After months of waiting, Eddie Gran and the Kentucky coaches finally got to watch the class of 2017 practice on a football field. Two rookie receivers stuck out immediately.
“The two big standouts really are Isaiah Epps and Josh Ali,” said quarterback Stephen Johnson. “Those guys are doing an incredible job out there with just their route-running and catching the ball. They’re really out there making plays. Those two stand out.”
The offensive coordinator echoed his quarterback’s statement.
“(I’m) Really excited. The athleticism, the way they come out with some passion. They’re competing, I really like that. You saw some flashes,” Gran said.
A pair of lengthy, fast receivers on the outside, their success starts at their feet.
“Josh and Isaiah, they really have good footwork to be freshmen,” said receivers coach Lamar Thomas. “Good hands, they can move, they can run. They’ve really been a good addition so far. Today was kind of the first day in pads and they did well. I’m anxious to see how they continue to progress. In the offseason, being able to come in here and work with those guys I think really helped them.”
Ali and Epps weren’t the only offensive freshmen to receive a shout out from their coach. Gran said running back Bryant Koback had a few solid runs, the offensive linemen were impressive and Clevan Thomas picked up right where he left off in the spring.
“I think coming early, there’s no question that helped him,” Gran said. “He’s so far ahead right now. Right now you’d say he’s probably going to be in the mix. We’ll see as it develops, but the other guys are where he was when he first got here. They’re swimming a little bit.”
Now that Thomas understands the basics of the playbook, he can focus on the little nuances that will give him a greater chance of getting open.
“He knows most of the plays. Now it’s figuring out what you can and cannot do,” said Garrett Johnson, a senior receiver one spot ahead of Thomas on the depth chart. “There’s a little leeway and more freedom, more flexibility as he’s learning the offense and I fee like he’s understanding that a little bit more.”
The freshmen receivers are exceeding early expectations, but it’s just the first week. Many challenges lie ahead.
“Not pressing. We’ve all been there. As freshmen you want to get into camp and try to make plays. You pull things,” Lamar Thomas said. “Now they just have to go out there and let the game slow down for them. That’s what’s important for them. They gotta feel comfortable and I think they’re getting that way.”
“They have to get used to that part of the physicality,” Gran said. “I think that’s going to be the next week to see if they adjust to that.”
How they respond next week and throughout the extended fall camp will determine their chances seeing the field this fall, but for now the freshmen receivers can hold their heads high knowing they passed their first test with flying colors.