Players to Watch: #11 Max Smith, #14 Patrick Towles, #13 Jalen Whitlow
The coaches have been reluctant to answer the Quarterback question all Spring, and will continue that trend for the Blue/White game. Neal Brown will not name a starter before the game and will alternate all three QBs between the two teams. Even though a coin flip may determine who is starting Saturday night, this game will without a doubt be the biggest determinant of who will win the job in the fall. The coaches will obviously wait until most of fall camp is completed, but rest assured that this is the most important ‘moving day’ of the year.
Max Smith has appeared to be the Vegas favorite throughout, but Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles have plenty of skills to show. Towles told me Wednesday that after learning the offense the first two weeks of practice, he has spent the last two weeks “speeding up” his game. How Brown uses Whitlow’s legs should be interesting; do not be surprised to see him in a ‘Wildcat’ type formation in the Red Zone.
While there are not too many definitive statements to be made about the QBs now, one guarantee is that they will put up the points. After racking up around 70 in last week’s scrimmage, I don’t see anything (especially a young secondary) slowing them down.
Key Players: #4 Raymond Sanders, #21 Josh Clemons, #25 Jonathan George, #33 Dyshawn Mobley
The Neal Brown Air Raid will not leave the running backs out of the equation. One of the few positions with experienced depth, the backs have made a few adjustments to become as useful as possible in the Air Raid. A concerted effort to become better receiving running backs, during and after practice, has even made power-back Josh Clemons a better route-runner. Raymond Sanders’ open-field skill set probably suits the Air Raid best, but expect the staff to rotate backs often to keep legs fresh.
Key Players: #9 Demarco Robinson, #23 Daryl Collins, #6 A.J. Legree, #29 Austin Sheehan, #81 Rashad Cunningham
Did I hear you say “Dropped passes?” One aspect of the game that cannot be cured overnight with a new coaching staff is the ability to catch a pass. It’s like the old saying, “You can’t coach speed.” However, you can stay after practice everyday and catch tennis balls and footballs from the gun, like this young group has. The offense currently demands more playmakers than its supply right now with Ryan Timmons, Javess Blue, Alex Montgomery, and Jeff Badet not arriving until the fall. The opportunity to see playing time at a young age has their gears grinding, but will we see a group that help put up 70 points in last Saturday’s scrimmage, or a group that kills big plays with drops like they did during the open media practice?
Key Players: #85 Steven Borden, #86 Jordan Aumiller, #89 Tyler Robinson, #80 Ronnie Shields
Primary blockers in the previous system, Neal Brown will use these players all over the field during Saturday’s Blue/White game. Sting’s son Steve has deceptive athleticism; he doesn’t look the part, but MAN that guy can do a lot. Robinson caught last year’s first TD pass, but didn’t get much else thrown his way the rest of the season. This year with a depleted group of WRs, they will be featured in places you aren’t used to seeing them (in the backfield or at slot receiver).
Key Players: #75 Zach West, #79 Kevin Mitchell, #77 Darrian Miller, #71 ‘Big’ Jack Gruenschlaeger
The offensive line looked to be a concern this offseason with the departure of NFL-bound Matt Smith and Larry Warford, but after a month of practice the coaches are confident that this group can protect the Quarterback. The line has three veterans returning, with Mitchell, Miller and West combining for 39 career starts. With Zach West assuming the starting Center role, the two spots at guard are open to some stiff competition. Zach Meyers, Teven-Eatmon Nared, and big Jack Grubbenshlazen are just a few of the young guys that Neal Brown has been impressed with in the trenches this Spring.
Key Players: #2 Bud Dupree, #94 Za’Darius Smith, #97 Mister Cobble, #51 Tristian Johnson
Coach Brumbaugh’s defensive line is without a doubt the anchor of the defense. Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith are newcomers to the UK defensive line, but possess the potential to play on Sundays in the near future. I cannot describe to you in words how excited I am to see this lethal combo in action. Mister Cobble will not have Donte Rumph lining up next to him, but there are plenty or worthy candidates that have improved this Spring Season. Tristian Johnson actually earned a starting job at DT last season after Cobble had to miss games because of injury. Brumbaugh has also applauded Mike Douglas’ development this Spring, after spending previous season playing on the outside of the line. I am confident that this line can hold their own when opponents attempt to rush inside, but I am interested to see how well Bud and Z perform in the pass rush while facing a pass heavy Air Raid.
Key Players: #40 Avery Williamson, #22 Khalid Henderson
The linebacking core may not be the most complete group, but they have the defense’s most proven player. The ‘Quarterback of the Defense’ Avery Williamson, led the SEC in tackles until the season finale against Tennessee last year. Avery is a run-stopping machine in the middle, but who will help him in pass coverage on the outside? Khalid Henderson played well while rotating in at OLB as a true freshman last season, making him the only other guarantee. Miles Simpson seemed to be the best fit on the other side, but will likely have to sit out Saturday with an injury. TreVaughn Paschal has performed well after settling in at OLB after moving around on the defensive line. There are a slew of other players that saw some clock last year (Tyler Brause, Pancho Thomas, Kory Brown), but only the staff will know how well they fit into the system until we see them on Saturday.
Key Players: #5 Ashley Lowery, #7 Daron Blaylock, #16 Cody Quinn, #18 Glenn Faulkner
Last year’s secondary literally got beat up by opposing teams. The group was forced to go young, playing five true freshman at either safety or cornerback. By the season’s end, freshman walk-on J.D. Harmon led the team in interceptions after snagging two against Mizzou. The good news is that the group is finally healthy (except for Dakotah Tyler) and hopefully last year’s bad experience can be turned into a positive this Spring. Now is their time to shine for the staff, before incoming freshman Nate Willis and Jaleel Hytchye have the opportunity to win a starting spot.
– We may see Freshman All-American Punter Landon Foster’s golden foot a few times on Saturday, but don’t get your hopes up: Special Teams will play a minimal role Saturday in an attempt to avoid injuries.