The Kentucky football has now gone through 6 days of practice. Some questions have been answered, while other new ones have been raised. The anticipation and excitement for what Mark Stoops has in store for Kentucky football fans continues to grow as we inch closer and closer to that August 31st kickoff against Western Kentucky. Here are 6 football notes after 6 days of practice:
1) Nate Willis is still in limbo… mystery about his eligibility still remains
The issue can’t be hidden. Kentucky’s secondary is thin, and it continues to get thinner. Kentucky has been anxiously awaiting the news on JUCO CB Nate Willis for a few weeks now. Willis has now said that he should know by tomorrow or Tuesday whether or not he will be able to suit up for Kentucky this fall. Willis would most likely be an immediate starter and big time impact player at a position of need for the Cats.
Stoops was asked about Willis’ status, and the waiting game appears to continue. “No, no. We’re working on it. We’re working through it. We think everything should be good. We hope. I’ll know more next week, I think. Hopefully early next week.”
2) The QB position appears to be Jalen Whitlow’s to lose
Even though the coaches won’t flat out come out and say it at this point, leaving the competition open for a while longer… all of the reports seem to suggest that Jalen Whitlow has looked the most impressive so far in the 6 days of practice. The position at this moment, appears to be his to lose.
3) Marcus McWilson might be changing positions
Marcus McWilson came into Kentucky as the highest rated recruit in the class. He earned his 4-stars at the position of safety though. In the past few days though, a shift has been seen with McWilson’s position. McWilson has been moved to a “nickel” position to utilize his 6 foot frame.
Stoops talked about the adjustment a bit, “A little closer to the line of scrimmage and could be viewed as a linebacker in some regards versus certain sets. At nickel, he’s a good versatile guy. But he’s thick; he’s got some good weight to him. And just trying to find the best position for him to put him in a position to be successful and really help us.”
Bradley Dale Peveto said McWilson could be used as a nickel to match up against bigger wide receivers. “It’s hard to find that guy, and that’s exactly what Marcus is. He’s a 210-pound guy that can run.”
4) This team is getting better. How good better will be? That remains to be determined. But improvement is taking place.
Even though the coaching staff still sees a ton of room for improvement, they feel good about the progress that has been made from the spring until now. Many fans have said repeatedly that they will judge Stoops’ success more by the development they see during the season from Game 1 until the final game than they do the wins and losses. So far, the development seems to be taking place.
5) Expect the see big things from the “Kittens”
Any time Mark Stoops points out individual players for doing well, you can almost always expect to see either the name of a freshman or the name of one of the other newcomers/transfers. Ryan Timmons, Marcus McWilson, Jeff Badet, Javess Blue, etc. have been named early on as standout performers. The talent amassed in just one recruiting class under Mark Stoops is impressive and the talent is showing through. Experience may be an issue with some of those guys, but from a raw talent stand point– they are much more aligned with the rest of the SEC. The advantage for the rest of the SEC with young talent is that they get to sit a few years and gain experience behind the older talent. Kentucky does not have that luxury, which is both good and bad. Whether the young players are 100% ready or not, they might have to play. On the other hand, the available playing time and potential to compete for a starting spot right away is part of what attracts many players to Kentucky.
6) Tempo, Tempo, Tempo…
The tempo still isn’t quite where the staff would like it to be, especially when you hear offensive coordinator Neal Brown talk about it. For the normal eye who has just been watching Kentucky football practices over the past 5-6 years, the tempo looks much faster. Brown still wants more though. He’s not satisfied.
Kentucky’s “two-spot” method, which essentially puts four groups on two fields at a time to give more reps, has already helped with conditioning and tempo. DJ Eliot thinks it’s a good thing, “It helps. Nobody stands. Nobody stands on the sideline when you two-spot, so throughout the whole practice, everyone’s getting reps.”
Considering some of the thin areas on Kentucky’s depth chart, giving every player on the roster a chance to compete early and prove that they can potentially fill some of those gaps has been a good move by the staff.
Only a few more weeks folks…