By Jack Pilgrim on ©July 16th, 2018 @ 9:45pm
The Kentucky football team had several major NFL draft decisions this past offseason, where every player on the fence announced a return to Lexington for senior campaigns.
Two of the most important pieces? Star linebacker Josh Allen and tight end CJ Conrad.
Both of them are expected to build toward elite draft status for the 2019 draft, but in order to do that, they have some things to fix this summer. As stars on both sides of the football, the opposition locked in on each of them last season, causing slight mid-season slumps they each had to overcome. Double-teams were the norm, and it affected both mentally.
At SEC Media Days this afternoon, Allen and Conrad addressed those adversities and how they’ll build off of them in 2018.
“I definitely learned a lot,” Conrad said of his mid-year struggles. “It was kind of the first time since I’ve been here that I’ve had a target on me. You know, I couldn’t tell defenses were scheming toward me, I wasn’t used to that before. A lot of that was the mental prep during the week. I acted like I was surprised by it last year, and I think that’s why I had about two or three games where I didn’t have a catch. And I wasn’t even just not catching the ball, I actually wasn’t blocking that well either. I was struggling all around.”
Conrad failed to pull in a reception in four consecutive weeks, ranging from September 30 to October 28. He didn’t have another catch until his breakout performance against Ole Miss on November 4, where he caught five balls for 75 yards and a touchdown. He had 286 yards and four touchdowns on the year.
“I just had a tough stretch there, my body was beaten up, but I think that just comes with maturity. As the season went on, I got a lot better with it, and I plan on taking that into this year,” Conrad said.
And with that, 6-foot-5 tight end out of LaGrange, OH says he expects that to translate to major success in the win-loss column.
“My personal expectations this year is to get this team to play in the SEC Championship game,” said Conrad.
As for Allen, he was able to overcome being a key target on the defense by establishing a professional mindset. He asked himself how the pros beat the attention year after year and tried to emulate that, something he’ll continue to do as a senior.
“I had to become a professional, become a pro,” Allen said. “My mindset is ‘I bet in the NFL they do the same thing,’ the superstars at their positions, they were getting double-teamed, they were getting chop-blocked. They were getting all that. But how did they get over it? That’s my mindset, how can I get over that? This year I’m expecting a lot, but I expect our defense to pick up this year so I won’t be getting all the attention. I have to get better, I have to know that it might come. So what do I have to do to beat that?”
By John Reecer on ©July 16th, 2018 @ 9:00pm
For the next few weeks leading to the start of the College Football season, I will be previewing different teams, players, and more from the SEC. This week I rank the top running back UNITS in the conference. This isn’t a ranking of the best individual running backs. Instead, this ranking is judging each team by their overall depth and talent at the position.
With the departure of Bo Scarbrough to the NFL, senior Damien Harris is now the leader for the Crimson Tide ground attack – which is great news for Alabama.
Scarbrough was indeed talented, but both Damien Harris and Najee Harris are better overall running backs. The fact that they will see considerably more carries this season is simply addition by subtraction for Alabama.
Last season Damien Harris notched over 1,000 yards rushing while also becoming the all-time leader at the school in yards per carry. That kind of career speaks for itself. I’m expecting a huge year from the Berea, KY product which could even include a Heisman candidacy.
However, don’t be surprised if Najee Harris steals the spotlight some this season. Like Damien, Najee was also the No. 1 running back in his class and for good reason. Also, who could forget the way he played in the National Championship game as a true freshman against the vaunted Georgia Bulldog defense?? As always, Nick Saban has an abundant of riches in the backfield.
Damien Harris the next Barry Sanders ? pic.twitter.com/wQwrXnECN8
— college football and nfl (@HoodieJ2) April 13, 2018
Personally, I think it’s completely unfair how Georgia loses both Nick Chubb and Sony Michel and they will still manage to roll out D’Andre Swift this season.
Even with both Chubb and Michel running for over 1,200 rushing yards last year, Swift still managed to run for over 600 yards while averaging 7.6 yards per carry as a freshman in the SEC.
I expect Swift and Damien Harris to be two of the best running backs in the conference this year. In fact, I think it’s completely within reason to expect that Swift may get close to tripling his rushing total from last season. He honestly has that much talent.
D’Andre Swift has ALL the tools? pic.twitter.com/6Djh9HhSS0
— College Town™ (@CollegeT0wn) June 5, 2018
Behind Swift is an absolute stacked stable of backs. They also return Elijah Holyfield and welcome in freshmen Zamir White and James Cook. All three of these players were ranked in the top 10 in their classes at their position, and White was ranked as the No. 1 running back in this year’s class.
This kind of depth is truly special. It’s the deepest in the SEC, and if Swift had more experience and production to judge from then Georgia would be my No. 1 running back unit.
I know this ranking may upset Kentucky fans who were expecting UK to be either No. 1 or 2 on this list as Benny Snell has the best stats out of any running back in the conference returning from last season.
But just by looking at the depth and overall talent that both Georgia and Alabama have at the position, it’s obvious they have better units than the Wildcats do. It is just that simple.
However, Mark Stoops may just have the best starting running back not only in the SEC but in the entire country. Snell is on track to break a truckload of UK records this season and even some conference ones as well.
Simply put, Snell is the best running back in the history of the school and he should be selected in the first couple of rounds of the next NFL draft.
Benny Snell 71 yards to the house. Yowza. pic.twitter.com/QtBYn341ZE
— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) October 8, 2017
Behind Snell is senior Sihiem King who I believe is underrated. He is extremely elusive and might even be faster than Snell. While other parts of his game need to improve, King is the definition of a dependable backup to an absolute workhorse.
After King, Kentucky’s depth at the position is pretty much a question mark which is why, despite having Snell, the Wildcats are below Georgia and Alabama.
This may be a surprising ranking to many considering just how disappointing the Gators were last season. However, expect Florida to be a team that will really surprise fans this season.
One area that will be a major strength for the Gators will be their ground game. It starts and ends with junior Jordan Scarlett. Scarlett has a bit of a troubled past as he was suspended last season, but as a freshman he managed to run for almost 1,000 yards while averaging five yards per carry.
Jordan Scarlett with the 33 yard touchdown run. pic.twitter.com/FwY4Eocj6g
— Mark Wheeler (@InsideTheGators) October 15, 2016
Add Scarlett back into the equation along with Lamical Perine and Malik Davis who each ran for over 500 yards last season and you have one of the most experienced tailback units in the conference.
Just in case injuries become an issue for this unit this season, the Gators also signed Dameon Pierce and Iverson Clement in this year’s recruiting class. Both were considered among the top 20 running backs coming out of high school.
Florida finished 76th in rushing offense in all of college football last season. With the return of Scarlett and the addition of Mullen’s new offense expect that number to drastically improve in 2018.
5. Mississippi State
Question: After Benny Snell, who is the second leading rusher in the SEC returning from last season? Well in case you didn’t know, let me introduce you to Mississippi State’s Aeris Williams.
— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) September 22, 2017
Williams carried the ball 236 times last season for 1,107 yards. Even with quarterback Nick Fitzgerald getting the ball a ton on the ground, it’s crazy that Williams was depended upon that much.
Former head coach Dan Mullen knew exactly what kind of talent he had with Williams, however. Good things just happen when he has the ball. Expect an even bigger season in his senior year at Starkville.
Backing him up is Kylin Hill who notched five yards a carry last season as a highly touted freshman. Because Fitzgerald is coming off a gruesome injury, I expect that new Head Coach Joe Moorhead will run the ball primarily with Williams and Hill early in the season which means better numbers for both.
By Nick Roush on ©July 16th, 2018 @ 8:30pm
It was a long day for the Kentucky Wildcats as they were paraded from room to room at the College Football Hall of Fame and Omni Hotel in Atlanta. Here’s everything I was able to capture.
You heard what C.J. had to say about Kentucky’s quarterbacks; now hear more.
He touched on a variety of topics, like the sign at Kroger Field that inspired his “Snell Yeah” tattoo and how he got a chip on his shoulder.
The outside linebacker talked about grilling, the worst opposing locker rooms and he said he can beat his sister (a WNBA player) in basketball.
By Jack Pilgrim on ©July 16th, 2018 @ 8:00pm
If it weren’t for Rick Pitino, Jesus Shuttlesworth would have been a Kentucky Wildcat.
In his autobiography ‘From the Outside: My Journey Through Life and the Game I Love’ released back in March, NBA shooting legend Ray Allen said his college decision came down to Kentucky and Connecticut, but one final visit to Lexington during Big Blue Madness sealed the fate of the Cats… in the wrong direction.
Why? Because Pitino wouldn’t even talk to the future NBA all-time leader in three-point field goals.
On the visit, Kentucky legend Jamal Mashburn took Allen and his roommate Derron Sheffer out to lunch at a restaurant owned by Pitino. During the meeting, the former UK head coach was sitting just a few tables away, but didn’t say a word to the prized recruit.
“[Coach Pitino] happened to be there that afternoon, sitting with some friends a few tables away,” Allen said. “Perfect, I figured, he’ll stop by for a few minutes to say hello, and I’ll learn more to help me make my decision. Only he didn’t stop by. He waved, and that was it. Coach [Jim] Calhoun would never have ignored us. He and I, in fact, enjoyed several meals together on my visit to Storrs.”
In fact, Allen said Pitino’s approach proved he wasn’t valued as a recruit at all. Instead, the future Hall of Famer wanted to go somewhere “where it’s clear somebody wants you to be an essential part of what they’re doing.”
It’s not the first time Allen has talked about his recruiting process and Pitino’s lack of dedication during it.
“Pitino, he’s so high on a pedestal,” Allen said in a past interview at UCONN when asked about Kentucky. “He does everything and talks about himself. It’s “I” before his players or the team. He’s always talking about himself and what he has.”
He also told the same story about Pitino’s restaurant and the Kentucky head coach not paying him any attention while visiting.
“He had a restaurant… Jamal Mashburn was taking me around on my visit and I went in there and Rick Pitino, he sat with his friends on the other side of the bar. Me and Derron joke about it; we said if it were Coach Calhoun, he would be sitting down at the table and getting our food for us because he really wanted us.”
You can see the full interview here:
Could you imagine the UK Alumni Game with arguably the greatest shooter of all time participating? Allen’s jersey hanging in the rafters?
Thanks again, Rick.
By Jack Pilgrim on ©July 16th, 2018 @ 7:00pm
It’s a new week and with it a new Aaron Torres Sports Podcast – and after the biggest recruiting weekend of 2018, Aaron brings in two of the biggest experts to break it all down. First, it’s KSR’s T.J. Walker, then Rivals.com’s Corey Evans.
After Aaron breaks down Day 1 of SEC Media Days and the new Final Four sites announced, he turns to T.J. The guys do a deep dive on the following subjects:
James Wiseman: Wiseman is the biggest name in recruiting circles and Aaron gives you the inside scoop on everything you need to know. Does either Kentucky or Memphis have the edge in his recruitment? Is it possible he can reclassify to 2018? Also, has Vernon Carey passed him as the best player in this class?
Vernon Carey: With Carey impressing folks across college basketball the last few weeks, is it time to bump him to No. 1 in the recruiting rankings? Also T.J. explains why he believes that Kentucky is in better position with him than most realize.
Cole Anthony: And finally, is there any “news” on Cole Anthony? Is there any way to know where he’s leaning? And does Kentucky have a chance? Also, T.J. discusses his new podcast which will be released soon.
Next up, national recruiting expert Corey Evans joins the show after a busy week in Atlanta. He discussed the following with Aaron:
Dontaie Allen: Allen was the fastest-rising star of the weekend. What kind of player is he and what allowed him to have success in Atlanta? Also, will Kentucky offer? When? And how quickly will Allen accept if they do?
News and Notes from Around the Rest of Atlanta: After an extensive talk about Atlanta, Corey wraps up by discussing other news and notes from the Under Armour event. What are his thoughts on Top 10 prospect Josh Green and his AAU teammate Nico Mannion? Could they be a package deal? And could USC – yes, USC – finish with a Top 5 class in the country or even No. 1?
Today’s podcast is brought to you by:
You can easily listen on the KSR App, available on iTunes and Google Play. Streaming online is simple through Pod Paradise. You can also get it directly to your phone by subscribing to the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast feed on iTunes or via Android’s Podcast Addict app.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©July 16th, 2018 @ 6:00pm
Kentucky’s quarterback situation was a hot topic at SEC Media Days, but as expected, Mark Stoops said he doesn’t have a target date by which to name Gunnar Hoak or Terry Wilson starter.
“No, I really don’t,” Stoops said. “I think it would be reckless just to make the decision until it plays out. We’ll just see how it goes.”
Neither Hoak nor Wilson have played in a game for Kentucky yet, but Stoops expressed confidence that whoever starts will guide the offense in the right direction.
“It’s obviously a very unique situation, but on the flip side of that, I feel like these guys aren’t very inexperienced. They haven’t taken a college snap in a game for us or anything like that, but they’ve been around. Gunnar’s been in our system, he understands it very clearly. He’s been around our program for some time. And obviously with Terry, having the experience at Oregon, going to a junior college and playing a lot of football. They’re both very poised and very confident.
“Gunnar is a guy I have great confidence in. You all that have watched us practice, watched the spring games, you’ve seen him. He’s very poised. He’s very accurate. He makes good decisions. He can make all the throws. And I like the leadership he brings and the confidence that he has on the field. With Terry, he’s very athletic. He brings a skill set that I’m not sure you can see fully until you get in a game situation because in a scrimmage, we’re never completely live. I think, in a way, that hinders him some. Just getting out there and playing the game. Again, he’s a very confident guy, works extremely hard. He can run and throw, so we’ll see where it goes. ”
Helping matters will be a veteran cast of supporting characters, including All-SEC running back Benny Snell and senior CJ Conrad, who is returning from injury. Conrad said he and Snell are ready to help mold Hoak or Wilson into a leader.
“I think the thing with the quarterbacks — because it’s been asked about a lot — we see these guys in practice on a daily basis, so these guys are comfortable throwing to us. Just because they haven’t played in a game doesn’t mean they — we respect those guys. We think all those guys are really talented. I think knowing that they don’t have to take that huge leadership role yet, I think that’s going to be beneficial for them for sure because guys like me and Benny, we can help them get to that moment. When they get in the game, their natural ability and their leadership ability will take over like Stephen [Johnson]’s did.”
Conrad said the biggest change he’s seen in Hoak is his confidence. The redshirt sophomore is no longer the quiet guy who arrived on campus back in 2016.
“I think Gunnar, the things I’ve seen, I just think he’s grown. He’s more vocal than you guys think, I guess. When he first got here, he wasn’t. He was exactly what you guys think. He was very quiet. But now, I can definitely see he’s got a lot more confidence and overall is just doing a lot better job of being vocal. He’s a guy that’s there every single day but at the quarterback position, you do have to speak. Stephen [Johnson] wasn’t that loud at first either, but it’s all about confidence at the end of the day and you can see that confidence going into Gunnar.”
As for Wilson, Conrad said that even though he joined the team mid-year, he quickly found his footing and hasn’t missed a beat.
“The thing you don’t know about Terry is Terry is a good dude. He works extremely hard. He’s there every single day. He’s a guy you can rely on. You get guys who come, mid-years, and sometimes it takes a little while to transition. I haven’t seen any bumps in his road so far. He hit the road running.”
By Nick Roush on ©July 16th, 2018 @ 5:20pm
Benny Snell brought plenty of swagger to SEC Media Days.
Predicted by many as a First Team All-SEC selection, the Kentucky running back still doesn’t believe he gets enough respect. Today he made sure everyone knows that Benny Snell is the best running back in the SEC.
It started in the Main Room, when I couldn’t even finish asking the question.
Benny Snell, are you the best running back in the SEC? pic.twitter.com/jeQesAumBz
— Nick Roush (@RoushKSR) July 16, 2018
Shortly after, the SEC Network’s Peter Burns asked Snell, “Who’s the best running back in 2018?”
Without hesitating, Benny responded in third person.
“Benny Snell is the best running back because he’s durable. He can get 200+ carries and still be able to finish the season. Against Eastern Kentucky he broke his rib, was able to finish the game and still score a touchdown.”
— Tyler Thompson (@MrsTylerKSR) July 16, 2018
Josh Allen took it one step further. The Kentucky All-SEC outside linebacker said Snell is the best running back in the nation.
“I go against the guy, and I go against a lot of great running backs, but competing with him and being on the same team, I feel like he’s the best running back in college football.”
Hey Josh Allen, is Benny Snell the best running back in the SEC? pic.twitter.com/1spApCOoxn
— Nick Roush (@RoushKSR) July 16, 2018
College football, you’ve been put on notice.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©July 16th, 2018 @ 4:30pm
How important is Freddie Maggard to Kentucky Football? The first question Mark Stoops was asked today at SEC Media Days was about Freddie’s new role as Director of Player Development.
“In addition to your coaching staff, I have a lot of respect for Freddie Maggard as your director of player development. What do you foresee as his role?” Drew DeArmond, host of Talkin’ Ball on 97.7 ESPN Huntsville asked.
“Very excited about Freddie,” Stoops responded. “I felt the need as I’ve been there through the five years. One area that we really needed to constantly improve, and I don’t think any of us colleges can do enough on is developing these players. We’re very intentional about developing them. I talked and had the model for five years. You heard me talk about it before, about build, select and develop. That’s build a winning culture, select the right players, and then intentionally develop them once they’re on our campus.”
“Freddie is a big piece of that. He has great connections to the state. He has great connections throughout the country, helping our player transition not only from high school to college, but from college to the professional world and helping them everywhere in between, so very excited about the addition of Freddie.”
If you haven’t yet, go back and read Nick Roush’s feature on Freddie’s new role from last month; it’s a great glimpse into how hard Freddie’s working to make sure Kentucky’s players are as strong off the field as they are on it.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©July 16th, 2018 @ 3:54pm
If you really like to plan ahead, get your calendar out because the NCAA just announced the Final Four sites for 2023-2026. College Basketball’s biggest party will rotate back through Houston, Phoenix, San Antonio, and Indianapolis.
Here are all the Final Four sites through 2026:
- 2019: Minneapolis, U.S. Bank Stadium
- 2020: Atlanta, Mercedes- Benz Stadium
- 2021: Indianapolis, Lucas Oil Stadium
- 2022: New Orleans, Mercedes-Benz Superdome
- 2023: Houston, NRG Stadium
- 2024: Phoenix, University of Phoenix Stadium
- 2025: San Antonio, Alamodome
- 2026: Indianapolis, Lucas Oil Stadium
The only city I really have a problem with on this list is Houston. Why America’s most sprawled out city gets to host Final Fours is beyond me. Rotate it between New Orleans, Indy, and San Antonio and call it a day. Maybe Atlanta.
A reminder that the Yum Center hosts the 2019 South Regional, meaning that if Kentucky gets a high seed, there’s a very good chance they’ll end up in Louisville. Columbus hosts first and second round games, so the Cats’ path to the national championship could be Columbus –> Louisville –> Minneapolis.
Let’s do it.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©July 16th, 2018 @ 3:40pm
MARK STOOPS: Thank you. Great to be here back for my sixth. Hard to believe it’s my sixth year here at the SEC Media Days. Great to be in Atlanta. Last time I was in this venue, I was here with Courtney Love. He was accepting the Danny Wuerffel Trophy. So it brings back fond memories and great to be here.
Appreciate you, Greg, appreciate Commissioner, what he does for myself, the support he gives me, all of us coaches, everybody throughout the league. They do a great job and appreciate him.
The media, thank you. Thanks for what you do to promote Kentucky, promote the league, and I appreciate your hard work. As I move into year six, the biggest thing you look at at Kentucky, the biggest thing I feel is the change in expectation, and that’s a good thing. We’re excited about that. We embrace those expectations. Really it starts with our coaches, our fan base, and most importantly our players.
We expect more. We’ve been close. We’ve done some good things. I’m proud of the work that we’ve done, that we look forward to making a big jump this year. We return some players with experience. We returned some talent. We returned some players that decided to forego the NFL and come back to do more, to play with a chip on their shoulder, to win some football games.
We’re tired of being close in some.
We want to win and get over that hump, and you’re going to get an opportunity to visit with some of those guys that are here today, Josh Allen, an outside linebacker from New Jersey. He’s the epitome of development. He comes into our program as a two-star recruit, 200 pounds. And he’s a solid 260 and projected as first-round draft pick. And we’re excited about Josh.
Next C.J. Conrad, a tight end out of Ohio, another guy, had he not been injured last year had an opportunity to come out and play in the NFL, a big tight end from Ohio.
Benny Snell, of course, a guy that’s been over a thousand yards the first two years at Kentucky. Not only good football players, but they are great leaders in anchoring what’s going on this summer. I’m proud of our team, what they’re doing, the way they’re working. The attitude they have this summer is just what we’re looking for.
You know, we’ve talked in the past about building that capacity. We talked last year about being consistent. And now it’s a matter of just honing in and refining all of the things that we’ve been building the past five years to take it to another level. But I feel very good. I think the experience that we have and the talent that we have is going to give us an opportunity to win each and every time we take the field, and that’s where I talk about embracing those expectations and enjoying that and being ready for the grind.
Our coaching staff is back. It’s only the second time since I’ve been there we’ve had both coordinators back. Eddie Gran on offense and Matt House on defense. I like our staff and what we’re doing, have a lot of confidence in them. So we’re excited about the year. It’s always a challenge, but it’s an exciting one.
Q. I wanted to ask about, in addition to your coaching staff, I have a lot of respect for Freddie Maggard as your director of player development. What do you foresee as his role and then also another young man in your program that he was very high on we talked about many time on my show, Logan Stenberg from my community at James Clemens High School in Madison, Alabama.
MARK STOOPS: Very excited about Freddie. I felt the need as I’ve been there through the five years. One area that we really needed to constantly improve, and I don’t think any of us colleges can do enough on is developing these players. We’re very intentional about developing them. I talked and had the model for five years. You heard me talk about it before, about build, select and develop. That’s build a winning culture, select the right players, and then intentionally develop them once they’re on our campus.
Freddie is a big piece of that. He has great connections to the state. He has great connections throughout the country, helping our player transition not only from high school to college, but from college to the professional world and helping them everywhere in between, so very excited about the addition of Freddie. And with Logan, Logan is — really can’t say enough good things about Logan. He is an incredible young man, hard working, physical, inside tough guard. What you’re looking for has great experience and he’s done a lot of great things for us.
Q. Obviously, Benny Snell plays a massive role in your offense over the last two years already. With the departure of Stephen Johnson, do you foresee him getting an increase in the role either running game or passing game this year?
MARK STOOPS: I don’t know. It would be hard to increase. You know he has been a big focus for us, and he’s been a work horse. You have to admire his ability to go back day after day and run after run in his consistency. He gets tough yards. You know how tough they are in this league. And Benny’s been extremely consistent.
I think what is most impressive about him is that attitude, that chip on his shoulder, playing the game the way it’s supposed to be done, it’s like that every day. Whether it’s in the weight room, the training session in the summer, every practice, every scrimmage, he goes hard. He’s very physical. Our local media certainly talk about that a lot. I would rather say whoa than giddyap.
He is one of those guys that once in awhile in practice, he’s so playing physical when we’re not totally live, but you’d rather have it that way. He’s been very consistent. I think it will help us with the new quarterback situation that needs to be resolved. It’s nice to have an offensive line with some experience. It’s nice to have some tight ends that can play, that can block, be physical and catch the ball. And certainly with Benny, that will help.
Q. It looks like you’ve got pretty good experience on offense everywhere but quarterback. How would you assess your quarterback situation? With Benny as good as he’s been, can he be better and if so, how?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah. I believe — we just look forward to Benny being Benny and doing what he does. Of course I just mentioned it goes hand in hand with the offensive line and tight ends. But I like the quarterback situation. I like where we’re at. I felt very confident with it.
Gunnar Hoak, he’s been in our system. He hasn’t played a college snap yet. He’s been in our system. He practiced a bunch. He knows what we are doing. He’s poised. He has always been poised since he stepped on campus. He’s poised. He is accurate. He knows where to go with the football. He can make all the throws. I like what Gunnar’s doing. I look forward to watching him this summer.
With Terry, he’s a dynamic guy. I don’t know if I’ve seen it all yet. Until you get live, you really cannot see all his skill sets. Obviously you can see the way he can run. He makes all of the throws. He’s an unbelievable worker, but he’s dynamic. He’s a big, strong guy. And he’s dynamic with the ball in his hands, too. So I feel good about our options.