

Jarred Vanderbilt was the only future Wildcat playing for Team USA, but Team World featured Shai-Gilgeous-Alexander (Canada) and Nick Richards (Jamaica).  The starting point guard for Team World, SGA attacked the paint early and often, getting to the free throw line more than any other player on the court (7-10 FT).  He took care of the ball (2 TOs) and didn’t play too flashy, finishing with 11 points.

Richards received above-average reports from camp all week, handling the physicality much better against imposing bigs.  His numbers were exceptional last night — 12 points on 5-of-9 shots — but he only grabbed three boards and had one big gaffe: an air-balled dunk.  I’m not sure how that works, but it happened.

UK’s Other Two Targets

Mo Bamba had an average night for his high standards.  He only attempted 5 shots and scored 7 points, but he grabbed 5 boards, stole 2 passes blocked 4 shots, all while sitting next to Quade Green on the bench.  Kevin Knox had a bad shooting night, knocking down just 2-of-8 shots in 14 minutes of action.

TONS of Spring Football Updates are Incoming

There’s only six days left in the spring season, but we are finally seeing a Kentucky football practice.  Unfortunately, it’s only open to the media, but we’ll have so many eyes on the round, it will feel like you are standing on the sideline watching practice.

New Depth Chart Podcast

While you’re waiting for all of those updates from Spring Football, check out the latest version of the podcast that just hit the feed.  There’s plenty of stuff to prepare you for the sting game, as well as a lengthy discussion about the evolution of high school football talent in the state of Kentucky.  Hear it here.

Masters Leaderboard

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Local products J.B. Holmes (+6) and Justin Thomas (+5) finished just inside the cut to earn two more days at Augusta National.  Holmes will be one of the first to tee off today at 10:40, with Thomas following an hour later.

A HUGE Day for Derby Prep Races

There’s not one, not two, but three major Kentucky Derby prep races today: the Wood Memorial, Santa Anita Derby and the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.  Load up your Twin Spires account and tune into NBC Sports Network from 5:30-7:30 to see coverage of all three races.

The UK Baseball Team is (Still) Rolling

The BatCats continued to flex their muscles by defeating the No. 22 Bulldogs in Starkville.  Peep the highlights and read Trey’s recap.

They return to the field tonight at 7:00.


Meet Boss, Freddie's newest Jack Kain Ford F-250.

The Depth Chart Podcast: “The Paradigm has Shifted.”

Meet Boss, Freddie's newest Jack Kain Ford F-250.

Meet Boss, Freddie’s newest Jack Kain Ford F-250.

“Kentucky is a no longer a basketball state, it’s a football state.”  It’s a ludicrous statement, but not as ludicrous as Freddie Maggard’s use of the word “paradigm,” especially when you look at the talent on the high school level.  In the 2019 class (juniors-to-be) there are six Top 250 players in the country, already with an offer sheet that includes every traditional college football powerhouse.

Kentucky’s winningest high school football coach, Philip Haywood of Belfry, joined the program to discuss the evolution of talent around the Commonwealth.  He also shared stories about future Wildcat Austin Dotson and much more.  There’s also plenty from Spring Football, including:

— Red jerseys didn’t exist when Freddie played.

— A game of over/under from last year’s stats.

— Dorian Baker’s pre-senior year progression.

— Freddie refuses to accept that Burgoo is delicious.

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.


Bobby Petrino blocking grad transfer from 5 schools, including Kentucky

Image via GoCards.com

Image via GoCards.com

After one year at Georgia and three at Louisville, cornerback Shaq Wiggins has received his degree and is ready to transfer. Problem is, Bobby Petrino is putting his foot down about where. Wiggins told ESPN last night that Petrino is restricting him from transferring to five schools: Kentucky, Mississippi State, Purdue, Notre Dame, and Western Kentucky.

The fact that Petrino’s blocking him from coming to Kentucky is not surprising; it’s common for coaches to block players from transferring to schools on their schedule, which also explains not letting him go to Purdue. That’s understandable. BUT, not letting him go to Mississippi State, Notre Dame or Western Kentucky? What’s up with that? When it comes to Mississippi State, it’s all about former Louisville defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who left the Cards for the same position in Starkville earlier this year.

“When [Petrino] said Mississippi State, I was like, it had to be deeper than what it seems to be because Louisville doesn’t play Mississippi State,” Wiggins said. “It just so happened to be Mississippi State on there, once Coach Grantham left.

“I really don’t know what’s his state of thinking or why he chose to put Mississippi State on there. It’s something personal, but I have no idea why. It’s really not fair.”

No, it’s not. In fact, Wiggins said Mississippi State would be near the top of his list otherwise because of his relationship with Grantham, who was also his defensive coordinator at Georgia before both moved to Louisville. Plus, Wiggins used to be coached by Terrell Buckley, formerly the cornerbacks coach at Louisville, who is also now on the staff at Mississippi State.

But hey, Bobby’s got a vendetta. Sorry, kid.

[ESPN]


Spring Football Housekeeping: Eight Days Till the Blue/White Game

Sihiem King via @UKFootball

Sihiem King via @UKFootball

I’ve been a rambling man the last two weeks, venturing from Chicago to Charleston, keeping me away from the Kentucky football practice fields.  To make up for the lack of spring practice updates, there will be a blitz over the final eight days, starting now.

“When we do that we’ve got a chance to be really, really special.”

Eddie Gran sees a team that is close.  Throughout spring practice, the offense has transformed into a unit that can do great things.  The problem is that they’re not being done consistently.  From now until September, he needs to see his unit make routine plays look routine.

“When we have to throw a hitch and the guy is wide open and we drop it, or we throw it too fast and it’s not on time.  (When) Somebody breaks down, we’re not going to be successful. We’ve got enough players to make plays,” Gran said Tuesday.  “If you do all the little things right the big things will come.”

More Contract Extensions

Add Darin Hinshaw and John Schlarman to the growing list of coaches to receive contract extensions.  The passing game coordinator reportedly received a $100,000 raise.  Hinshaw will make $500,000 a year through the 2020 season.  The offensive line coach will earn an extra $75,000 a year after his unit transformed into one of the best in the SEC.  Schlarman will earn $375,000 a year through the 2019 season.

Pushing Juice

The Kentucky offense needs Garrett “Juice” Johnson to play like a senior star.  The slot receiver has had great moments — 154 yards and 2 TDs vs. Florida, 164 yards and 2 TDs vs. Louisville — but like the rest of the receivers, he’s struggled to find consistency throughout his career.  That hasn’t changed this spring.

“He’s not where I need him to be right now, he’s not where this team needs him to be right now, and I think he’ll tell you that,” Gran said Tuesday.  “That’s gonna be on him. He’s got it in him. He knows what he needs to do.”

If Juice can’t get it done, Charles Walker will.

Kash Got Game

Gran’s Goal for the Other Running Backs

Benny Snell is going to get his, but who will get the rest now that Boom Williams has moved on to the NFL?  Gran expects a combined 1,000 yards from the other running backs.  Saturday’s scrimmage reinforced that expectation, with Sihiem King entering the end zone twice and A.J. Rose busting a 50-yarder for a touchdown.

A Free-for-All at Offensive Line

Kentucky’s offensive line found stability last season with a nine-man rotation, centered around Jon Toth.  Schlarman wants to have that same kind of depth this season, so he’s throwing in different guys at different places all the time.  Nobody has a starting job.  They’re all fighting to be a one, even though they know they’re going to play no matter what.

Many are playing many different positions.  Nick Haynes has spent three years at guard, now he’s trying out center.  Schlarman likes versatility in his linemen.  “We’ve tried to cross-train guys for the most part since I’ve been here,” he said.  “It gives you some flexibility up there.  You always got your next best player out there on the field.  It gives you some diversity and it also shows you their skills.”

It’s created intense, physical competition in the trenches, which in turn helps out the defense.

More Praise for Dorian Baker

Few players frustrated fans more than Dorian Baker, yet that’s not been the reaction from his coaches this spring.  They’ve had nothing but good things to say about the senior.  They just want him to stay healthy.Last year’s hamstring injury bothered Baker more than you’d think.

“I thought I was going to be back in three weeks.  It was about nine or ten,” he said Tuesday.  Now that Baker’s back, Gran’s just gotta slow him down.  “He’s one that you got to say ‘whoa’ to.  You don’t have to say ‘giddy up’ to him.  He loves practice and he goes.”

Breaking the Silence

It’s been a quiet spring for a variety of reasons.  The one that’s killed me is the lack of open practices.  There probably will not be any before next Friday’s game.  If there is any silver lining, Saturday morning’s practice will be open to the media.  I’ll be there to give you as much analysis as possible.  Until then, you’re stuck with 44-second snippets from practice.

Barker’s Back

The former starting quarterback has not received many opportunities this spring, used only sparingly as he works out scar tissue, but is his only series leading the offense on Saturday, Drain Hinshaw said, “He played like the old Drew Barker.”  Barker still has a long road to recovery, but Hinshaw is encouraged by the play all of all three quarterbacks, especially Stephen Johnson who is playing at a “very high level.”

The 2017 Promotional Schedule

Earlier today they announced kickoff for Kentucky’s first road game of the year, a 4:00 rendezvous in Hattiesburg on CBS Sports Network.  You probably won’t be making that road trip, but you can prepare for what’s coming to Commonwealth Stadium this fall.

@UKFootball

@UKFootball

If you still haven’t reserved your spring game tickets, get ’em here.


Kickoff time set for the season opener at Southern Miss

KSR-football-7979

Making the trip to Hattiesburg, Mississippi for Kentucky’s season opener vs. Southern Miss on Saturday, September 2? UK just announced that the game will kick off at 4 p.m. ET and will be televised on the CBS Sports Network. For ticket information, go to UKFootballTix.com.

Anyone making the trip? (Besides Freddie Maggard, of course)


The Kentucky Quarterback Situation

The Kentucky Quarterback Situation

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Pic by The Desert Sun

The easy out here is to quote “sources” about the Kentucky quarterback situation. But, for argument sakes, let’s go with what we’ve heard from coaches during spring practice press conferences and historical data to make our argument on the Wildcat QB situation.

We have to discuss scenarios before we dive into the three candidates.

  • Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran has insisted that all positions are up for grabs and competition exists across the depth chart.
  • Stephen Johnson led his team to a New Year’s bowl game after resiliently filling in for the injured starter. Johnson has experienced the most sustained positional success as per the eye test.
  • From all accounts, Johnson has carried over his late-season achievement into spring practice. Words such as “composed,” “leader,” “efficient,” and other complimentary terms have been used while describing the senior signal caller.
  • Johnson dilemma: Will Darin Hinshaw reward Johnson’s 2016-season saving performance and spring practice efficiency with the starting job? Can he afford not to name Johnson as the offense’s leader while Stephen is actually leading the team?
  • Eddie Gran has been highly complementary of his offense’s execution and potential with Johnson at the helm. Will continuity win out?
  • Drew Barker was the starting quarterback in 2016. Barker blistered Southern Miss in the first half prior to his team’s pending, second half meltdown. His next week’s performance in the Swamp was putrid. But, was that game an indication of Drew Barker’s quarterbacking abilities or did his injured back impede execution? I tend to think that Drew was in serious pain and limited but decided to gut it out.
  • The main dilemma here pertains to an old football method of operation: Starters cannot lose their position due to injury.
  • Dilemma II: With the NCAA’s 20-hour rule, can Eddie Gran afford to present Barker with practice reps IF his back continues to be an issue and on-field presence remains in doubt? Coaches have very little time to prepare two QB’s to be game ready. Three is nearly impossible.
  • Tough, tough situation. Regardless of what Drew Barker has or has not done both on and off the field; the northern Kentucky native’s status on the team cannot be understated. He was a critical part of signing the university’s most heralded recruiting class and remains a popular figure in the locker room. Agree or not; former starters are to be shown reverence and respect.
  • Gunnar Hoak has separated from the pack and is the established and at this point in time, “mythical” number two on the depth chart. Hinshaw recently told the media that he is confident that Hoak could win in the SEC. I agree.
  • Much like Stephen Johnson, Hoak has methodically developed into a legitimate, SEC starting quarterback. While he doesn’t move the public perception needle as much as the other two, it would be unwise to count the redshirt freshman out of the equation. Hoak may be the best passer of the three. 

stephen-johnson

Stephen Johnson File

  • Enrolled at UK in January of 2016
  • Entered 16 season as backup. Led Cats to 7 wins in 11 games
  • Completed 145 of 265 passes (54.7%) for 2,037 yards and 13 touchdowns. Also had 327 yards rushing and 3 scores
  • Team MVP in Governor’s Cup: 16-27, 338-yards, 3 TD’s in Kentucky’s 41-38 win over Louisville
  • Team MVP of Taxslayer Bowl: 19-34, 175 yards, 1 TD. Also led the Cats with 49 rush yards and 1 touchdown
  • Had zero interceptions in the 4th quarter or in the Red Zone in 2016

The Case for Stephen Johnson the Starter

I can’t imagine a scenario in which Johnson is not the starting quarterback come September 2nd. As a proven entity that is reportedly improving on a daily basis; he brings consistency, leadership, balance, and composure.

Teammates follow leaders. Simple as that. Leaders also must be on-field producers and maintain sustained performance. Stephen Johnson has checked those blocks.

As you can read above; Stephen Johnson threw zero-4th quarter or red-zone interceptions in 2016. I’ve been searching for a statistic that properly explained the difference in Mark Stoops’ first four teams. I think I found it. That stat summarizes the variances in a five and seven-win season.


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Pic by Scout.com

Gunnar Hoak File

  • Enrolled at Kentucky in January of 2016
  • Redshirt
  • Was 4-5 for 57 yards and a touchdown in spring game

The Case for Gunnar Hoak the Starter

I’ve been high on Hoak since National Signing Day. The youngster has a similar sense of calm leadership that Stephen Johnson possesses. With his QB coach proclaiming that he could win games in the Southeastern Conference, it’s clear to me that Gunnar Hoak is the quarterback of the future and is at a minimum a highly capable backup. Hoak’s strengths are his accuracy and decision making ability.


drew-barker-ksr

The Drew Barker File

2016

  • Missed final 9 games of 2016 with a back injury
  • First UK QB to have 4 TD passes in a half (vs. USM) since Andre Woodson
  • Career high in Southern Miss loss: 323 yards, 4 TDs

2015

  • Played in 5 games, making the final two starts vs. Charlotte and Louisville
  • Connected on 35 of 70 passes for 364 yards, 1 TD, and 2 INTs
  • Was 7-9 for 42 yards in relief role vs. Mississippi State

The Case for Drew Barker the Starter

Again, tough situation. Matter of fact, I was in an eerily similar situation many years ago. Based on personal experience, I do not agree with nor do I like it when a starter loses his job due to an injury. I think most old school football folks would agree. But, with a back injury; accurately projecting future on-the-field, full-contact availability is an inaccurate proposition.

Barker did lead the offense to a touchdown on a 10-play drive in the Cat’s latest scrimmage. This can only be taken as an encouraging sign. But, drives can be scripted. QB’s wear red (no-contact) jerseys. Enormous difference in real-life football games. Regardless, a positive.

My first and foremost hope for Barker is for a complete recovery and long-lived health. If sustained football activity becomes a reality, then there is nothing to prevent him from competing for the starting job. However, time is not on his side. There will come a moment when a decision will have to be made whether to give Barker practice reps or not. Most likely this call won’t have to be made until Southern Miss prep work begins.

Kentucky has three capable starting quarterbacks. Who will be the starter and when will that decision be made? Notice I didn’t say, “when will that decision be made public”; two totally different matters. Only time, and not spring game performance, will tell.

Meeting room chemistry is a touchy subject. I do not think that this will be an issue with this team. A rocky QB situation can significantly inhibit and poison team. There’s too much at stake for that to transpire. There are far too many strong-vocal leaders for that to occur. The Kentucky Football program has matured too much for that to happen in 2017.


Watching new defensive coordinator Matt House yell will get you ready for football

Watching new defensive coordinator Matt House yell will get you ready for football

Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 12.05.10 PM

Let’s take a break from basketball to check on the gridiron, shall we? Spring practice rolls on this week heading into next Friday’s Spring Game, and the folks at KyWildcatsTV are here to get you ready with this video of new defensive coordinator Matt House, whom they mic’d up during a recent workout. Warning: your blood pressure may rise.

I am ready for some football. I hope you are too, because we’ve got Freddie’s breakdown of Kentucky’s quarterback situation coming up in just a little bit…


Boom Williams Invited To Falcons’ “Locals Day”

UK Athletics

UK Athletics

Former Kentucky Running Back Boom Williams has been added to the set of players that will workout in the Atlanta Falcons’ “Locals Day” on Wednesday. The workout is for players from the Atlanta Metro Area that are draft eligible in 2017. Williams will be joined by the likes of Isaiah McKenzie and George Catalina of Georgia as well as Dalvin Tomlinson of Alabama

The workout for his hometown team could be another opportunity for Williams to run a 40 and potentially land somewhere as a returner or running back. The smaller number of players in the combine could allow Williams an opportunity to impress scouts this week. Locals Day is not open to the media or the public.

CBS Sports has Williams as their 37th best running back and 478th overall in their newest rankings. Williams could fill in somewhere as a niche back like Darren Sproles in the future. This week’s workout could go a long way into getting him a spot on an NFL roster.


Four Pieces of Encouraging News from the Offense in Today’s Scrimmage

One of Sihiem King's two touchdowns, via @UKFootball.

One of Sihiem King’s two touchdowns, via @UKFootball.

The Return of Drew Barker

Barker led his unit to a touchdown and “he looked comfortable,” Eddie Gran said after practice.  They didn’t make him do too much, but it’s great to hear he is making plays while comfortable in the pocket.

No Turnovers

“The most important thing,” to Eddie Gran is ball security.  The Cats won seven games even though they shot themselves in the foot at least twice a game.  Through the first two scrimmages, there’s only been one fumble, and that was quickly recovered by the offense.

Only One Dropped Pass All Day

The wide receiver group continues to prove to the coaches they are more consistent than they’ve ever been.  When the offense needed big plays on third down, they delivered.  “Some of those guys that I talked about last week that really need to step up to be successful, I thought they did a good job today,” Gran said.

Gran described the catches made by Kayaune Ross, Tavin Richardson and Blake Bone as “money catches.”

Running Backs Excelled

Benny Snell is going to Benny Snell.  Figuring out who will play the role of Boom is important.  Both backs did good things today.  A.J. Rose busted a big run for about 50 yards and Sihiem King had two touchdowns.

King can do something running backs haven’t done at Kentucky in years: catch passes out of the backfield.  One of his touchdowns was a receiving touchdown.  Described by Gran “as a great changeup,” he caught a few passes and made people miss.

 


@UKFootball

Josh Allen and the UK Run Defense

@UKFootball

@UKFootball

Want to take a peek into player development under Mark Stoops? Then look no further than Josh Allen. Allen entered the program as a 205-pound, 2-star defensive end prospect from New Jersey that was forced into true-freshman action due to Jason Hatcher’s inconsistent presence. The 245-pound outside linebacker is now going into his junior season as a two-year starter and one of the top linebackers in the Southeastern Conference.

Allen had a QB sack and was singled out for his play in Saturday’s scrimmage. He met with the media afterwards:

Question: How did you do in today’s scrimmage?

Josh Allen: “I did my part. I did what I can, I got a couple tackles, just played my role.”

Question: How is the run defense this spring?

Allen: “We can step it a little more but I think we’re doing a lot better than last year. We still have pieces we still need to get better, but overall I think we’re doing a lot better. We got to play together. We can’t just have one person make the tackle. Coach Hood, Coach House has been telling us we got to strain to the ball that not one person can make a tackle.”

Question: Tell us about Coach Dean Hood

Allen: “Affecting my life on and off the field. He’s more comfortable now, I feel more comfortable with him. I love Coach Hood a lot. He’s learning just like we’re learning.”

Question: 1st and 2nd down defense has been a focus this spring. How was it today?

Allen: “From last scrimmage, we did a little better. We started slow but we ended up kicking it back up. We need to play more physical, read our keys better.”

Run defense is a major concern for this team. 2016 saw the Cats struggle in this category as it finished 12th in the SEC after allowing 228 yards per game. It also surrendered 25 rushing touchdowns and 2966 yards.

As par for the course, Kentucky will face an abundance of elite runners in 2017. The show will start in Hattiesburg, Mississippi on September 2nd with an absolute war-daddy in Southern Miss RB Ito Smith. Smith torched the Cats for 173 yards in last season’s opener and should provide ample motivation for the defense throughout the offseason. Here’s a quick glance at other opposing players that could present problems on the ground:

AP

AP

Southern Miss: RB Ito Smith-265 carries, 1459 yards, 5.51 yards per carry (ypc), 17 TD’s.

Missouri: RB Damarea Crockett-153 carries, 1062 yards, 6.94 ypc, 10 TD’s.

Mississippi State: QB Nick Fitzgerald-195 carries, 1375 yards, 7.05 ypc, 16 TD’s.

Tennessee: RB John Kelly 98-carries, 630 yards, 6.43 ypc, 5 TD’s.

Vanderbilt: RB Ralph Webb 250-carries, 1283 yards, 5.13 ypc, 13 TD’s.

Georgia: RB Nick Chubb-224 carries, 1130 yards, 5.04 ypc, 8 TD’s. RB Sony Michel-152 carries, 840 yards, 5.53 ypc, 4 TD’s.

Louisville: QB Lamar Jackson-260 carries, 1765 yards, 6.13 ypc, 19 TD’s.

A positive for Matt House is that his defense practices against one of the SEC’s top rushing offenses on a daily basis. Eli Brown indicated on Saturday that if the UK defense doesn’t practice at a highly physical level, then its offensive counterparts would embarrass them on the practice field.

“If you can be a good run defense team against our offense, you know you’re making progress.”  – Mark Stoops

As you can see from the above list, Mark Stoops and Matt House will continue to stress run defense.


Four More Notes from Kentucky’s Spring Scrimmage

@UKFootball

@UKFootball

Eli Brown Impressed

While recording the latest Depth Chart Podcast yesterday, I asked, “What’s the deal with Eli Brown?”  The former four-star prospect from Bowling Green has done good work in special teams for the Cats, but needed to add weight to be effective at linebacker.  Today he was effective, making a few tackles for loss that stood out to Matt House.

Brown is much more comfortable in the system, but finding playing time at linebacker will not be easy behind Jordan Jones.  That obstacle does not deter Brown.

“I’m not here to be a two.  I’m trying to be a one,” Brown said.  “There’s no bad blood (with Jones).  We both know that we need to work together.  We want to make the team win.”

Brown believes some of that motivation is coming from Josh Allen.  Eli’s roommate and arguably Kentucky’s best pass rusher isn’t letting Brown back down from competing for that starting spot, even though it belongs to the best linebacker in the SEC.  “I was in his ear.” Allen told him, “You gotta stop playing.  You gotta step up.”

It worked today.  Allen also did work, accounting for at least one sack.

One Quote That Stands Out

“If you can be a good run defense team against our offense, you know you’re making progress.” – Stoops

Scrimmages used to be problematic for the coaches.  It was difficult to determine if one side won, or the other side was so bad it allowed them to win.  Now Stoops can see progress from his defense because he knows how great their rushing attack is.  The whole team will be better for it.

Tight Ends Impress Without C.J. Conrad

Just this week C.J. Conrad returned to practice with a red jersey, his first practices of the spring, but he did not participate in today’s scrimmage.  In his place, Greg Hart and Justin Rigg have excelled.  Rigg has a lot to learn, but his physical skills are impressive.

“I mean, he gets the ball thrown anywhere and it just looks like he can gobble it up and catch it.”  Eddie Gran said Rigg’s next step forward is by improving his run-blocking.  As Gran said, he needs to “get a little more booty in him.” 

Benny HATES Getting Tackled

Last year Benny Snell was trying to figure out the offense.  Now that he’s mastered it, his competitive edge is remarkable.  He expects to score every time he touches the ball.

“At times I have to reason with him.  He gets frustrated when he gets tackled.  He’s gonna get tackled,” Stoops laughed.  “You’d rather say who than giddy up,” and that’s definitely the case with Kentucky’s sophomore running back.


Kendall Randolph will Miss the Rest of Spring Practice

UK Athletics

Randolph (5) with J.D. Harmon at Mizzou, via UK Athletics.

Kentucky’s secondary is talented, but young after graduating three seniors.  The only senior on the depth chart is finished with spring practice.

Kendall Randolph missed a significant amount of time in 2016 with a high ankle sprain.  Dealing with the lingering effects, Mark Stoops said Randolph opted to have surgery to insert a screw.

Blake McClain was a four-year starter at nickel.  Randolph was expected to fill the role seamlessly, but will have to wait until summer to earn the starting spot.  In the meantime, Mike Edwards and Jordan Griffin have been receiving reps at nickel to fill the position that isn’t easy to learn.

“Much like the outside linebacker position, there’s so many nuances to that position,” Stoops said after the scrimmage.  “I think it’s a very hard position that needs some experience, and you’re seeing Jordan go through some growing pains, but we wouldn’t put him there if we didn’t believe in him and think he had the ability to do it.”

Stoops was pleased to report no other major injuries, but did note that Lonnie Johnson was sidelined with a bad hamstring.