Hundreds of fans gathered at the Kentucky football practice field received quite a treat. In just the second practice of the season, Kentucky has never looked better under Mark Stoops. You cannot compare the talent, depth and size to any of Stoops’ former teams.
Most of this post will be dedicated to the best parts of practice, but it wasn’t all roses and sunshine. Practicing without shoulder pads, there were a few sloppy moments. Let’s get right to it.
Inconsistent Quarterback Play
There’s a reason why Kentucky doesn’t have a starting quarterback. In the first week of practice, all of the quarterbacks were finding their way.
First and foremost, no shoulder pads put the offensive line at a disadvantage. Unable to get under their opponents pads, the pass rush quickly broke down the pocket. Even though Terry Wilson could tuck it and run, nobody excelled during the “blitz” team period. Throughout the rest of the practice, you could evaluate each players’ strengths and weakness.
Nobody has better form, feet and fundamentals than Gunnar Hoak. He’s a smooth operator that has perfected the art of throwing an 8-15 yard out, the perfect play for third and long. Hoak throws well while rolling out of the pocket and was on target in the middle of the field. His deep balls are a different story. I struggled to find a time where he let his receiver run beneath the ball. The number of passes behind thrown behind receivers increased when he was under pressure.
Hoak’s strengths are Terry Wilson’s weakness. Like Hoak, Wilson was good rolling out of the pocket on medium range routes, but he needs to be lighter on his feet. For a fast guy, he’s awfully flatfooted. That speed did save him in the team period, and so did his big arm. He can probably throw a football over a mountain. Wilson has a ton of raw talent and a quick release, but his footwork must improve if he wants to become the starting quarterback.
Danny Clark probably surprised most of the audience. He carries himself like a starter. A vocal leader with a tangible presence on the field, he was more accurate than I’ve ever seen him. In previous practices, he threw too many ducks. That number dropped exponentially. He showed me enough to prove he’s a legitimate contender for the starting spot.
Beasts on the Defensive Line
There’s a night and day difference between what the defensive line used to be and what it is today. Their athleticism and explosiveness is remarkable. The days of big guys who can’t move are done.
Quinton Bohanna is going to be a star. He’s the complete package at nose. Behind him, Tymere DuBose is a quick veteran, where Marquan McCall is a forceful freshman. DuBose earned a bunch of praise from the coaches at Media Day, but it’s going to be awfully difficult for him to keep McCall off the field. McCall’s punch looks painful. He has brute strength, but is agile enough to stay low and slide down the line as the play moves away from him. Kentucky’s top-ranked recruit in last year’s class, McCall does things that few nose guards can do. I can’t remember a more impressive freshman football player from a preseason practice.
The good news: they aren’t the only ones who look the part. Calvin Taylor, Kordell Looney, Adrian Middleton and Davoan Hawkins all had noteworthy moments. The defensive line’s improvements have not been overstated by the Kentucky coaching staff. Derrick LeBlanc deserves a raise (if the practice field production transfers into games).
In Eddie Gran’s third year as offensive coordinator, the offense can do so much more in the second practice of the season. Instead of putting the tight ends’ hands in the dirt, they were often split out as wide receivers. The passing game was successful in all corners of the field, excluding the elusive deep ball. A few throws were on the money, but couldn’t be reeled in. That part of the offense is a work in progress, but the rest of the equation looked pretty solid.
Lynn Bowden and C.J. Conrad
Kentucky fans have asked for Conrad and Bowden to get more touches. The coaches answered the call at today’s practice.
The most successful passing plays were to Bowden. He caught more passes than any other player (Josh Ali and Ahmad Wagner’s contributions should be noted though). Last year the offense had to get Bowden the ball in unconventional ways. Today he got the ball in space by just being a good receiver. When he wasn’t cramping, he was making plays.
Gran did do some different things to get the ball to Conrad. On one occasion he was split wide, and like Rob Gronkowski in the red zone, they dialed up a fade (one that was broken up by Chris Westry). Conrad has spent most of his career at the end of the offensive line or in the backfield. I saw him split out as a wide receiver more today than in three combined years at Kentucky. You better believe Gran wants to get him the ball in space.
Bowden was an All-SEC Freshman selection as a kick returner, but he did not field punts. Mark Stoops attributed it to cramps, but noted that Bowden isn’t as comfortable catching punts. Benny Snell, Sihiem King, Lonnie Johnson, Mike Edwards and David Bouvier received most of the reps, with the latter two being the most likely options this fall.
— Defensive linemen can’t touch the quarterback in practice, but they can knock the ball free. That’s what Calvin Taylor did during the team period.
— Mike Edwards looks two steps faster than everyone. Just when you think the offense is about to make a play, Edwards was there to stop it. One pass deflection in particular made me believe that nobody is catching a pass against Kentucky this fall.
— There were two instances in the team period where I could have rushed for a touchdown. The offensive line opened up holes for A.J. Rose a car could have drove through, and he took advantage of the opportunity.
Kentucky needs to find a quarterback. All of their options do certain things well, but must use the next month to become more complete passers. The rest of the team is far from a finished product, but in seven years of covering the Kentucky football team, I’ve never left a practice more impressed.