Good evening, Big Blue Nation. I hope you all got your fair share of sun, hot dogs, and time spent with friends and family on this beautiful Fourth of July.
While you’re winding down for the night, let’s talk a little football.
Our Kentucky football connoisseur, Nick Roush, got hitched last weekend and is currently celebrating his honeymoon in the Dominican Republic. (If you haven’t yet, send your congratulatory messages over to @RoushKSR)
While he is gone, I decided to reach out to some folks within the football program to get an update on the current state of the team and the overall progress made thus far in the offseason.
Check out what I heard:
The first two things mentioned about the offensive unit in my discussions had to do with the offensive line and the running backs. Overall, both units are deep, mixed with young talent and veteran leadership. It’s no surprise, but these will be the two best position groups on the offense this year.
Benny Snell has apparently taken this offseason very seriously and is set to not only become the best back in the SEC, but all of college football. He feels he can build off of his record-shattering sophomore season to reach that point. The coaching staff realizes this is likely the last time we see the star running back in a Kentucky uniform. Mark Stoops said as much on Kentucky Sports Radio while Matt was on vacation. Snell wants to take advantage of this opportunity and go out with a bang.
Last offseason, I heard rumblings that Snell’s ridiculous freshman campaign got to his head and he settled a bit with where he was as a player. To put it lightly, he knew he was a superstar, and it carried over to the start of the 2017 season. He rushed for over 100 yards in just two of his first five games and his yards-per-carry numbers were low (3.9 compared to career average of 5.4). I’m told there was a come-to-Jesus coaching meeting with Snell at some point during the end of that stretch, where his role with the team was put on the line. Whatever was said got to him in a major way, and I’m told he took the constructive criticism to heart. His production then spiked, and by the way he is practicing this summer, that’s going to continue into 2018.
With the offensive line, I asked specifically about EJ Price and his development thus far. Back in March, the USC transfer announced he was leaving the program, but the staff was able to reel him in a bit and get things settled. Since then, I’m told things are great and he’s going to play a big role on the line this season. He supposedly has a wild in-game mean streak, so be on the lookout for that. The unit as a whole has been spectacular over the last two years, and this season should be more of the same. There are no serious holes in the two-deep.
And then things get interesting.
As for the quarterback situation, I’m told there is still work to be done, with neither Terry Wilson nor Gunnar Hoak clearly separating themselves as “the guy” quite yet. Though Wilson is usually seen as the home-run threat and Hoak is seen as Mr. Efficient, there are accuracy concerns (for now) with both. I have heard Wilson’s athleticism and running ability is actually better than advertised, and it is compensating for some of the passing inconsistencies. The staff sees both as starting-quality quarterbacks, and they’ll both continue to improve. No long-term worries at all.
I’m under the impression Wilson has a very slight edge for the starting job, but there is still plenty of time for Hoak to take over. Either way, both have some work to do, and fans should expect to see a heavy dose of the run game early while the quarterbacks get comfortable in the system.
I have heard Lynn Bowden is already doing ridiculous things in practice, as he is stronger, faster, and more agile than he was last season. The staff sees him as a future star in the SEC, and they’re going to make sure he has the ball in his hands both through the air and in the run game a whole lot this year.
Dorian Baker and CJ Conrad are both back practicing again, and looking good, but I’m told both are easing their way into things to maximize their health for their senior campaigns. This is a contract year for each of them, with Conrad being a top tight end prospect and Baker having solid NFL potential if he can stay healthy. They’ll both be massive parts of Eddie Gran’s offense in 2018.
Overall, shaky for now, but a lot to be excited about in the near future.
Mark Stoops finally has the elite defense he’s been begging for since he got to Lexington.
According to one source within the program, things are looking pretty darn solid on the opposite side of the football.
“The defense is looking good. Scary good,” they said. “One of the best in the SEC, good.”
There is obvious NFL talent scattered throughout the depth chart, and I’m told the younger players are using that as motivation to follow in their footsteps. Mike Edwards and Josh Allen got glowing reviews from NFL scouts, and others from their respective position groups are looking up to them as role models so they can reach their professional dreams in the future, too.
Stoops, Matt House, and Steve Clinkscale are having a field day with the secondary right now, mostly due to the group’s versatility. They have been able to shift players from position to position for different sets and schemes. Extremely versatile, allowing Stoops/House to get pretty creative with the playbook. Overall, Stoops is having a blast right now with his defense, like the equivalent of “Swaggy Cal” for the basketball team.
As far as individual players go, I’ve heard Lonnie Johnson and Jordan Griffin have looked really good. Josh Paschal has also gained a ton of strength and has been a force to be reckoned with. Fans should get really excited about him.
That’s all I have for tonight. God Bless America, have a great night, and Go Cats.