Freddie Maggard’s Take
By Nick Roush on ©May 30th, 2018 @ 8:00pm
Remember Freddie’s Behind the Facemask feature? Of course you do. It was one of the best things on Kentucky Sports Radio dot com during preseason camp. Well, Freddie has taken that with him to the University of Kentucky.
Now featuring all of the bells and whistles from KY Wildcats TV, Freddie debuted the UK Player Development feature alongside Paintsville’s finest, Kash Daniel. The former Mr. Football explains what it’s like to play for his home state school, his potential future as a professional bass fisherman and much more.
Check it out:
— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) May 30, 2018
In April of 2015 I was loading suitcases preparing to depart on a Disney cruise when I received a phone call from an unknown number. Normally, I don’t answer anonymous calls. But, for some reason I did on this occasion. The caller identified himself as Matt Jones. I have to admit that I kinda laughed when I heard the name. My first response was to ask the dude on the other end of the phone if Elvis was with him and fully expected a comeback about a no-interest credit card with an accompanying free vacation to Nantucket for Shark Week. I had listened to Matt on the radio, but even though we are both hillbillies, we’d never spoken or met. I surely didn’t have his phone number.
After finally being convinced that the caller actually was The Matt Jones, he asked if I’d be interested in writing for Kentucky Sports Radio. His inquiry was totally out of the blue. I wanted to say yes on the spot and I all of a sudden experienced that same butterfly-gut feeling that I had felt many years prior when running into an opposing SEC stadium. But, I had a ship to catch and an unlimited amount of hamburgers to eat at the pool-side Burger Bar. I told him I’d call him back after returning from our sea journey with The Mouse.
Jen and I talked it over while on a snorkeling adventure (I hated snorkeling by the way; way too scared of sharks). I also requested advice from my boss, Major General Tonini. In typical Chief Warrant Officer Jennifer Maggard fashion; she told me that she’d unconditionally support me in whatever endeavors I wanted to pursue. She’s the absolute best. I’m so blessed and much like Ryan Lemond; totally outkicked my coverage with that one. We called the KSR founder a week later and agreed to give this writing thing a try. My first article was posted on May 11th, 2015. I re-read that post today. It was God awful; dreadful actually.
One never knows when life-changing opportunities can or will occur. I soon left Frankfort and a career with the Kentucky National Guard for an uncertain media career based off a hunch that I’d enjoy that unsteady racket. Normally a calculated thinker and not known as a risk taker, this decision was atypical for me. I’d been associated with the military in some form or fashion for a couple decades. I was regimented; institutionalized in organizational vocabulary, procedure, and routine. In other words, I was good at my job and content. However, Matt Jones has an inherent capability to bring folks out of their comfort zones in order to challenge them to do more. In this case he did so with me. Like so many others in the media that you’ll likely never know their names, he gave me a chance in the industry. I could never-ever thank him enough for that.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time with KSR. We had abundant adventures, laughs, and a few cries. From the KSR Football Podcasts and the madness that ensued, radio remotes, writing, and the Depth Chart Podcast; we had an absolute blast. I’m going to miss it. But more so I’m really going to miss the people I’ve grown to love and respect.
If you’re reading this post, then you are certainly familiar with Ryan “Scoop” Lemond. Here are some KSR scoops for you that I learned over the years:
— I was never given the keys to the website which means that all my posts had to run through the editorial staff before going public. This was not a result from mistrust but based off my genuine inability to figure out the software and computer stuff. So, my posts were written on a Word document and emailed to Tyler Thompson, Drew Franklin, and Nick Roush. They’d review the page, upgrade content, and add pictures (with proper credits—I routinely screwed this portion up) prior to moving the finished product over to the site. So, my posts were actually “Our” posts. Those three folks are beautiful, selfless, caring, wonderful human beings.
— At times I became overly protective of Tyler Thompson on social media. For that, I do not nor will I ever apologize. She’s so incredibly smart and a 5-star editor. The world needs more Tyler Thompsons. We’re better for her being in our lives for four years.
— KSR’s reputation of being organized chaos is completely untrue. “Hubby” (Yes he’s a real person and I’m not sure if I can reveal his real name) and Maria Taustine run a tight ship. Maria is KSR’s business manager and is doing a wonderful job. Matt and Hubby are the owners but Maria is the backbone to recent KSR growth and a delightful person.
(SHAMELESS PLUG-Maria is the point of contact for those interested in advertising with Kentucky Sports Radio.)
— I sincerely love the Versailles’ Kroger and visit my favorite store on a daily basis. I was never a paid advertiser. The daily bubble bath jokes were legit. There’s an art form to selecting the right bath products by the way and they were all purchased at the Versailles Krogers. And, I am a huge fan of old-school rap (no music produced prior to 1990 please). Jared Lorenzen and the gang made fun of me for all these truths. It made for some good laughs. I was blessed to becoming closer with Jared. He’s a true friend and an awesome guy. Love that dude. Much like with Tyler, I’m a little protective of J-Lo. There’s something about throwing a multitude of interceptions that brings former quarterbacks together. Record books are forever. His INT totals will always surpass mine.
— Nick Roush’s podcast intros are as bad in person as they must have sounded when listening to the KSR Football Podcast. They were also unscripted and kept a secret to Drew, Jared, and I until the recording machine turned red. Eye rolls normally followed. Nick is a great kid. Well, not a kid really. He spent 19 years as a UK college student is actually 51 years old. Joking. Love that guy. Nick has a solid football mind. He’ll keep you covered with all things UK Football.
— Kentucky Sports Radio is similar to a military organization. I bet you thought you’d never read those words right? One of a zillion things I loved about the military was the close bonds and family environment that resonated throughout the ranks. Much like the Kentucky National Guard or the United States Army, there is sincere care for all involved within the KSR Brand from the top down. Let me rephrase that, from Matt Jones down. Matt’s heart is as huge as his on-air personality. This trait was on display with his passion towards clean water for Kentucky citizens, supporting teachers, and tornado relief efforts. But these initiatives were public. He’s equally as compassionate in private. On many occasions he and Ryan Lemond would pull me to the side and ask how KSR could be more easily attainable for deployed Kentucky Soldiers and Airmen. They’d often nervously ask me if any of “Our Men and Women” were overseas and if so what could KSR do to make their deployments more bearable. That’s real; not on-air personalities.
This was on full display when my dad was sick and eventually after his death. I called Matt and told him my pops was not doing so well and I needed a week off to take care of him and my momma. Somewhat new to the company, I wasn’t comfortable asking for time off. He said, “take two weeks, or however much time you need.” He continued, “Family is first, never forget that.” And, he meant it. I was with Big Fred when he went Home to be with the Lord. I was with him. The man that taught me how to walk and to throw a curve ball. KSR was not concerned about me previewing the Kentucky defensive backs during that time. They were insistent that I was with my family. Tears…….
The entire Kentucky Sports Radio family made the trip to Corbin to show their respects and to support me and mine. Matt donated $500.00 to the church in my dad’s name. This is hard to type and he’ll probably not be happy I’m sharing this. But what’s he going to do? Fire me? Too late for that Boss. KSR “Gets It.” Nick Roush had a picture of my dad from the 1956 state tournament framed and presented it to the family during the visitation. Drew was in tears as he consoled my sister who is a faithful show listener. That’s family folks. That’s the real KSR.
That same compassionate support came when my college roomie Joey Couch passed away. Drew Franklin, Nick Roush, Tyler Thompson, and Maria Taustine called me about every hour on the hour on the day of the funeral. They didn’t need anything; just checking on me because he understood I was nervous about delivering the eulogy. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me. Kentucky Sports Radio may not be constructed with “Blood Kin” (Hillbilly term) but it is a true family.
To KSR Readers and Listeners: THANK YOU
I also want to express our sincere appreciation and love to all those that read our articles and listened to the podcasts. So many KSR fans have been incredibly nice to my family. I hope that you realize how much thought that KSR places on entertaining its audience. Lengthy meetings are held in order to ensure that your needs are met first. You are always their foremost priority. I know you were mine.
From the positive and negative Twitter/website responders; I appreciate both of your thoughts equally. There were continual supporters and those that really didn’t care for me at all (That’s being nice). Again, I appreciated both types and they provided a constant reminder that public opinion is a pendulum shaped by personal opinion. At least I hope that you were entertained. It was never personal; it was always personnel.
Bear Bryant took over the Alabama football team in 1958. When asked why he came to Alabama, he replied, “Momma called. And when Momma calls, you just have to come runnin’.” When Mark Stoops offered this opportunity, I automatically said “yes sir,” and sprinted to the Joe Craft Football Training Center.
I love the University of Kentucky Football Program more than I can properly communicate via an internet post. I believe in the Cats and Mark Stoops all the way down to my bones. This is not a goodbye, but more of a see ya on the other side of sorts. I hope we meet again at Kroger Field.
From me and mine to you and yours….. thank you. Go Cats.
College football spring games are a necessity. April football helps to excite the fan base and provide coaching staffs with invaluable game-situational film. The Kentucky Wildcats will take the field at 6:30 pm on Friday night to showcase a quarterback competition, two new inside linebackers, and a redshirt class that has drawn rave reviews.
Here are a few things to look for while you’re sitting at Kroger Field enjoying a beautiful Kentucky evening:
Terry Wilson, Gunnar Hoak, and Danny Clark are locked into a QB competition that has lasted for the duration of spring practice. Friday night will not be the deciding factor that significantly impacts the eventual naming of a starter. But; just like in practices leading up to the finale, every rep counts and execution will be scrutinized. Coaches and fans alike want to see the trio in game-like scenarios. Gunnar Hoak has excelled in consecutive spring contests and is the most familiar with Eddie Gran’s system. Junior college transfer Terry Wilson’s skill set has been described as scary. The BBN is enthusiastic to get their first glimpse of the former Oregon Duck. Danny Clark is a former Ohio State commit that established a leadership role and coaching staff trust while leading the scout team in 2017.
What to look for: Decision making and intent more so than completion, result, and yardage. Spring games offer a mixture of personnel that can at times be unfamiliar with each other’s tendencies. Defenses can at times be so out of place that false reads are given during progressions and or RPO reads. Annually an interception is the result of a defender being so out of position that the QB’s read doesn’t account for the misplaced player.
Where and why the signal callers throw the football will be just as important as the result. To give, run, or throw will be analyzed in the RPO game. Anticipation and the ability to progress through the route tree will be more telling than passing yards, completions and touchdowns. Clock management and comfort level on critical downs will also provide a glimpse into their game-ready competency level.
Benny Snell is a star and the starter. The potential (SHOULD BE) All American could be playing in his final spring game as a Kentucky Wildcat. Eddie Gran said the junior will play on Friday. The question is how much? AJ Rose and Sihiem King are fighting for that secondary role that could lead to more carries. Walk-on Zach Johnson has impressed this spring as well and will be a factor on special teams.
What to look for: Attention to detail and techniques that encompass the position such as pass/run blocking and front-coverage recognition. Also, AJ Rose’s recent play has impressed Eddie Gran. Can Rose produce at a level that would warrant meaningful playing time in 2018?
Four true freshmen receivers saw action in 2017: Clevan Thomas, Joshua Ali, Isiah Epps, and Lynn Bowden. Bowden has been described as becoming a SEC elite WR as the sophomore has become more familiar with the position. Collectively, all have been mentioned as improved and displayed positional development. Tavin Richardson is the Cat’s top returning pass catcher. Senior David Bouvier has a chance to be the star of the game. Bouvier has been praised by coaches and teammates alike for his play and leadership. Explosive plays were absent in 2017 and necessary for 2018. Friday could provide a glimpse into that coming to fruition.
What to look for: One-on-one matchup vs. defensive backs, run blocking, and explosive plays. Again, completions and timing may be off due to the nature of the game. However, advancements in route running and understanding spacing along with defensive intent are traits that can be evaluated without the football in the air.
Scholarship tight ends are non-existent for Friday’s game. CJ Conrad and Justin Rigg are both sidelined with injury and newcomers Branden Bates and Courtney Upshaw don’t report until June. We could possibly see Landon Young or Naasir Watkins catching passes from a Jumbo set.
What to look for: Creative formations that don’t include a tight end. Eddie Gran’s system heavily relies upon TE’s in many roles. The game’s creativity could come in the form of basic sets. The Cats could deploy 4-wide or any other groupings that may or may not be seen this fall.
Redshirt Offensive Linemen
The starting rotation is not set in stone but it’s close. LT Landon Young, LG Logan Stenberg, C Drake Jackson, RG Bunchy Stallings, and RT George Asafo-Adjei have played a great deal of football. Same can be said of key reserves Mason Wolfe and Luke Falkner. The strength was assumed to be the interior. But, recent coach’s comments have indicated that Young and Asafo-Adjei have been the most improved and impressive of the group. Also, keep an eye on Logan Stenberg. The junior has a chance to be an upper-level guard in the Southeastern Conference.
For the first time the BBN will see a talented group of newcomers: Guard Sebastien Dolcine, tackle EJ Price, tackle Naasir Watkins, and tackle Austin Dotson. Could John Schlarman have the talent to return to a true, 2-deep rotation? In addition, an interesting development will be which players will receive reps at center behind Jackson?
What to look for: One-on-one matchups with defensive linemen, pre-snap discipline, and movement along the offensive front.
The “Must Get Better” moniker was slapped on the Wildcat defensive line as the final horn sounded at the Music City Bowl. Moving OLB Joshua Paschal to the trenches provided an instant shot in the arm. NT Quinten Bohanna is poised for a breakout sophomore season and senior DT Adrian Middleton is back up to 300-pounds. TJ Carter, Kengera Daniel, Tymere Dubose, Kordell Looney, Phil Hoskins, Abule-Abadi-Fitzgerald, and Calvin Taylor Jr. are on the clock. Expect to see an improved unit.
What to look for: INCREASED HAVOC STATS–QB sacks, tackles for loss, penetration, deflected passes. Of all the position groups, the defensive line must show the most improvement.
Kash and DeAndre
Courtney Love and Jordan Jones have manned the inside linebacker positions for the past two seasons. Love is now trying to secure a job in the National Football League. Jones is injured and will not participate. Kash Daniel has patiently waited for his turn. The Paintsville native is not wanting to waste this opportunity and has been a consistent positive this spring. DeAndre Square is an early enrollee. I proclaimed that Square would be an All SEC player within three seasons in Lexington. He’ll get his first shot under the lights tonight.
What to look for: Communication. Daniel will be called upon to be the defense’s quarterback. Square’s role will be to roam from sideline to sideline. But remember, Square should be preparing for his senior prom, not butting heads with Logan Stenberg.
Young Defensive Backs
Starting defensive back rotation will be packed with juniors and seniors: Lonnie Johnson, Mike Edwards, Darius West, Chris Westry, Jordan Griffin, Devonte Robinson (Sophomore), and Derrick Baity (not participating). Overall secondary talent is at an all-time high in Lexington.
What to look for: Younger defensive backs in one-on-one situations and game awareness vs. the run.
Seniors Josh Allen and Denzil Ware
Ware and Allen are All SEC level defenders and future professionals. Allen is pushing 260-pounds and Ware is eager to make amends from last season’s ending. Both are elite and could put on a show.
What to look for: Appreciate two future pro’s playing the OLB position.
What does all this mean?
Enjoy the spring game for what it is…an exhibition. With the game on the SEC Network, future opponents will be watching. Central Michigan (UK’s opening opponent) will certainly be paying attention. Play calling will be plain. Stars will play, but emphasis will be on evaluating depth. The weather is going to be perfect. Have fun and watch some football. See y’all at Kroger Field.
The Depth Chart Podcast returns just in time for the Kentucky football spring game. Freddie Maggard changes things up a little bit for the occasion. A pair of high school football coaches, Jim McKee of Scott County and Clay Clevenger of Danville, join the program to talk about UK’s spring game, the state of the sport across Kentucky, and…
— Why Freddie believes Friday will be an entertaining Spring Game.
— What should you show on film in a Spring Game?
— Is it good or bad that DeAndre Square is already getting first team reps?
— Did the Danville wide receiver complete the controversial State Championship catch?
— How to improve the Mr. Football Award.
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 The Depth Chart Podcast on iTunes or via Android’s Podcast Addict app.
Arguably Kentucky’s two most proven offensive linemen are from the state of Alabama: Logan Stenberg and Bunchy Stallings. Stallings was a late addition to the heralded Class of 2014. He’s been a continual presence along the UK offensive line and has played both center and guard.
Stallings has started 20 games; 4 at center, 16 at guard. His move from center to guard developed into a season-changing personnel move in 2016. John Schlarman’s offensive line was one of the better, if not the best, groups in the Southeastern Conference. 2017 saw the 6’3, 305-pounder again starting the season at center but was moved back to guard following the emergence of Drake Jackson. The middle of the offensive line (Guard-Center-Guard) figures to be the strength of the Kentucky offense in 2018.
Offensive line coach John Schlarman and then UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown traveled to Spain Park High School to visit with Stallings when a winter storm blanketed the Birmingham area with snow. Legend says that the Wildcat coaches were stuck in the car and decided to walk several miles to speak with Stallings and were then stuck in the school due to the aforementioned weather. Stallings committed to Kentucky soon after.
Here are extracts from Tuesday’s interview with Bunchy Stallings:
Q: Give us the state of the Kentucky offensive line (Question by Lonny Demaree).
Stallings: “As an offensive line unit I feel like we’re all maturing, we’re all veterans, we all have experience, so now the communication is much easier, working together much easier honestly because we’re all so close; one big happy family.”
Q: On a scale 1-10, how much better is the OL compared to this time last year (Q by Lonny Demaree).
“I can probably say a 10. Just because as soon as the season was over last year we got back into it. Mentality has changed over the years. Coach Schlarman has done a great job keeping the mentality strong in the room, keeping everybody together, being there when we need him; things like that. On a scale of 1-10; I think it’s a 10, we’ve taken a total flip; 360 turn.”
Q: Is OL responsibility greater for OL with a couple new quarterbacks coming in and trying to help those guys, making sure you guys are clean to help them (Q by Jeff Drummond)?
“If a quarterback feels like that, he shouldn’t be a quarterback. Because, at the end of the day, a quarterback is always looked at like the leader of the offense, leader of the team. That’s his job. The quarterbacks we have in there now, whoever it is, will do a great job leading us.”
Q: How’s the communication between you, Bunchy, and Logan inside? (I screwed this question up royally).
“Me, Drake, and Logan? (Bunchy corrected my horrible question) Honestly, that communication is great because, it’s kind of weird because we’re so close we can talk to each other and it can come off wrong to someone else; as a unit we can say it with a stern voice to get that point across. I think that is the biggest difference is being able to take constructive criticism.”
Q: What specific techniques are you working on as a senior?
“Really, everything. I’m trying to take my passing game to another level. Just take every aspect of the game to another level.”
Q: What’s the biggest area of development that you’ve grown into in the four years being here?
“Probably consistency. Honestly, that’s the biggest thing I’m trying to work on this spring. Stay consistent, especially in passing game, passing sets. Doing passing sets with a sense of urgency.”
What does all this mean?
Bunchy Stallings has been a constant presence along the Kentucky offensive line thanks to persistence by John Schlarman on the recruiting trail as well as in player development. He’s going into his third season as a starter while going through a noticeable body change since his arrival. Stallings weighted 330 lbs. when he reported to camp as a freshman. He’s now a mobile 305 and joins fellow guard Logan Stenberg in providing a nasty streak to the Wildcat offensive line-of-scrimmage. The interior of the UK offensive line should be its strength.
Stallings is a pure center that made a transition to guard in 2016. An attempt to move back to center didn’t work which allowed Drake Jackson to stabilize the front. Bunchy seems more comfortable at guard. Experience is an invaluable teaching tool. UK’s interior offensive line has plenty of that going into 2018.
Logan Stenberg is an old school, throwback football player that would fit in well during any era of the game. That’s a compliment by the way. Former UK tough guy fullback Andy Murray led the SEC in knockdown blocks during multiple seasons. He said of Stenberg, “That Cat would have fit in well with us.” Another compliment. On Tuesday I interviewed the junior offensive guard and his appearance matched that description. Typical to linemen during camp, Stenberg had a helmet cut on his forehead and his hands were bruised from hand-to-hand scuffles that often take place along the line-of-scrimmage. I’ve not been reluctant in praising the Madison, Alabama native, so I thought we’d get to know him a little better.
The following are excerpts from Tuesday’s question and answer session:
Q: What’s it like coming into spring as a veteran with 13 starts than trying to earn a starting position? Compare your mentality from this spring to last.
“Definitely think the mentality of this spring is to try to help the young guys to learn the offense and try to learn their role whatever that may be instead of focusing on myself trying to earn a starting spot.”
Q: You, Drake Jackson, and Bunchy Stallings were special at the end of 2017 season and project to be the strength of the offense. Is that continuing, how’s the communication?
“Last year I feel we were all like acquaintances. We’ve hung out, worked out all offseason. We’ve really just grown, become more close. I think we’ll be better than last year honestly.”
Q: Who’s the leader in the offensive line meeting room?
“I would say it’s me and Bunchy (Stallings).”
Q: What’s the main technique you’re working on in spring practice. Before you were painting with a broad brush. Now you’re fine tuning. What’s your number one technical priority?
“In the pass game it’s really keeping my head up and punching, making sure I’m using my hands and not my head cause I really like to use my head a lot which is not the smartest thing to do in pass pro. Run game it’s keeping my base, keeping my feet running, widen the holes, and getting more movement.”
Q: You’ve gone through a body change. What do you weigh right now and what do you want to weigh during the season?
“315 — I’ll be comfortable at 310 or 315 during the season.”
Q: After the bowl game you tweeted an apology after the loss, why did you feel that you needed to do that?
“I feel like I’m really hard on myself and if I don’t feel like I’ve played, you know like a 100% or if I’ve slacked in any area of the game it really weighs on me hard. I like to give it everything I have in every game in every snap. I apologized to the team, for the fans, the whole state of Kentucky, family back home, everybody.”
Q (From Larry Vaught): What’s it like blocking for Benny?
”I love him. I know that if I give him a little hole at all he’s going to hit it hard and he’s going to make me look good. And, I’ll make him look good sometimes if I widen that hole a little extra you know.”
Q: When the seasons starts teams will now game plan for you. Does that change your mentality?
”I’d like to say no but I have thought about it. It does drive me in the weight room to get stronger because everybody’s good in the Southeastern Conference. I got to have an edge. I got to be nasty. I got to be stronger, faster, something. I’m always working to improve my game so I can overcome those obstacles.”
Q (From Larry Vaught): Do you ever tend to be too aggressive?
“That’s kind of how I’ve been since middle school football. I’ve always been the guy that’s got personal fouls. I’m not the biggest, I’m not the strongest, I’m not the fastest, so I got to be the nastiest.
At 6-6, 315-pounds, Logan Stenberg is a prototypical offensive guard. Rated a 3-star by the recruiting services, Kentucky was his only Power 5 offer. He chose UK over Troy and Southern Miss. Stenberg started all 13 games in 2017 and was a key component to the Wildcat’s improved run game following center Drake Jackson’s emergence into the starting lineup. Stenberg-Jackson-Bunchy Stallings (Guard-Center-Guard) construct the strength of Kentucky’s offensive line. His freshman season was equally as impressive: 37 knockdown blocks and missed just one assignment for the entire 2016 season. He also registered 8 knockdown blocks as the Cats rolled up and impressive 443 rush yards against Tennessee.
What’s next for Logan Stenberg? As the team’s enforcer, he’ll certainly be a marked man in 2018. That doesn’t seem to bother him at all; matter of fact, I think he flourishes in that role. A year older and another offseason has changed his body into a junior that could be considered for all-conference honors. But, during our discussion it became obvious that Stenberg is more about the team’s success than his own. You often hear Mark Stoops say that, “It matters to him.” That’s Logan Stenberg. He gets it; whatever “it” is. The rising junior has played at a consistently high level for two seasons. I expect him to have a breakout junior year. “I’m not the biggest, I’m not the strongest, I’m not the fastest; so I go to be the nastiest.” Those words are exactly what any head coach would want to hear from a starting guard.
Defensive “Havoc” statistics are explosive plays that alter the course of a drive or opposing offensive series. For example; tackles for loss, quarterback sacks, forced fumbles, and quarterback hurries are a few classifications that align with this category. It should come as no surprise that the higher number of havoc statistics produce a greater likelihood for victory. This theory was tested and proven by the Wildcats over the course of 13 games in 2017.
Let’s take a look at how those numbers were distributed in wins and losses as well as by position groups over the course of the 2017 season:
@Southern Miss–Win, 24-17
Total Yards Surrendered: 364
Tackles for Loss: 8
- Defensive Line-1
Quarterback Sacks: 2
- Defensive Line-0
Eastern Kentucky–Win, 27-16
Total Yards Surrendered: 318
Tackles for Loss: 3
- Defensive Line-.5
Quarterback Sacks: 1
- Defensive Line-0
@South Carolina–Win, 23-13
Total Yards Surrendered: 358
Tackles for Loss: 3
- Defensive Line-.5
Quarterback Sacks: 2
- Defensive Line-0
Total Yards Surrendered: 395
Tackles for Loss: 4
- Defensive Line-0
Quarterback Sacks: 1
- Defensive Line-0
Eastern Michigan–Win, 24-20
Total Yards Surrendered: 312
Tackles for Loss: 7
- Defensive Line-2
Quarterback Sacks: 5
- Defensive Line-2
Total Yards Surrendered: 568
Tackles for Loss: 2
- Defensive Line-0
Quarterback Sacks: 1
- Defensive Line-0
@Mississippi State–Loss, 7-45
Total Yards Surrendered: 441
Tackles for Loss: 3
- Defensive Line-0
Quarterback Sacks: 0
- Defensive Line- 0
Total Yards Surrendered: 445
Tackles for Loss: 12
- Defensive Line-2
Quarterback Sacks: 7
- Defensive Line-1
Kentucky’s passing game was inconsistent.
That statement has been discussed and written about on many occasions but lacked substance until claims could be supported my numerical facts. Here you go: The Cats completed 63.7% of its passes and threw 7 touchdowns in the first and second quarters of the 2017 season. However, after halftime its completion percentage dropped to 52.4% and resulted in just 3 touchdown passes. Four quarters of passing game stability is a major priority for Eddie Gran’s offense which will be led by a first time starting quarterback. Running back Benny Snell is an all-timer but needs help in the form of a passing attack that can lessen the number of defenders stacked within the tackle box. Let’s dig a little deeper.
First, let me say again that QB Stephen Johnson is my all-time favorite Wildcat. The former Wildcat battled through significant injuries that led to three offseason surgeries. He was not close to being 100% healthy at any point during his senior season. Passing game matters also worsened in the offseason when homerun hitting receiver Jeff Badet departed Lexington for Norman, Oklahoma and long-time starter Dorian Baker sustained a season ending injury during fall camp.
Second, in my opinion Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw have worked wonders by adapting their offensive intentions in back-to-back seasons. From injuries to unforeseen attrition as well as surprising stars, Gran has been forced to amend his mid-season playbook in order to identify strengths to match available personnel. Gran is highly thought of throughout football circles (me included) and will finally have the majority of his tools available for 2018. But a tremendous amount of responsibility will fall on the shoulders of a new starting quarterback.
Numbers indicate that Kentucky’s completion percentage actually increased from 54% in 2016 to 59% in the 2017. However, touchdown passes dropped from 17 to 10 (fewest in the SEC). Yards per attempt fell from 7.8 yards to 7.4 during the same time period and yards per completion dropped 2 yards as well. Let’s take a look at differing results from the first to second half:
2017 Second Half Passing Numbers
The comparative figures from the first to second half are staggering and telling. Kentucky attempted 78 fewer passes in the third and fourth quarters which is not all too uncommon. But, its completion percentage dropped 11.3%, threw for 522 fewer yards, and passer rating decreased 17.77 points.
Theories vary and are difficult to support by data but let’s be honest here. Opposing defenses were not presented with a deep threat which allowed teams to load the box and deploy defensive backs closer to the line-of-scrimmage. By doing so, opposing back sevens negated screens and short to intermediate passes which in turn forced over-the-top throws that were low in completion percentage. This strategy also took away CJ Conrad who is the Cat’s top pass catcher. Kentucky’s receivers were not dynamic a year ago and struggled to separate from defenders. In other words, Johnson rarely had viable, open receivers to throw to on a regular basis. An emphasis has been placed on correcting that deficiency.
Stephen Johnson’s injuries could have played a role as the game went into the final periods. The more hits he took early in the contests could have increased pain and discomfort which potentially affected his throwing motion. The fact that the senior completed the season was an amazing testament to courage and fortitude. Respect.
The scoreboard often dictates second half offensive philosophy. Kentucky led at the half in six games, trailed in five, and was tied in two. The Cats failed to blow out an opponent and relied upon its running game and star Benny Snell to salt the clock in the fourth quarter. This could have played a hand in its lower number of late-game attempts and touchdowns.
Gunnar Hoak or Terry Wilson will be tasked to provide four quarters of consistent passing in 2018. This is non-negotiable. For that to happen, UK receivers have to increase their yards after catch and develop an explosive play pass catcher to take the top off opposing defenses. CJ Conrad and the tight ends must become more active and the offensive line has to protect. This is the most athletic Kentucky offense in quite some time. If a passing game can co-exist with Benny Snell, then a screen game could develop which will highlight Lynn Bowden and others in space. Lots of moving parts that will be piloted by a new signal caller. Exciting times in Lexington.
Mark Stoops confidently spoke like a head coach that returns 18 starters while understanding that his cupboard is full of youthful talent that could challenge complacent veterans. If anything, the head coach appeared determined for his team to take a step forward.
“It’s really important to make those players from good to great, and I think we have some good players and its time to get them to go to great and that’s where the details come in play.”
Eli Brown’s Replacement
Junior linebacker Eli Brown abruptly announced his plans to transfer from the program. Brown filled in for injured starter Jordan Jones at the Will Linebacker position and figured to be a regular in the LB rotation. Next up is redshirt freshman Jamin Davis who impressed in last year’s spring game. Davis arrived to campus at 198-pounds and is now near 220. Another interesting note was that outside linebacker Alex King has been moved to inside linebacker in order to provide athletic depth. King is nearly 240-pounds and was considered one of the top pass rushers in the Midwest coming out of high school.
STOOPS: “Jamin (Davis) would be the first option. Jamin, there’s a perfect example of a kid that’s come in, and he kept in about 195, maybe 198 pounds. He’s 6-3 and now he’s 6-3, about 220 pounds, and looks like on his way to looking like a grown man, and that’s what we need in there. And we also moved Alex King inside, as well, but he’s working at Mike. But they will be interchangeable, but Alex is another guy, 6-3, 6-4, 230, 240 pounds, getting some size in there that we need.”
Former Outside Linebacker Josh Paschal Moves to Interior Defensive Line
To me, this is the most exciting news of the press conference. Josh Paschal has an opportunity to be a breakout player for the Wildcats and the Southeastern Conference.
STOOPS: “With him it gives you the versatility when he’s an inside guy with some of our fronts to slide to a true defensive end with his hand in the dirt, so getting technical there but he did move to the inside position right now, and Josh is just a very good football player as I mentioned.
I feel like we have some guys at outside backer with some experience and he’s a guy that’s hard not to play. He needs to be on the field playing for us. He’s definitely one of our best 11. Just because we have some depth at outside backer, you don’t want him sitting there on the sidelines next to me. You want him out there playing and he came to me, actually, because he knows we’ve talked about this, and he said, “Coach, I believe that I could help the team and we’re better off if I move inside.”
I said, “Well, then, let’s get eatin'” (Laughter). Because he’s a guy that’s really worked hard, and I don’t want to say he starved himself but he’s very conscious of what he’s been eating to make sure he stayed in that range. I mean, you don’t see many 3-4 outside linebackers in the NFL playing every down that are 280, 290 pounds and that’s what he has the ability to be.
So he worked pretty hard to stay in the 260 range, you know, a couple biscuits and he’s at 270-something right now. So he can help us and he gives us that athleticism.”
A Challenge to Defensive Linemen
No secret, Kentucky’s defensive line needs to take a giant leap for the Cats to consistently challenge in the SEC East. Paschal’s move is just a start. The head coach appeared determined to light a fire under a unit that has underachieved.
STOOPS: “And there’s some other guys, there’s a list of those guys that have played: Adrian (Middleton), and Tymere Dubose has done some good things late in the year last year; hopefully he’ll continue to improve. But also T.J. Carter also needs to have a big year. He’s a guy that has to take the off-season serious. Again, we pounded it for the seven weeks. I really wanted to work those guys. Coach (Corey) Edmond, Coach Mark Hill, those guys worked very hard in the weight room, I think our players did. They took it serious for the seven weeks that we had, and now we’re in the spring.
But T.J. is a guy that needs to have a good off-season, continue to get stronger. Calvin Taylor did some decent things. Kordell Looney is a guy that’s got to make a move. We’re going to put tons of pressure on him. He’s either going to be accountable, do the things that he’s supposed to become the player I think he can be or he’ll get caught in the wash. But he needs to take a step.”
Don’t Expect a Quick Quarterback Decision-Quarterback Improvement Mandatory
I’ve written throughout the offseason that the starting quarterback could be named at the end of spring practice. Most likely, this will not be the case.
STOOPS: “Yeah, it’s going to be hard to say there. That’s going to take some time. I tell you, I’m very impressed with the way they are throwing the football. You just look at the talent and you look at the way they are spinning the ball, and you know, it does jump out at you at times and I think all of us would agree for us to take it to the next level, we need to be more efficient at throwing the football. We need to throw the ball better, and that’s not just from the quarterback, and you know I’ve always said that but it’s so true. We need to — we need to grow up and have some guys outside and some guys at wide receiver that make some really competitive plays that could separate and get open and I think we’re going to be fine at the tight end position, although we’re very thin right now in the spring.
I think we have some guys that can create some opportunity in the pass game and I’ve been impressed with the quarterbacks and just their talent, their arm talent and the way they throw the ball and their poise and they have worked really hard. I feel good about it. In particular, Gunnar (Hoak) and Terry (Wilson). You know, Danny (Clark) is running right now, doing some good things, and getting just as many reps as the other guys, but — and you see his flashes at times. But we’ll see where it goes here this spring. We cannot go live with our quarterbacks. You cannot let them get a blind shot and get hurt and I’m not going to do that. So I think it just — that quarterback situation is definitely going to need some time to work its way out. And look, you know, — who has it figured out? So obviously they don’t have it figured out. I think with us to act like we can just watch one or two or even a spring practice and think we have it figured out, I don’t know, if we have the ability to do that. So we have to let them play and see what happens. I feel confident that we’re going to improve at that position. As much as we love Stephen and what he’s done for us, I think we’re going to improve.”
Fielding an Experienced Team
STOOPS: “You know, it’s really much more enjoyable to have guys with some experience, there’s no question about that, because they can pick things up. When they make mistakes, they understand. It’s really important to make those players from good to great, and I think we have some good players and it’s time to get them to go to great and that’s where the details come in play. You know, for them to really hone their craft and really understand what they want to do and take the medicine to take it to another level, and I do think there’s some maturity there that I’m liking, and you know, we’ve just got to continue to work and continue to grind, and they have got to continue to have good attitudes to want to be great, to want to be coached, to want to learn to take it to another level. But it definitely does help. You feel better and you hope it translates to the field.”
What does all this mean?
Monday portrayed a different version of Mark Stoops. The head coach was rather matter-of-fact in discussing players that need to become accountable or be passed over on the depth chart by younger talent. Kentucky is in new territory. The Cats have a team packed with senior starters as well as future professionals to go along with a great deal of talented youth. Spring competition will be heated and have depth chart implications at certain position groups.
Mark Stoops will field a secondary that could potentially feature four to five senior starters. Behind those starters lie the most talented collection of rotational players on the roster.
Remember our offensive line post from last week when we said that some analysts evaluate teams based on the number of returning OL starters? Well, other experts apply the same formula to the secondary. 2018 is the year for the Wildcat defensive backs to play at the high-level that the BBN has expected for the past couple of seasons. Potentially the most substantial offseason personnel news did not involve a player. Instead, Associate Head Coach Dean Hood is changing responsibilities from outside linebackers to the secondary. Hood is a long-time, proven football teacher and has an extended track record of player development. For example, think back for a moment and consider which defensive position group showed the most growth during the 2017 season? I’d argue the answer is the outside linebackers which produced two all-conference players and a true freshman that demonstrated tremendous potential.
All-SEC safety/nickel Mike Edwards is UK’s most decorated defensive back. Edwards has averaged 98.5 tackles over the past two seasons. The two-time All-SEC senior spurned the NFL Draft in order to return to Lexington for a senior campaign. Fellow safety Darius West returned in 2017 following a two-season battle with injuries to finish the season as the team’s third leading tackler with 86. Cornerbacks Derrick Baity and Chris Westry have been starters for the better part of three seasons. Lonnie Johnson Jr. showed flashes in 2017 and earned starts at cornerback. With an overabundance of experience at all four spots and plenty of quality depth, spring practice could see experiments with position changes within the secondary.
5 Nickel/Safety Kendall Randolph 6’0, 183 Graduated
- Career statistics: 70 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 1 interception, 3 pass breakups, 2 fumble recovery, 1 forced fumble, 3 quarterback hurries.
Mike Edwards has played safety and nickel throughout his stellar career. Cornerback could be added to that list with spring practice positional experiments. UK plays a great deal of nickel coverages which features five defensive backs. 2018 will see a great deal of depth across the board which means that playing time will be coveted by several Wildcats. The task of unseating a senior starter will be a challenge. The following five defensive backs have played a great deal of college football. Experience is an invaluable trainer.
29 Cornerback Derrick Baity 6’3, 186 Senior
- Four pass breakups vs. Northwestern in Music City Bowl
- Intercepted two passes in 2017. One vs. Vanderbilt, the other vs. South Carolina
- Named as Co-SEC Defensive Player of the Week in a winning effort vs. South Carolina
- Seventh on the team with 47 tackles
- Career: Played in 38 games, started 29. 110 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 5 interceptions, 1 fumble recovery, 1 forced fumble, 16 pass breakups
6 Cornerback Lonnie Johnson Jr. 6’3, 215 Senior
- Started last 5 games of 2017 season
- Career-high 7 tackles vs. Louisville
- Six tackles and a blocked field goal in a victory over Missouri
- Blocked extra point vs. Eastern Kentucky
21 Cornerback Chris Westry 6’4, 195 Senior
- Posted 4 tackles vs. EKU, South Carolina, and Eastern Michigan
- Career statistics: Played in 38 games, started 33. 113 tackles, 3 interceptions, 13 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 1 quarterback hurry
25 Safety Darius West 6’0, 210 Senior
- Ranked third on team with 86 tackles in 2017
- Game-high seven tackles vs. Georgia
- 11 tackles vs. EKU. Caused a fumble in week 1 at Southern Miss, also had 7 tackles including 1 for loss.
7 Safety Mike Edwards 6’0, 200 Senior
- Phil Steele 1st Team All-SEC
- Led the team with 97. Ranked 9th leading tackler in the SEC
- Team-high 4 interceptions as well as 7 pass breakups
- Fourth player in school history to lead Kentucky in both tackles and interceptions
- Six double digit tackle games
- Career: 235 tackles, 8 interceptions, 1.5 quarterback sacks, 11.5 tackles for loss, 1 fumble recovery, 1 quarterback hurry, and 17 pass breakups
- Averaged 98.5 tackles over the past two seasons. That average projected to 2018 would place Edwards in the prestigious 300-Tackle Club
This list includes former 4-star athletes and players that could play multiple positions within the secondary. This group also consists of many defenders that play a key role on special teams.
27 Cedrick Dort Jr. 5’11, 170 Sophomore
- Played as a true freshman in 2017
- Two tackles vs. Northwestern in bowl game
17 Tobias Gilliam 5’11, 195 Sophomore
- Two tackles vs. Northwestern
- Steady role player that can make a jump with a strong spring practice
3 Jordan Griffin 6’0, 186 Junior
- 2017 statistics: 22 tackles, 3 pass breakups, and 1 interception
- Can play multiple secondary positions
- Career-high 6 tackles and 1 pass breakup in a win over Missouri
- Highly-skilled defender
13 Zy’Aire Hughes 6’1, 193 Sophomore
- Registered 1 tackle in 2017
9 Davonte Robinson 6’2, 187 Sophomore
- Played in all 13 games of 2017
- Career-high 5 tackles in a road win over Vanderbilt in Nashville
- One of the fastest players on the team
16 Marcus Walker Junior 6’1, 212
- Season-high 2 tackles in win over Vanderbilt
- Active on special teams
23 Tyrell Ajian 6’0, 190 Redshirt Freshman
- Played defensive back, receiver, and quarterback in high school. 4-star prospect
- Projects to multiple positions within the secondary as well as special teams
- Joins Yusuf Corker to make a highly skilled duo of redshirt freshman that can make an impact in spring practice
29 Yusuf Corker 6’0, 190 Redshirt Freshman
- Nation’s 26th ranked cornerback, top rated CB in the state of Georgia. 4-star prospect with a high ceiling
- Will factor in rotation and special teams
Stanley Garner and Dom Williams are early enrollees and will factor in spring practice.
Cornerback Jamari Brown 6’2, 180 Freshman
- Had offers from every Power 5 Conferences
- Top 100 cornerback in America. Missed time with injuries during senior season.
- Did not enroll early. Will not factor in spring practice.
Cornerback Stanley Garner 6’2, 180 Freshman
- Early enrollee, will participate in spring practice. Confident athlete.
- Two-way standout at Dillard High School, Florida. 4-star prospect, teammate of Jordan Wright. Entertained dozens of offers.
- Rangy, tall cornerback. Extremely talented.
Defensive Back Domonique Williams 5’10, 180 Junior
- Twice recruited by Dean Hood. Originally signed with EKU out of Fulton High School, Tennessee.
- Highland Community College, Kansas product. Recorded 79 tackles, 6 interceptions, and 15 pass breakups.
- Can play nickel, cornerback, or safety.
What does all this mean?
Kentucky’s defensive backs construct the most talented secondary in recent memory on paper. Multiple 4-star prospects litter its depth chart which is led by experienced, senior players. The table is set for a bounce-back season from 2017 when the Cats finished 13th in the league by allowing 251.6 passing yards per game. Pass defense involves more than just the defenders tasked in covering receivers. A disruptive pass rush hurries the quarterback which lessens the time for pass catchers to get open. Dean Hood will improve the secondary. How much is the only question I have going into spring practice.