College football season is right around the corner. The Kentucky football team has momentum following the upset win over Louisville. The Cats cashed in on the recruiting front, but can they do it on the field? All signs point to ‘yes.’ Allow me to validate that answer by breaking down each position group over the next month, starting with Eddie Gran’s group of running backs, a.k.a Benny and the Jets.
Benjamin Snell Jr. — Snell exploded onto the scene in the third game of the year to break virtually every Kentucky freshman rushing and scoring record. He finished the year with 1,091 rushing yards and was tied for third in the SEC with 13 rushing touchdowns.
A powerful runner, Snell carried the team to long-second half drives out of the Wildcat formation. This year Snell will play a different role: primary running back. That could change how he is used in the Wildcat and where we see him on the field, but he’s prepared for it. He has slimmed down and has worked on his receiving abilities to add another component to his game. One thing hasn’t changed: he will run the ball like he’s trying to earn the nation’s respect, or as Chris Westry put it: “That man runs like someone hit his mom.”
Asim “A.J.” Rose — A running quarterback for Cleveland’s Garfield Heights High School, many expected the explosive runner to play as a true freshman in 2016. Snell won the battle, forcing Rose to redshirt. Unfortunately, Rose was injured after a big hit in the spring game, leaving the Kentucky fanbase wondering what we may see from Rose this fall.
Sihiem King — The shifty junior running back started his UK career playing behind Boom Williams. Unlike Boom, King showed in the spring game he’s not hesitant to run between the tackles. His experience has been limited to special teams and a reserve role — where he stole the show with 6 carries, 75 yards and a touchdown vs. Tennessee — but King’s patience could provide a premiere role alongside Benny Snell in 2017.
Bryant Koback — Considered the No. 34 running back in the 2017 recruiting class by the 247 Composite, Koback was on pace to contend for Mr. Football honors in Ohio when he suffered a broken right tibia and fibula midway through his senior season. A spectacular combination of speed and power, enrolling in January helped jump start the rehab process to get him back onto the field for training camp.
What will Benny do? The freshman phenom surprised the Big Blue Nation, but now he has a target on his back. Opposing defenses will load the box to force UK into the air, but Benny will still get his. Gran will get him the ball in different ways than previously seen, but how he does it will not be answered until game one. One thing is certain, we’ve yet to see the best from Benny, and we’ve seen him do this:
Who will be Benny’s Sidekick? Arguably the most intriguing preseason storyline, Gran will have an entertaining competition to see who will bring the boom alongside Benny. Right now it’s completely up in the air between all three backs. I could write an entire post comparing and contrasting King and Rose, only to see Koback steal the show.
At the end of the day, the most important thing Gran wants to see is consistency. Who ever is willing to work their ass off everyday will be the one who receives the second-most carries. We will hear good and bad stories from throughout camp, but Gran won’t provide any hint until the first game kicks off against Southern Miss.
Can Koback play? Koback’s injury was devastating. It kept him off the field for most of his senior year and the entirety of spring practice, however, Gran shared some encouraging news last week: Koback will be ready to participate in 100 percent of fall camp activities. Ahead of his rehab schedule, Koback showed some special things in film, things that remind Freddie Maggard of Benny Snell. Even though he’s not needed right away, if he wows coaches in camp like Snell did a year ago, he will receive some reps right away.
Can Bowden fit into the mix? Lynn Bowden will start his Kentucky career as a slot receiver who was not been with the team in the summer. The steep learning curve will be even greater for Bowden entering training camp.
An elite athlete that could play a variety of positions, he has to master the slot first. After that, Gran will try to get the ball in Bowden’s hands in unconventional ways. A quarterback in high school, the first inclination is for Bowden to play Wildcat quarterback. I don’t think anyone would be surprised if he also received reps at running back, but that will probably not be until the season has matured.
Last year Kentucky had the third-most rushing yards in the SEC, the second-most in school history (3,044) and was the only power five conference school with two 1,000-yard rushers. Those outstanding numbers will not be replicated in 2017.
Kentucky was forced to rely on running the ball 60-65 percent of the time after Drew Barker was injured. Without proven quarterback play, Gran leaned on the run game to open up the play-action pass for Stephen Johnson. Now with seven wins under his belt, a year of experience and ten pounds of muscle, Johnson will give the Kentucky offense more balance.
Without Boom Williams, Benny Snell will be tasked to carry the load, but that load will not consistently exceed 25 touches a game. The physical runner can take a beating, but last year’s 38-carry game vs. Missouri must be an exception, not a norm.
In Boom’s absence, Sihiem King will fill the void. My gut says King’s maturity, his pass-blocking and pass-catching abilities will make him the second featured back in the offense. Rose could prove me wrong, but I’m rolling the dice with King.
Behind one of the best offensive lines in the country, Kentucky will have on of the five best rushing offenses in the SEC. Benny Snell will once again ‘WOW’ the Big Blue Nation, but UK’s 2017 offense will not live and die on the shoulders of the running backs.