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Focused Rookies and Returning Starter Expectations

Focused Rookies and Returning Starter Expectations


Post Governor’s Cup and pre-Jacksonville talk featured bowl excitement and expectation for the 2017 season. If the Georgia Tech game’s depth chart happened to be a crystal ball, it would have flashed a promising future. The Wildcat offense was believed to begin its next season with ten returning starters to go along with nine on defense. 19 returning starters had prognosticators operating within a new-found sense of expectation.

That was nine months and several personnel actions ago. Kentucky is now down to six offensive and eight defensive starters from the team that squared off against Tech on New Year’s Eve. Concerned yet? I’m not. Let’s take a deeper look:

OFFENSE

Taxslayer Bowl Starters

Left Tackle-Cole Mosier
Left Guard-Nick Haynes
Center-Jon Toth
Right Guard-Bunchy Stallings
Right Tackle-Kyle Meadows
Tight End-CJ Conrad
Receiver-Jeff Badet
Receiver-Dorian Baker
Tight End-Greg Hart
Quarterback-Stephen Johnson
Running Back-Stanley Williams

Bowl game notes from the team’s official website show that Kentucky was to return ten starters with center Jon Toth being the only player lost to graduation. Since then; LT Cole Mosier was lost for the season to a knee injury, Jeff Badet left the team and eventually transferred to Oklahoma, Dorian Baker is now questionable due to an ankle injury (Update comes on Monday), and Stanley Williams surprisingly entered the NFL Draft. The Cats are now down to six returning offensive starters. Concerned yet? Not me.

The Newcomers

-WR Josh Ali-6’0, 180-pounds. Ali was a 3-star prospect by all major services. Caught 43 passes for 805-yards and 4 touchdowns at Chaminade-Madonna HS which is located in Florida.

-WR Isaiah Epps-6’2, 185-pounds. Played a national powerhouse program Jenks HS in Oklahoma where he set a school record with 59 catches for 1,209-yards and 12 touchdowns.

-WR Lynn Bowden-6’1, 190-pounder from Youngstown, Ohio was considered one of the most dynamic playmakers in the nation coming out of high school. 4-star prospect in all major recruiting services.

-WR Clevan Thomas-5’11, 205-pounds from Florida’s Charles W. Flanagain HS. Rated as one of the nation’s top receivers, helped his team win the 8A state championship as a junior.

-RB Bryant Koback-6’0, 193-pounder from Holland, Ohio was set to have a standout senior season before suffering an injury. Koback rushed for 1096-yards and 21 TD’s in a 4-game, shortened senior campaign.

-LT Naasir Watkins-6’6, 300-pound former TE that played at national powerhouse Our Lady of Good Counsel HS, Maryland. Watkins was a 3-star prospect chose UK over Coastal Carolina, Bowling Green, Ohio, and Dartmouth.

A foursome of true freshmen receivers was projected to play prior to the Dorian Baker situation. Now, it’ all but certain that they’ll make the trip and contribute in Hattiesburg. This group includes: Josh Ali, Isaiah Epps, Lynn Bowden, and Clevan Thomas. JaVonte Richardson is the 5th receiver in the class and was a 4-star coming out of high school. However, Lamar Thomas has an overabundance of taller, X wide-outs at his disposal. Richardson may redshirt.

Mark Stoops has said that tackle Naasir Watkins is ahead of Landon Young at the same stage in their careers. Watkins has the makings of a special left tackle in the Southeastern Conference. RB Bryant Koback participated in the team’s latest live-scrimmage and could provide depth at the position. Remember, it takes four running backs to survive a season.

All offensive linemen signed and developed by John Schlarman should have a “slash” in their position descriptions. The UK OL coach had cross-trained his big fellas to play multiple positions along the line-of-scrimmage. This should pay dividends on the recruiting trail as multiplicity is a highly sought after trait by the National Football League. This includes a duo of redshirt freshmen in center/guard Drake Jackson and center/guard/tackle Luke Fortner who should be in its two-deep rotation.

DEFENSE

Taxslayer Bowl Starters

Outside Linebacker-Josh Allen
Defensive Tackle-Adrian Middleton
Defensive End-Alvonte Bell
Defensive End-Courtney Miggins
Outside Linebacker-Denzil Ware
Safety-Marcus McWilson
Linebacker-Courtney Love
Linebacker-Jordan Jones
Cornerback-Derrick Baity
Cornerback-Chris Westry
Safety-Mike Edwards

DE Alvonte Bell was dismissed from the team. I could be proven wrong about the seriousness of the Bell situation. Unlike some talking heads (and I have a huge head) when I’m wrong I admit it. I was seriously concerned after learning that UK had lost an impactful, proven pass rusher from a questionable defensive line. I still think Bell’s absence will sting, but fall camp has brought on an onslaught of positive news surrounding the UK defensive line along with a group of highly promising true freshmen edge rushers.

Mark Stoops’ and Matt House’s faces light up when discussing true freshmen Josh Paschal and Quinten Bohanna. Same can be said of fellow novices Jordan Wright and Phil Hoskins. Add in redshirt freshmen Jamar “Boogie Watson and Kordell Looney, and the surge of new front-seven talent has me not as anxious as I was a couple months ago. I still think that Chris Whittaker, Abule Abadi-Fitzgerald and Alex King will be just as impactful once the situation presents itself.

The Class of 2017 has a chance to be a doozy. It could prove to be the best to ever ink with the Wildcats. Mark Stoops and Matt House said on Saturday that football means a great deal to this group of true freshmen. I like that, no I love that statement. Although not a measurable event and is often times overlooked by recruiting services; passion for the game is as important as vertical jumps and 40-times in the recruiting process. The old saying stands true today, “Can’t measure heart.’

But be advised; we’re talking about freshmen. After throwing a high number of interceptions throughout my playing career, it must be noted that I have a substantial higher number of career tackles than all of the abovementioned rookies. I’d join Mark Stoops in forewarning the Big Blue Nation to not get caught up in overhyping the freshmen. It’s all projection until the Class of 2017 experiences their first game-action.

The Newcomers

-NT Quinten Bohanna-6’4, 320-pounds. The nose tackle was a 3-star prospect and racked up 91 total tackles, 24 tackles for loss, and 19 QB sacks as a senior.

-DT Phil Hoskins-6’5, 280-pounds. Hoskins is originally from Cleveland, Ohio. Attended junior college at Highlands CC but has three years of eligibility remaining at UK. Has an 84-inch wingspan.

-OLB Jordan Wright-6’5, 250-pounds. Wright was an all-state football and basketball player at Florida’s Dillard HS. Registered 25 QB sacks as a senior. Caught 6 touchdowns as tight end.

-OLB Josh Paschal-6’3, 270-pounds. Teammate of OT Naasir Watkins, Paschal played for legendary coach Bill Milloy. 4-star prospect. 247Sports rated him as the nation’s 11st best SDE.

-MLB Jamin Davis-6’4, 220-pounds. Davis was an early enrollee and took full advantage of the offseason by leading the team in tackles during the spring game. Rated as one of the top 50 LB’s in America coming out of Long County HS. Chose UK over Louisville, Georgia Tech, and NC State.

What does all this mean?

Experience and an extraordinarily high number of returning starters were to be the way-too-easy storylines of the 2017 Kentucky Wildcats. But, a highly skilled and prudently focused collection of newcomers have stolen the show. Will that carry over to the season? Not necessarily as the vast majority of production will come from veterans. But, after writing and reading a multitude of stories that fixated on a small number of veteran’s focus or lack thereof; rookie eagerness has certainly been a welcome and refreshing alteration to fall camp rhetoric.


Stoops Pleased with UK’s Performance in Second Preseason Scrimmage

Stoops Pleased with UK’s Performance in Second Preseason Scrimmage

Mark Stoops struggled to find good things to say last week after UK’s first scrimmage of the preseason.  He eventually used the words “just okay” to describe the scrimmage.  Today, he was pleased to share a positive report.

Overall it was a good, competitive scrimmage,” said Stoops.  “I feel like it was better scrimmage than it was a week ago, as it should be.  I thought we had a really good, solid week of practice this week.  We got a lot of work in.  Wrapping it up today with a good, long scrimmage.  I feel like we did good things on both sides of the ball.”

Careful not to condemn or praise either side of the ball too much before watching the film, he was happy to see the defense prevent the offense from putting early points on the board.  However, one play that made him change his tune was a long, explosive run.

“It’ll be a good learning situation for them.  We gotta watch it and see exactly who it was, but they creased us and got a long run that led to a touchdown early,” he said.

Offensively, the Cats improved from a week ago and kept the ball off the ground throughout the entire scrimmage.  Still, Eddie Gran wanted to see more consistency, especially on routine first down plays.

Moving forward, the depth chart is tightening up as September 2 creeps closer and closer.

“We’re going to be making some decisions with playing time and moves on the depth chart after this scrimmage,” Stoops said.  “Guys that either can’t do it or won’t do it, they’re getting passed up because we do have a lot of depth and a lot of talent on this team, a lot more than we’ve had.”

Classes start on Wednesday, essentially closing the door on training camp and commencing Southern Miss prep.  Through three weeks, Mark Stoops likes his team.

I feel like we’re much further ahead. The maturity level of this team has been a lot of fun to coach,” Stoops said.  “It’s been an enjoyable camp.  There’s still so much work daily to do, but it’s been fun.  The guys are really taking to the coaching.  I think it’s very important to them.  I feel like we’re further ahead with the details. ”

Stoops’ team has exactly two weeks to master the details to create a polished product in Hattiesburg.


The Impact of Dorian Baker’s Ankle Injury

UK Athletics

Mark Stoops announced after today’s scrimmage that Dorian Baker suffered a significant ankle injury, the second senior injured on the Kroger Field Turf in two weeks.  The severity is currently unknown, but if Baker cannot perform for an extended amount of time, what’s next for UK’s wide receivers?

Tavin Richardson

The redshirt sophomore wide receiver was listed as UK’s starter at the “X” outside receiver in the first depth chart of the 2017 season.  He has since moved to the “Z” position and was splitting reps with Baker and the first string leading into today.

Richardson showed promise in his first career game, hauling in 2 receptions for 74 yards against Southern Miss.  After a season of experience, Richardson said yesterday he feels, “like a veteran,” and is prepared to make the jump from year one to year two.

Kayaune Ross

Dorian Baker’s (potential) loss leaves UK without their largest target on the outside.  Insert Kayaune Ross.  Playing opposite of Baker, the junior college transfer is one of the hardest workers on the team, and one of the tallest at 6’6″ 225 pounds.  If Baker cannot be utilized in situations where they need a big guy, they still have Big Ross.

Freshmen

Josh Ali, Isaiah Epps, Clevan Thomas and Lynn Bowden have impressed coaches as soon as they stepped on campus.  They’ve done it in the weight room, on the practice field and in scrimmages, including today’s.  Stoops said there’s room for all four freshmen to play right away.

“I think we’re going to. I do,” Stoops said today.  “I feel like they’re really good players.  They’re just ball players.  They can probably help us on special teams and bring them along.  As you know, we lose a pretty good group after this year.”

Ali will now be the second team “Z” behind Tavin Richardson.  JaVonte Richardson is another player that could potentially play his way onto the field this fall at outside receiver.

A Silver Lining

Just like UK’s loss at left tackle, if there’s a position that can absorb an injury, it’s wide receiver.  There’s a ton of young, yet unproven talent prepared to play right away.

Losing a leader like Dorian is difficult for a meeting room to handle, but ankle injuries leave room for optimism.  They can be nagging and last an entire season, or they can go away after a few weeks of rest and rehab.  We’ll find out next week how long the Cats will be without Dorian Baker.


Southern Miss’ Plan to Stop Benny Snell and UK’s Post Route

Southern Miss’ Plan to Stop Benny Snell and UK’s Post Route

Picture of Xavier Thigpen by the Hattiesburg American

Southern Miss will execute a version of the 4-2-5 defense in its attempt to slow Benny Snell and prevent Stephen Johnson from connecting on the Wildcats’ most threatening pass play which is the deep post route. Let’s review how defensive schemes are numerically labelled before we take a headfirst dive into X-and-O Land:

  • 4 is the number of down defensive linemen.
  • 2 is the number of linebackers.
  • 5 is the number of defensive backs. In this case; the 4-2-5 continually operates with a Nickel base set.

Southern Miss Defensive Season Review

It’s important to take a look back at USM’s defensive standings on a national scale before we can project its outlook for the September 2 opener. Last year was an abnormal statistical season for the Golden Eagles’ defense. It disproportionately failed to force turnovers but excelled against the pass and in explosive play categories (QB sacks and tackles for loss). The following are 2016 national rankings:

  • Pass Defense: Surrendered just 174.9 yards per game (10th nationally)
  • Rush: Allowed 149.92 ypg (46th)
  • QB Sacks: 34 (28th)
  • Tackles for Loss: 94 (21st)
  • Turnover Margin: 125th, forced just 5 fumbles and intercepted 10 passes

UK’s 2016 Offensive Production vs. Southern Miss

Below are Kentucky’s statistical numbers from last year’s season opener:

  • Scoring Offense: 35 points
  • Number of Plays: 50
  • First Downs: 14
  • Rush: 25 carries, 96 net yards, 3.8 yards per rush
  • Pass: 16/25, 303 yards
  • Total: 409 yards
  • Red-Zone: 2/3
  • 3rd Down: 3/9

Personnel

The Departed (Lost starters/key contributors from 2016) provides a look at Golden Eagle players that significantly impacted last year’s game.                              

– Nickel D’Nerius Antoine: 86 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 1 QB sack
– Nose tackle Dylan Bradley: 64 tackles, 15.5 TFL, 8.5 QB sacks
– Rover Devonta Foster: 44 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 INTs
– Sam Linebacker Elijah Parker: 43 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 2.5 QB sacks
– Mike Linebacker CJ Perry: 26 tackles, 2.5 TFL
– Wolf Defensive End Ja’Boree Poole: 25 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 7 QB sacks
– TOTAL: 288 tackles, 39 tackles for loss, 19 QB sacks. Although the number of returning starters vary, it appears as if USM lost 5 from 2016 to go along with a ton of production.

Projected Starters Vs. Kentucky per the Hattiesburg American’s Jason Munz:

Bandit End: Xavier Thigpen, 6’5 240 Sr. Finished 2016 season with 12.5 TFL and 5 sacks.
Defensive Tackle: Draper Riley, 6’4 305 Sr. 3.5 TFL in five starts.
Nose Tackle: LaDarius Harris, 6’1 280 Jr. 6 starts, 30 tackles, 5 TFL.
Wolf: Paxton Schrimsher, 6’3 225 Soph. Played in 10 games made 7 tackles.

Linebacker: Sherrod Ruff, 5’10 215 Sr. 11 TFLs in 2 starts. Played in 12 games.
Linebacker: Jeremy Sangster, 6’0 233 Jr. Played in 13 games, made 7 tackles.

Cornerback: Cornell Armstrong, 5’11 180. 2nd leading returning tackler (47).
Cornerback: Curtis Mikell, 5’8 170 Sr. Started 4 games, produced 2 INTs.
Safety: Tarvarius Moore, 6’2 190 Sr. Picked off 2 passes in 2016.
Safety: Demetrius Market, 5’8 168 Soph. Played in 12 games as true freshman.
Nickel: Picasso Nelson, 5’10 195. Leading returning tackler (48)

Pic by Blitzology

Slowing Kentucky’s Run Game

USM’s 4-2-5 defense has the capability to stack the box and run blitz its linebackers while relying upon immediate edge support from both the Nickel and or safety. Adjoined by four defensive linemen shooting predetermined line-of-scrimmage gaps with intent for disruption and clogging running lanes; this concept can present a serious challenge for opponents that are not fond of the physical run-game. Kentucky does not fit that description. The term “8 in the box” is also applicable above. Expect a version of this defensive philosophy to be frequently applied which will aim to force momentum stopping drives and prevent Benny Snell from establishing run game rhythm. Also expect to see a form of this scheme when Eddie Gran goes to the Wildcat formation.

UK can counter this front/coverage with an effective play action passing plan and by quick-hitting screens. A simpler mode of attack would consist of a direct run game. Stay with me here; running straight at crashing, incoming defenders may sound crazy. But, with little time for run support from the second level, a missed tackle could lead to an explosive play. Much like other attacking defensive styles, the run-blitz from the 4-2-5 can cause a high number of tackles for loss. It’s a high risk/high reward system. Long wording to say that the Cats merely can remain “status quo” and eventually a long run will pop.

The most advantageous factor that Eddie Gran will have on September 2 will be a deep and versatile offensive line. Run/pass blitz heavy defenses consume a considerable amount of energy especially during a 4:00 p.m. kickoff. It’s going to be hot. Is USM deep enough along its front seven to go toe-to-toe with the Cats in a battle of line-of-scrimmage attrition? The answer to this question will have serious W/L implications.

Stopping UK’s Post Route

Pic by Football Toolbox

Stephen Johnson completes a high percentage of attempted post routes. The post is a difficult pass to throw and even more challenging to complete. Johnson has shown the propensity for consistently converting in these explosive play connections. In the above graphic you can see that a FS (Free Safety) is solely dedicated to not allow an offensive player to beat him over the deep middle of the football field. This would be a smart move by USM to ensure that at least one safety is assigned to that sector of the field at all times. UK’s threat for the home-run throw could prevent USM from playing a number of snaps in man-to-man coverage. But, the Cats will have to prove that it can hit the long-ball.

The above example also highlights specific pass coverage responsibilities of its five defensive backs and linebackers. Cover 3 is the most simplistic look that college quarterbacks will see in a game. The “Courage Throw” against this coverage is in front of the safety and behind the linebackers. When you hear Eddie Gran describe Johnson’s needs for completing short-to-intermediate passes, this is the area of the field in which he is describing and wants to attack.

In our last graphic example below, you can see a receiver route tree. Numerical route identifications may vary but names are fundamental. A post route is as simple as it sounds. The receiver runs vertical for a specific number of yards and then angles towards the goal post in the end zone.

Picture of Receiver Route Tree. Picture by National Football Post

What in the Heck does all this mean?

Southern Miss effectively slowed the Kentucky offense in the second half of last year’s matchup after the Cats roared out of the gates on its way to a 35-10 lead. Untimely turnovers, sloppy execution, and a low number of plays as well as time of possession lamented the Cats as it limped through the third and fourth quarters before eventually falling 44-35. It’s also important to remember that RB Benny Snell and QB Stephen Johnson did not factor in last year’s contest.

Kentucky’s offensive personnel is built to handle the 4-2-5. UK has shown historical success against this scheme and saw it often against multiple opponents across 2016. USM lost impactful starters and key defensive contributors. It will be banking on energy, momentum, and tempo to counter the Wildcat’s size and power advantage. Road-game composure will be paramount. All the fall camp talk about Kentucky’s offensive experience and veteran presence will be invaluable assets. It’s close.


UK Legends Game: Mock Draft

UK Legends Game: Mock Draft

In looking ahead to the UK Legends Game next week in Rupp Arena, we thought it would be fun to hold a mock draft of the 20 confirmed participants for the game.

We were each assigned to a team (Tyler picking for Blue, Drew picking for White) and a coin flip determined the first overall pick, which went to Tyler and the Blue team. Selections were then rotated back and forth from there.

Read each pick (1-20) and then place your vote for the better team at the bottom of the page.

 

Blue Team, you are on the clock…

 


1. Heshimu Evans, Blue Team

Tyler: Heshimu Evans may be 42 years old, but he was still playing professional ball as recently as 2013, which is more than 98% of the players on this list can say.


2. Julius Mays, White Team

Drew: I have no idea what Julius Mays is doing these days. I originally thought he was playing pro ball somewhere; turns out, he is not. I’ll still gamble on the fact he is in good shape though, considering he is only three years removed from retirement. Plus he shot 39.5 percent from three-point range in Rupp Arena, and the long-ball will decide this game.


3. Cliff Hawkins, Blue Team

Tyler: A good team needs a good point guard, and Hawkins is my favorite of the bunch. As far as I can tell, his playing career ended overseas in 2012; here’s hoping he can still ball.


4. Ravi Moss, White Team

Drew: I’m getting away with robbery here picking up Moss at No. 4 in the draft. I would’ve considered him at No. 1 overall had the ping-pong balls bounced my way, and you’re telling me he slipped to fourth? What a steal! MVP candidate right here.


5. Shagari Alleyne, Blue Team

Tyler: Shagari is in his 30s now, but he’s still 7-feet tall and thanks to his salsa career, his footwork is better than ever:


6. Jarrod Polson, White Team

Drew: We’re handing the keys over to Polson as our staring point guard. As was the case with Moss, I see this as a steal given the position in the draft. Polson was the top PG on our big board and we got him. Last time I saw him (Fayette Mall food court, couple months ago) he looked to be just as game-ready as he was during the 2014 Final Four run.


7. Perry Stevenson, Blue Team

Tyler: If only to see him flex those bones again.


8. Bobby Perry, White Team

Drew: Our front office was worried about Perry’s focus and commitment to basketball, but we’re taking a chance here despite him spending way too much time on the golf course these days. If we can get him to put the sand wedge down, we think he’s in good shape for 32 and can still play both forward positions.


9. Jeff Sheppard, Blue Team

Tyler: Crap, I really need another guard. I’ll take Jeff Sheppard, because even at 42, I bet he’s still a pretty good shooter.


10. Andre Riddick, White Team

Drew: SLEEPER PICK! If you’re a casual fan, yeah, you’re thinking Riddick is old and out of shape because it’s been over two decades since he left UK. But do a little research and you’ll find Riddick played professionally up until a couple years ago and he is the ULEB Cup’s all-time leader for rebounds, steals and blocks.

And he’s down to throw hands if any of the opposing legends want to mix it up like Rasheed did back in ’95.


11. Marquis Estill, Blue Team

Tyler: The 6’9″ Estill still holds the Kentucky record for field goal shooting percentage (60%). I’ll take that any day.


12. Jon Hood, White Team

Drew: Hoody still available at No. 12? No brainer here. He has title experience and he’s only been married a couple weeks so he probably hasn’t let himself go yet. He could be the Draymond Green of this draft.


13. Lukasz Obrzut, Blue Team

Tyler: Woo, just remember it was me that drafted you and not Drew.


[White Team offers remaining four picks for rights to Lukasz Obrzut.]

[Trade declined.] 

[White Team offers remaining four picks and cash considerations for rights to Lukasz Obrzut.]

[Trade declined.] 

[Drew texts Obrzut, begs him to pull a Kobe and refuse to play for Blue Team. White Team then offers remaining four picks plus first picks in 2018, 2019 and 2020 UK legends drafts for rights to Lukasz Obrzut.]

[Trade declined.] 

(First reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski)


14. Jared Prickett, White Team

Drew: We now have the CEO of the KBA, which means we have our own practice facility. It doesn’t hurt that he was an All-NCAA Regional and All-SEC Tournament selection, as well as one of the best rebounders in school history.


15. Goose Givens, Blue Team

Tyler: Goose is the youngest looking 60-year-old I’ve ever seen, and my team of giants needs some more scoring.


16. Jared Carter, White Team

Drew: Carter is our counter to Shagari Alleyne and Lukasz Obrzut. Our only concern is we now have three Jared/Jarrods on the team.


17. Kyle Macy, Blue Team

Tyler: I’m really digging the 60-year-olds on my squad. Did you see Macy’s moves in the Kentucky Bank Tennis Championships last month?


18. Kenny Walker, White Team

Drew: I don’t see any Slam Dunk champions on the other team.


19. Dale Brown, Blue Team

Tyler: Dale Brown may be approaching 50, but I bet the head coach at Eminence still has some moves.


20. Kevin Grevey, White Team

Drew: Remember, Isaiah Thomas was the last pick in the 2011 NBA draft and he was a finalist for the MVP award this past season.


Which is the better team?


BLUE TEAM

WHITE TEAM

Cliff Hawkins Jarrod Polson
Jeff Sheppard Julius Mays
Heshimu Evans Ravi Moss
Perry Stevenson Bobby Perry
Shagari Alleyne Andre Riddick
Marquis Estill Jon Hood
Lukasz Obrzut Jared Prickett
Goose Givens Jared Carter
Kyle Macy Kenny Walker
Dale Brown Kevin Grevey



@Brown3Jamari

YAHTZEE: Florida Cornerback Jamari Brown Commits to Kentucky

@Brown3Jamari

For the second time in two days, a tall South Florida cornerback has committed to play football at the University of Kentucky.  Less than 17 hours after Stanley Garner picked UK over Alabama, Jamari Brown picked UK over Auburn.

@Brown3Jamari

A three-star prospect from Pompano Beach, Florida, Brown’s 13-school offer sheet also included the likes of Louisville, Oregon, South Carolina and Mississippi State.

Brown is Kentucky’s 18th commitment in the 2018 class.  The Cats now have three cornerbacks and five Florida natives (all recruited by Eddie Gran) in the upcoming class that is ranked No. 16 in the country, one spot ahead of USC.

Gifted with South Florida speed, what makes Brown stand above the rest is that he literally stands above the rest of the crowd.  At 6’3,” Brown has the length that Stoops searches for in cornerbacks.

A look at just a few of Brown’s highlights:


YAHTZEE! Four-star CB Stanley Garner commits to KENTUCKY

YAHTZEE! Four-star CB Stanley Garner commits to KENTUCKY

@StanleyG_9

We interrupt your Wednesday night to inform you of a massive YAHTZEE for the Kentucky football program…

2018 four-star cornerback Stanley Garner III just committed to the  Kentucky Wildcats.

 

Garner chose UK over Alabama, Clemson, Michigan, Louisville and many more. Take a look at his offer sheet:

The 6’4 prospect out of Fort Lauderdale, FL is considered the No. 31 cornerback in America according to Rivals.com.

With the commitment, the Wildcats move up to No. 18 in the 2018 recruiting rankings according to 247 Sports.

Garner unofficially visited Kentucky back in June, and then came back for camp in July. The star defensive back was already rumored to favor the Wildcats, but following his two visits to Lexington, UK became the leader by a wide margin.

In an interview with Rivals’ Rob Cassidy last week, Garner said he already made a silent commitment a while back, but wanted to wait for an official announcement with his peers at school.

In the same interview, the Florida native raved about the family atmosphere established in Lexington.

“At Kentucky it’s a family tradition there,” Garner said. “They show a lot of love and play freshman. I’m looking forward to that.”

In case you were wondering, he seems pretty happy to be wearing a Kentucky uniform:

Here he is rocking Kentucky blue following his commitment:

Watch the newest Wildcat go to work below:

Follow me on Twitter: @JackPilgrimKSR


Cole Mosier never flinched

Cole Mosier never flinched

The SEC Network’s Cole Cubelic is college football’s premier offensive line analyst. Upon hearing the news that Kentucky left tackle Cole Mosier had torn his ACL and is out for the season, the former Auburn center, talk show host, and sideline reporter said, “The loss of Cole Mosier will be difficult for the Wildcats. I had high expectations for him in 2017 and was excited to see him compete.”

I concur.

Media members are supposed to be fair and balanced without showing overt favoritism for any single player. Bull hockey. It happens all the time. Heck, I openly pay reverence for Wildcat offensive linemen, including Nick Haynes and Cole Mosier; both high-effort, team-first football players. Much like Cubelic, I was excited to observe the senior from Walton-Verona put in work this fall. Mosier’s personality and UK career personified Mark Stoops’ “Never Flinch” mantra that he’s preached since arriving to Lexington five years ago.

The Announcement

UK Sports Information Department released this statement on Monday:

Kentucky offensive tackle Cole Mosier suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during Saturday’s scrimmage and will miss the 2017 season. The senior from Walton, Ky., is not eligible for a sixth season, thus ending his Wildcat career.

Mosier, a 6-foot-6, 335-pounder who was slated to start at left tackle for the Wildcats again this season, is scheduled to have surgery on Thursday, Aug. 17. He is on track to graduate in December with a degree in political science.

“We’re extremely disappointed about Cole’s injury,” Coach Mark Stoops said. “He has been with us all five seasons we’ve been at Kentucky. He helped set the example of hard work that is the theme of this program, as he came in as a walk-on and earned a scholarship. We know Cole will continue to support his teammates this season and we wish him the best in his recovery and in the future.”

In 2016, Mosier was an integral part of the offensive line who were named semifinalists for the Joe Moore Award, which recognizes the nation’s Most Outstanding Offensive Line. Blocking for Boom Williams and Benny Snell, UK was the only team in the SEC with two 1,000-yard rushers. Mosier played in 10 of 13 games, helping the Wildcats advance to their first bowl game in six years.

Overall, Mosier played in 32 games with 13 starts at left tackle. He came to Kentucky as a walk-on from Walton-Verona High School before earning a full scholarship as a redshirt sophomore. 

“Tearing my ACL was a big blow and it’s unfortunate because I wanted to finish my career here at UK with my teammates,” Mosier said. “However, I’m going to have surgery on Thursday and I plan to rehab my knee in order to participate in UK’s Pro Day in March. I want to thank Coach Stoops and Coach Schlarman for everything they’ve done for me. I also want to thank the Big Blue Nation for their support. Coming here as a walk-on and then earning a scholarship was a dream come true. I’m going to continue being around the team to cheer them on and help the team as much as I can.”

Mosier, a 6-foot-6, 335-pounder who was slated to start at left tackle for the Wildcats again this season, is scheduled to have surgery on Thursday, Aug. 17. He is on track to graduate in December with a degree in political science.

Cole’s Career

Dang it, dang it, dang it, dang it!!

I hate this for Cole Mosier. As highly-regarded prospects inked and reported to Lexington, Mosier did not flinch. He played in 33 games, starting in 13 of those. It’s not only the number of games/starts that matter for the former walk-on; it’s the position in which he played. Left tackle is a coveted and important position along the offensive line-of-scrimmage. Think about that for a minute: Mosier was an in-state, zero-star walk-on that developed into a starter that protected Wildcat QB’s blindsides for three seasons.

Let’s take a deeper look at offensive tackles signed by Mark Stoops from 2013 to 2016. These signees are listed below:

(*Please note that this list is per Rivals and is an estimate based on the uncertainties of specific players signed with sole intention on playing tackle.)

Kyle Meadows, 3-star (Starter right tackle)
Josh Krok, 3-star (Transfer)
Nick Richardson, 4-star (Transfer)
George Asafo-Adjei, 3-star (plays RT and RG)
Mason Wolfe, 3-star (In 2017 rotation)
Logan Stenberg, 3-star (Starter LG)
Tate Leavitt, 4-star (Competing to be in 2017 rotation)
Landon Young, 5-star (Started 3 games LT)

Mosier worked. Mosier competed. Mosier fought for and earned a place at the head table. How could you not pull for a player that worked his way from zero offers and recruiting stars to playing in 33 games while starting 13 at left tackle in the Southeastern Conference. Respect sir.

What Does All This Mean?

The Landon Young era has officially started. Young and Mosier shared time at left tackle. There will not be a drop-off in production. In actuality, Young and Mosier were competing for the starting position in fall camp. But who now backs up Young?

There are options:

— Kyle Meadows can kick over from right to left tackle in case of an emergency due to George Asafo-Adjei’s positional versatility and being able to play both guard and tackle.

— A true freshman may enter the rotation. Naasir Watkins, Sebastien Dolcine, or Austin Dotson may get thrown into the fire much like Young was a year ago.

— Mason Wolfe and Luke Fortner are also possess a diverse skill set and could provide depth if necessary.

— Depth limitations are not existent at this point. John Schlarman has strategically built a stable of offensive linemen that have and can play multiple positions. By definition this can only be described as player development.

— Landon Young will be a star at the University of Kentucky. Respectfully, he is not a player that rests on his laurels or potential. UK Football’s Director of Performance Corey Edmond and Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Mark Hill both singled out Landon Young as one of two players that jumped out to them as high performers in offseason workouts. The other was fellow offensive lineman George Asafo-Adjei.

What Does This Really Mean?

It stinks. I hate it. While an overabundance of click-bait stories is spent discussing players that have underachieved or failed to work at a level in order for them to reach their potential; Cole Mosier simply put his head down, kept his mouth shut, went to work, became a leader, and didn’t flinch.

I also hate this for the Mosier family who has certainly been on a roller coaster ride over the past four years as Cole transitioned from no-name walk-on to being mentioned as one of the better offensive linemen in the Southeastern Conference.

Cole Mosier still has a chance to extend his football career and play on Sundays. In bittersweet fashion, rehabilitation will now focus on Pro Day. I don’t mind saying it again: I’m pulling for him to succeed.

Cole Mosier, thank you. Good guys still can finish first. His effort, work, and transition from walk-on to starter will go down in UK Football lore alongside others that took a similar path. Jeff Brady was a walk-on from Newport Catholic that finished his UK career as an all-conference performer and played several years in the NFL. Dr. Joel Mazzella was also a non-scholarship player that went on to become a two-time All SEC guard. Joel is now a successful physician in Jacksonville, Florida. Mike Knox was a non-scholarship fullback from Memphis that made his money and earned a full-ride on special teams as well as during passing situations. There are many more stories. Each paint a picture of having a dream and owning the fortitude to act upon achieving the highly unlikely.

Thank you, Cole.


Kentucky to host Chattanooga in Kroger Field 2021

The Kentucky football program has added the Chattanooga Mocs to its 2021 football schedule, according to Chattanooga’s 2017 football media guide and discovered by FBSchedules.com.

The Cats will host the Mocs on Saturday, November 20 during that 2021 season. It is the first non-conference game on UK’s schedule, as far as we know, and will be the first ever meeting between the two schools.

Chattanooga went 9-4 last season with a 6-2 record in the Southern Conference. It will play at LSU this season, plus trips to South Carolina and Tennessee over the next two years.


Bagley to Duke: What It Means

Bagley to Duke: What It Means

Superstar-in-waiting Marvin Bagley shook up college basketball late Monday night when he announced his commitment to Duke during the 11 pm edition of SportsCenter out on the west coast. Bagley’s commitment to the Blue Devils also came with the news that he plans to forego his senior season of high school and enroll in college this fall.

What the blockbuster announcement means:

 

Duke is the No. 1 team entering the season, favorite to win the NCAA title.

I wrote about this at lunch yesterday: the addition of Bagley gives Duke the best starting five (on paper) this upcoming season. Coach K adds the best player in the country to a lineup that already had three five-star, top-10 signees from the ESPN100, plus a fourth-year Grayson Allen.

Bagley will make Duke the No. 1 team, favorite to win title — and that sucks

Bagley would make any team a Final Four contender, so adding him to the team that was already 7-to-1 to win it all, is dangerous for everyone else.

Coach K canceled Duke’s international trip for this.

The Blue Devils are supposed to be leaving for the Dominican Republic this week for two exhibition games against the Dominican national team, but the trip was canceled so Coach K could recover from knee surgery. If you think that’s the real reason Duke canceled the trip, you’re not staying woke.

The Bagley situation had everything to do with Duke pulling out of the DR at the last minute, not Coach K’s surgery, which he could’ve gotten anytime. That trip had been planned for months and it would be extremely beneficial for a team that lost all five starters from the end of the year, and you’re telling me Coach K just decided to have surgery on the Sunday before the team left?

Stay woke, people.

The days of criticizing the one-and-done system are officially over.

Most one-and-done critics went ghost when Duke won the title in 2014, but this move officially silenced what was left of them. We have an elite university working diligently behind the scenes to bend the rules so its basketball team can benefit by signing a star, and nobody will say a word about it because it’s Duke.

Do I have a problem with that? No, of course not. Do you, Duke. But save the “right way” talk when talking about the Duke basketball program in the future. I’m just noting that Coach K stooping to this level marks the end of any criticism of the system because nobody will talk negatively about Coach K.

Poor Marques Bolden.

Bagley still has to gain eligibility. 

Bagley announced his intentions to reclassify to the Class of 2017, but he still needs his eligibility granted by the NCAA. That can be a seamless transition when a prospect plans ahead and takes the necessary coursework along the way; in Bagley’s case, however, his three years of high school are a complete mess.

Bagley attended three different high schools across two states in his freshman, sophomore and junior years. He began at Corona Del Sol High in Tempe his freshman year; then transferred to Hillcrest Hoops, a prep school in Phoenix; and spent the last year and a half at Sierra Canyon in California, where he was ruled ineligible his sophomore season due to transfer rules.

So, you’re telling me a kid that went to three different schools, was ineligible for competition at one of those schools, and spent the whole summer traveling for basketball, is going to skip his senior year and enroll in college (and not just any college) in mid-August?

I gotta see this!


ColeMosier71 | IG

What Cole Mosier’s Loss Means to Kentucky

ColeMosier71 | IG

The first preseason football scrimmage has not been kind to Mark Stoops’ Cats the previous two years.

Last year they lost starting safety Darius West.  This year they lost starting left tackle Cole Mosier.  Without West, the UK secondary still posted the fifth-best pass defense in the SEC and ranked No. 35 nationally.  He was missed, but they were able to move on and have success.  The same can happen for the 2017 Kentucky offensive line.

Here’s what they’re missing and how they will respond to Mosier’s absence.

A Consistent Mauler

The former walk-on grew into the offensive line’s most powerful weapon.  The second-largest player on the team at 6’6″ 335-pounds, Mosier was an above-average pass blocker and an excellent run blocker at left tackle.  A former walk-on, he fought to earn a scholarship, a prized intangible for an offensive lineman.

We can toot his horn all day.  It isn’t a perspective only seen through blue-tinted shades.  The SEC Network’s Cole Cubelic, arguably the nation’s top offensive line analyst, ranked Mosier as one of the best overall linemen in the SEC in 2016.  It’s difficult to mitigate Mosier’s loss, but there’s one person who can.

Landon Young

Anytime there’s an injury, the motto “next man up” must be invoked.  In Kentucky’s case, the next man up is rarely a five-star All-American, but that’s what John Schlarman is working with now that Mosier is unavailable.

Uncertain if Young would play the difficult left tackle position as a true freshman, his services were needed in the second game of the season against Florida.  He initially struggled in Gainesville and even caused his quarterback to fumble, but once comfortable, Young fit in just fine.  From that point on, he was a part of the regular offensive line rotation at left tackle.

In Young’s true freshman season he recorded 27 knock-down blocks for an offensive line that led the way for two 1,000-yard rushers.  That’s great at every level of football.

The experience he received as a true freshman is unquantifiable.  Even if he only played a little, there would be reason to worry about the person charged with protecting the quarterback’s blind side.  There’s no reason to worry about Young’s ability to step in and play right away.  Young was able to get comfortable and find a rhythm against the speed of the SEC as a true freshman. He doesn’t need reps to know what to expect this fall.  He’ll be prepared to step in and take on full-time duties as UK’s starting left tackle.

The Next, Next Man Up

Before the injury, Schlarman had a solid two-deep at every position, with some spots good three, even four spots deep.  At left tackle there are fewer options.  Unlike interior linemen, tackles are not so easily moved around.  Tasked with stopping SEC edge rushers, playing left tackle is arguably the toughest challenge on the offensive line.

Young was poised to see significant snaps in a rotating role with Mosier.  As Young fills Mosier’s role as the primary option at left tackle, is there another player who can step into Young’s role?

The most likely candidate is Mason Wolfe, but the Henderson native was just moved down to guard and is even seeing reps at center.  Stout in the interior, don’t be surprised to see Wolfe move back outside, unless Schlarman likes what he sees from redshirt freshman Luke Fortner.

Injuries Suck

As much as we love the game of football, it’s a game of give and take.  It gave Mosier a scholarship to attend college.  Now it’s temporarily taking away the use of his right knee, an injury that will provide painful reminders for the rest of his life.  His football career may not be over, but his time playing for Kentucky is.  That’s gut-wrenching.

A message Mosier shared on Instagram alongside the picture at the top of the page:

“It was extremely hard for me to hear I tore my ACL in the scrimmage this past Saturday. I think it is even harder to write this… I want to thank all the coaches and staff members especially Coach Schlarman for everything y’all have done for me these past 5 years. I also want to thank all of the BBN for the endless support throughout the years. Lastly want to thank all my brothers on the field for all the memories these years especially us Redshirt Seniors. Y’all are my family and always will be. I will still be with the team this following season as much as I can with rehab as I prepare to train for the NFL pro day in March. This team is going to be special this year and will do big things! I’m excited to see us have one of the best seasons in school history this year! Thank you all for your time. #BBN “

This one hits home even more for me.  My younger brother Nathan, another walk-on who fought to earn a scholarship, did not make it through two weeks of WKU preseason camp before tearing his ACL.

Injuries suck.  There’s a sense of helplessness that sweeps over the player and their loved ones.  Even though you may not think it’s much, any kind words can go a long way.  You can reach out to Cole and thank him for his time in Kentucky blue on Twitter at @ColeMosier71 or on Instagram.


UK Left Tackle Cole Mosier will Miss the 2017 Football Season

Brian Lynn | Icon Sportswire

Cole Mosier will miss the 2017 UK football season after the left tackle suffered a torn ACL in his right knee during the Cats’ first preseason scrimmage.  The injury will end his senior season and his career; UK announced in a press release he is not eligible for a sixth season.

“We’re extremely disappointed about Cole’s injury,” Coach Mark Stoops said. “He has been with us all five seasons we’ve been at Kentucky. He helped set the example of hard work that is the theme of this program, as he came in as a walk-on and earned a scholarship. We know Cole will continue to support his teammates this season and we wish him the best in his recovery and in the future.”

A former walk-on from Walton, Ky., Mosier earned a scholarship after becoming the No. 1 left tackle as a redshirt freshman.  Last season he started in ten of UK’s 13 games, sidelined for three after a minor injury at Florida.

“Tearing my ACL was a big blow and it’s unfortunate because I wanted to finish my career here at UK with my teammates,” Mosier said in a statement. “However, I’m going to have surgery on Thursday and I plan to rehab my knee in order to participate in UK’s Pro Day in March. I want to thank Coach Stoops and Coach Schlarman for everything they’ve done for me. I also want to thank the Big Blue Nation for their support. Coming here as a walk-on and then earning a scholarship was a dream come true. I’m going to continue being around the team to cheer them on and help the team as much as I can.”

In Mosier’s absence Stephen Johnson will rely on sophomore Landon Young to protect his blind side.  The former five-star recruit from Lexington played regularly in John Schlarman’s 2016 offensive line rotation and registered 27 knock-down blocks as a true freshman.

There have been a few players “banged up” here and there, but it’s the first major injury of preseason camp.  Mosier’s injury marks the second consecutive year an injury in the Cats’ first preseason scrimmage has caused a player to miss the entire season.  In 2016 safety Darius West’s season ended early with a similar knee injury.


Bagley will make Duke the No. 1 team, favorite to win title — and that sucks

Bagley will make Duke the No. 1 team, favorite to win title — and that sucks

Marvin Bagley is a generational talent and his Monday night announcement will likely shift the landscape of college basketball this upcoming 2017-18 season.

Bagley’s big announcement, scheduled for the 11 pm edition of SportsCenter, is expected to be his intentions to reclassify to the Class of 2017 and enroll in college this fall, as well as where he will go for his one season of college basketball. Duke, UCLA and USC are the three contenders for Bagley’s services, each having hosted Bagley on a visit within the last month; but Duke is the most likely of the three.

And that sucks for every team and fan base not named Duke.

With the addition of Bagley, the Blue Devils will instantly jump to the No. 1 overall preseason ranking and become the overwhelming favorite to win the NCAA title. Duke already shares the shortest odds to win it all with Kentucky at 7-to-1, per the latest odds from the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook, but those odds will shrink even shorter with the top-ranked player in the country joining what is already considered the second-ranked incoming recruiting class (it will jump Kentucky for first), plus Grayson Allen’s unexpected senior season.

Here’s Duke’s projected starting five, should Bagley commit and gain instant eligibility:

G – Trevon Duval, Freshman (True point guard replacing Frank Jackson; top-ranked point guard and ranked fifth overall in the 2017 ESPN 100)
G – Gary Trent Jr., Freshman (Top-ranked shooting guard and seventh overall player in 2017 ESPN 100)
G – Grayson Allen, Senior (Veteran leader with championship experience; preseason Naismith Player of the Year candidate; NCAA All-American)
F – Marvin Bagley, Freshman 
F/C – Wendell Carter Jr., Freshman (Top-ranked power forward and fourth overall player in 2017 ESPN 100)

There will still be questions of youth and depth, which is a longer conversation for another time, but that is the best starting lineup in the country, at least on paper. The insertion of Bagley into the power forward spot — Duke’s only weakness right now, in theory — will have an enormous impact on how the Blue Devils play and how dominant Coach K’s team will be next year.

Bagley can do it all: inside and out, offensively and defensively; which is why he has always been the Class of 2018’s top player and the projected No. 1 overall pick for whatever year he enters the draft. The pieces are now lining up for that to be next summer (sorry, Michael Porter Jr.), and spending seven months in Durham before the NBA may very well earn him a national championship, too.

Of course, there is still a shot he picks UCLA or USC, which will then direct more national championship talk their way, but Duke stands to grow the strongest after Bagley’s Monday announcement.

And that sucks.

Because nobody likes Duke.


Richardson, Baker and Walker via Andy Lyons.

2017 Kentucky Football Position Previews: Wide Receivers

Richardson, Baker and Walker via Andy Lyons.

KSR’s preseason position previews series continues with Lamar Thomas’ wide receivers.  Don’t miss earlier previews of the Running Backs and Quarterbacks.

The Personnel 

Garrett “Juice” Johnson —  Juice led UK in receptions (39) and receiving touchdowns (5) in 2016.  The Cats’ primary option in the slot, he hit a bump in the road in the middle of the season but bounced back with two HUGE touchdowns against Louisville in a five-catch, 164-yard performance.  He’s had five career games with more than 100 yards receiving.  The trick is squeezing out more than two in 2017.

Dorian Baker —  The big touchdown maker on the outside was marred by a preseason-hamstring injury in 2016.  This spring was the first time he’s ever been healthy enough to complete spring practice.  Built like an NFL wide receiver, it’s his year to prove that he can be that guy.

Tavin Richardson —  After playing in all 13 games as a redshirt freshman in 2016, he’s listed as a starter at outside wide receiver.  He caught 9 passes for 164 yards and pulled in a critical two-point conversion against Miss. State.

Chuck Walker —  A former walk-on from Louisville St. X, the artist formerly known as Charles earned a scholarship prior to playing in every game last season.  One of the Cats’ most consistent contributors, expect to see Walker in New York for the 2017 Heisman Trophy presentation.

Kayaune Ross —  The gigantic junior college transfer scored a touchdown in his first game, but did not play a significant role for the rest of the year, with some of it attributed to an ankle injury.  He’s taken leaps and bounds ahead this preseason, consistently earning praises from Eddie Gran and Lamar Thomas.  If teams want to play press man-to-man, “Godzilla” will make them pay more than T.J.

Blake Bone —  In his first game as a Wildcat, Bone scored a 36-yard touchdown.  The 6’5″ receiver showed immediate promise but has had an up-and-down career ever since, culminating with a career-low 5 catches for 82 yards in 2016.  Challenged in the offseason by the coaches, Lamar Thomas said he’s seen the senior respond.

Clevan Thomas —  The only freshman wide receiver to enroll early, Thomas has an impressive spring that culminated in the Blue/White Game with 3 catches for 28 yards and a touchdown.  He is the only freshman featured in UK’s first two-deep depth chart.

Since preseason camp began, three other freshmen have developed an excellent reputation around the practice fields.  In the first two practices of camp, Josh Ali and Isiah Epps caught the eyes of the coaches and quarterbacks.  Even though he arrived to camp a week late, Lynn Bowden made plays in the middle of the field in key situations in the Cats’ first scrimmage.

The Storylines 

Will people ever forgive Dorian Baker?  The Kentucky wide receiver has caught a ton of big touchdowns, but none as big as the go-ahead touchdown last year at Louisville.  Instead of marveling at the touchdown, listen to Mike Patrick’s first response:

Aside from the fact that Patrick is terrible at his job, “drop” is the first word many fans associate with Baker.  Instead of focusing on the game-winners (like against EKU) and how he “Saved a lot of people’s jobs,” as Lamar Thomas said, fans first think of the alliterative “Dorian Drops.”

The good news: he’s over it.  I’m 100 percent confident he’s tuned out that noise, but will anything ever silence that noise?  If “40-yard touchdown to beat your rival” doesn’t do it, I don’t know what will.  Jared Lorenzen has changed his tune on Baker, and I hope many will follow his lead.

All Eyes on the Vets.  The talented group of receivers has become a tired storyline since 2015.  “This is the year they get it together,” yet three season later we are still waiting to see consistency from the highly-touted 2014 recruiting class.  The problem isn’t their ability to make highlight reel catches; it’s the simple stuff they must do on a weekly basis to prove they are indeed NFL-caliber receivers.

It wasn’t a touchdown, but this might be the greatest highlight from the current crop of UK’s receivers, courtesy of Juice Johnson. 

How do you replace Badet?  The Cats lost their greatest deep threat and the receiver who led the team in receiving yards in 2016.  A concern for many fans, it is not a big of a deal as you think.  Juice can play outside receiver too and proved against UofL he has enough speed to take the top end off a defense.

Which freshmen will play?  In the first two weeks of camp, four freshmen receivers have proved they’re prepared to play right away: Thomas, Ali, Epps and Bowden.  If Ali and Epps stay on the outside, it will be more difficult for them to find reps, but I do not foresee them (especially Ali) to remain outside once the season starts.

Bowden made plays in his first week of camp, but he has a long way to go to learn the offense.  There will be plays designed to get the ball in Bowden’s hands, but he will be used situationally until the coaches can trust him to play assignment-sound football.  Thomas is probably the most-likely to earn early snaps, but has not received the same amount of praise as the other three in the early parts of camp.

One of them will be prominently featured, but only time will tell when, who and how they will be used.

The Prediction 

I want to say that I believe we’ll see the most consistent group of wide receivers in Mark Stoops’ five years at Kentucky, but like the doubtful Thomas, I gotta see it to believe it.

Every one of the receivers has made big plays and shown flashes of greatness.  That’s not the the problem.  Their problem is their ability to consistently make routine plays.  Throwing and catching is a simple basic part of college football.  If they can keep the drops away on the “easy” plays, the offense will exponentially improve.

I can’t promise consistency, but I can promise a change in how the passing game looks.

Last year UK ran the ball to set up the pass.  When opponents stacked the box to stop the run, Eddie Gran drew up a play-action and Johnson let the ball fly deep.  Juice can be Johnson’s deep threat, but the deep ball won’t be his primary weapon.  In fact, Juice is at his best in the middle of the field.  There he will once again be UK’s leading pass-catcher.

Insert C.J. Conrad, Chuck Walker and multiple freshmen into the equation and you have weapons in the middle of the field that can’t be easily covered by linebackers.  The highly reel from Saturday’s scrimmage might be the most chopped up clip we’ve ever seen, but you still see three freshmen making catches in the middle third of the field.

With a quarterback who’s improved his efficiency on intermediate passes, you’ll see a ton of targets in the middle of the field this fall that will extend drives, lead to more scores and give the defense more time to rest on the sideline.


Ten Quotes from the Coaches to Describe UK’s First Preseason Football Scrimmage

Ten Quotes from the Coaches to Describe UK’s First Preseason Football Scrimmage

UK’s first football preseason scrimmage was closed to the public.  Unable to judge for ourselves, let the coaches describe how things went down at Kroger Field.

1. Stoops is Happy to Have More Time

“It’s a good thing we still got three weeks.  Two weeks we’d be pushing it.  In three weeks there’s a lot of time to get things ironed out,” Stoops said.  “It’s a good starting point.  We’ve just got a lot of work to do.”

Stoops had the face of a perpetually sighing person as he described today’s events.  He hoped to see more, but he did see a little something.

2. Fundamental Run Defense

“I think we worked really hard fundamentally at doing some things better.  I think that showed up today,” Stoops said.  “There was definitely some positives, some good things.  I think we were more stout up front than we’ve been.  I think our run defense in general; they did rip off a couple, but I think in general we were more solid.  We saw more second and longs, which is what we were looking for.”

Maybe the UK defense can turn a few other teams into “Second-and-Ten U?”

3. A Flashy D-Line

“There were flashes, but we don’t want to flash.  We want to be consistent.”

Matt House agreed with Stoops; the rush defense was better.  He specifically praised Calvin Taylor and Adrian Middleton for performing well in the trenches, but they still surrendered too many big plays.

4. House Channels Stone Cold

“Anytime they pop a long run, I’m not happy and that’s the bottom line.”

The UK defensive coordinator’s raspy voice kinda sounds like Stone Cold too.

5. A Self-Destructive Offense

“We’re our own worst enemy.”

Eddie Gran’s offense had great starts to their first two drives, but failed to finish.  The first drive featured a few big runs in a 10-12 play drive, but things fell apart once they got inside the one.  After a misread on one goal-line play, the offense was stopped short of the end zone when the ball was put on the ground and the defense recovered.

6. Protective Quarterbacks

“I saw both guys really do a good job of protecting the football, first and foremost,” Stoops said.  “I thought both guys really showed up at times with some impressive throws and threw it in some really tight windows.  I like seeing that.  I like seeing the competitive plays.”

Gran agreed with Stoops.  He was happy to see the QBs take care of the ball and manage the offense.  Gran wasn’t quite as complimentary, but that might be more about the receiving end not fulfilling their duties than the quarterbacks failing to fulfill theirs.

7. Bowden Balled

“I thought he was one of the guys that showed up and made some plays,” Gran said.  “It’s hard because he hasn’t been here that long, but he went out there and he’s a competitor, but he’s one that did show up.”

On a day where there seemed to be more lows than highs, it’s encouraging to hear praise about the crown jewel of the 2017 recruiting class that’s only been practicing for a week.  It’s not the last you’ll hear about Bowden from UK’s first scrimmage.

8. Big Ross is Playing Big

“He’s really taken a step up,” Gran said. “He’s big, physical.  I think he got a couple of catches today.  He’s really working hard to get that big body down low and rip through people.  He brings a different dimension to us if we can get him out there singled up, especially against man-to-man.  So far he’s on track and can be a man that helps us.”

Kayaune Ross fits the “big outside receiver” stereotype and it’s turning into big plays.

9. No More Juice

“Garrett made two really big-time contested catches.  That was really good to see. He’s working outside and inside and that’s been really good for us.  He showed up a little bit today.”

He’s still Juice to everyone else, but it’s odd to hear Eddie Gran call him Garrett.  Maybe it will make him thirstier to catch more passes?

10. The Heat is On

“It’s the first time that the coaches have been off to the side the whole time,” House said.  “The first time where you get to live tackle and it was a good to be outside and get a little heat too.”

The first two weeks of training camp have gone too well.  Today was the team’s first wakeup call of the 2017 season.