Expectation management is a measurement that should be taken into consideration when analyzing spring football games. Schemes are basic. Quarterbacks are off-limits for contact. Teams flip-flop players and coaches dial up plays in order to showcase a unit, position group, or an individual player. In other words, the fact the Wildcats finished its spring game with no significant injury should be the only evaluation tool utilized in Friday night’s scrimmage.
The younger players impressed. Let’s dive into analysis:
Eddie Gran wanted to see his players maintain 100% proficiency in assignment and discipline indicators. Did that happen? Not really, but the second year offensive coordinator must have been pleased with his offensive line. John Schlarman’s contract was extended with a raise. Friday night showed the BBN why. The Wildcats will again play with a two-deep OL. I tried to focus on individual, one-on-one blocking. Both the Blue and White team’s big guys impressed and at times dominated.
— Bunchy Stallings was solid at center. On one occasion, the junior snapped the football then pulled around the line-of-scrimmage to set the edge with a block against a pursuing linebacker. Athletic move. Dermontti Dawson type stuff. Drake Jackson also proved that he’s ready for game action. Replacing Jon Toth will not be an easy task.
— Guard Logan Stenberg’s development continues to excite. He mauled defensive linemen and on occasion, defensive backs. Stenberg will push for all conference honors. George Asafo-Adjei may be the most important lineman of the group as he rotated between guard and right tackle.
— OL depth is noticeable. From Mason Wolfe to Luke Fortner; Schlarman has two units that could start for some SEC programs. This is the only time in the program’s history that I can remember that being the case.
— Guard/Center Nick Haynes’ versatility also was highlighted as he played both.
— Pass blocking was not as clean as Schlarman would have preferred. But, high level run blocking has carried over from 2016.
— As expected, we saw very little from Freshman All-American Benny Snell. And, that’s ok. What we did get to see reinforced my gut feeling that the sophomore is leaner, faster, and more explosive than he was a year ago. And, he was pretty darn good in 2016. Snell is the most competitive Kentucky RB that I’ve seen in my lifetime. Holding him back was a tall task for Eddie Gran. But, his OC told us on the post-game set that Benny grew up from the experience. Snell encouraged teammates. Running back is an independent, individual position. Having a proven star being supportive of other RB’s has to be considered as a tremendous and new development.
— Sihiem King rushed 19 times for 107 yards and two touchdowns. The elusive runner displayed that he can physically run behind his pads in the red-zone. AJ Rose will play a key role in 2017. He posted a couple nice runs prior to being injured from a vicious hit from Eli Brown.
— Overall, I came away more confident in the RB position than I was prior to the spring game. Benny will Benny, but there is depth. Gran will again have a full stable IF Bryant Koback can return from injury. Three RB’s is not enough against the grueling schedule awaiting the Cats. A fourth must surface.
— True freshman Clevan Thomas was as good as advertised. The rookie caught a touchdown and efficiently navigated the middle of the field. As an early enrollee, he should have been preparing for prom instead of going one-on-one with future NFL safety Mike Edwards.
— Kayaune Ross may be the hardest working player on the team from what I’ve witnessed throughout spring practice. Ross caught a touchdown pass on a fade route early in the game. I’ve seen him run that route hundreds of times after practice. Great example. He should be a red-zone threat.
— The BBN finally got a glimpse of TE Justin Rigg. Vince Marrow has harped on the redshirt freshman for two years now. CJ Conrad did not participate, but Rigg and Greg Hart effectively filled the void.
— Stephen Johnson played greedy. Gunnar Hoak played within the system. The result? Hoak outplayed the incumbent starter. If you’ve followed along on the Depth Chart Podcast or occasionally read KSR, I’ve been extremely high on Hoak since National Signing Day a year ago. We discussed this in length when a prior Kentucky QB commitment flipped to another SEC school and I screamed for the BBN to not worry or be concerned because of Gunnar. Poised, confident, and extremely smooth in the pocket; Hoak is the future of the Kentucky Football program.
— Johnson forced the action a little too much for his and the coach’s liking. Near misses on deep passes prevented the Governor’s Cup MVP from having a monstrous statistical outing. To his credit, Johnson started postgame remarks talking about how proud and happy he was for Gunnar Hoak.
— There should be no concern over the QB situation. Johnson is a proven entity. Hoak is a SEC-level starting quarterback. Having two ready to go against Southern Miss is a positive.
-Adrian Middleton appeared quicker and more forceful playing at his new weight of 275-pounds. The least heralded defensive linemen from the Class of 2014 has turned out to be the most impactful.
–Kordell Looney is ready to take on SEC competition. Extremely active; the rookie batted down a pass, had a sack, and two tackles for loss. He will prominently factor in 2016.
–6’9 305-pound DE Calvin Taylor is developing nicely and displayed additional improvement, strength, and lateral movement. Defensive end was a concern, but with TJ Carter, Kengera Daniel, incoming freshmen, and the return of Alvonte Bell the position should be ok.
-Nose tackle play didn’t match the level of the other two DL positions. Concerned? Not too much due to Naquez Pringle’s play in the latter portion of 2016. Matt Elam, Jacob Hyde, or a newcomer will be needed to step up and into a contributing role.
-Disappointed in Jordan Jones. The SEC’s leading returning tackler did not participate in the scrimmage because of a missed meeting. He’s better than that. His team needs him to be better than that.
-With Jones’ absence came an opportunity for Eli Brown and true freshman-early enrollee Jamin Davis. Davis led the team with 8 tackles and showcased why we were so high on him on NSD. I can now see Davis playing next fall if he can add 10 or so pounds. Kid’s going to be special.
-Kash Daniel was solid. He and Courtney Love may not jump out on the stat sheet or highlight reel, but the pair are consistent pluggers for Matt House’s defense.
–Jamar “Boogie” Watson was the defensive MVP. His Friday play was consistent with what we saw in last Saturday’s open scrimmage. We can now project him as a 2017 playmaker. Watson was a basketball standout turned 2-star football prospect coming out of the DC area. Much like Jamin Davis, the kid’s going to be special.
-True freshman CB Cedrick Dort Jr. (5’11 170) will never have to prove his toughness again. The early enrollee took on the block of pulling guard Logan Stenberg (6’6 320) and came off the turf wobbly. The very next play he deflected a downfield pass. Respect.
–Davonte Robinson and Jordan Griffin were athletic and will make plays this fall.
-Didn’t see much out of All SEC safety Mike Edwards as the veteran had very little to prove on Friday. Tobias Gilliam, Robinson, and Darius West filled in nicely.
What does all this mean?
There’s no rationalizing what we saw on Friday. There are so many hidden tendencies that skew evaluation and scouting that again, the only number that matters is zero. Zero as in no major spring game injuries.
This team is better. How much better won’t be determined until September 2nd.