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.