It has been a fairly wild week around these KSR parts over the past seven days as we have experienced the highs and the lows of the blogging life. The lows came early last week came the bombardment of criticism from UL fans for our recounting of the Kevin Ware story and the media for daring to suggest that UL controls the Louisville media. The fact that both were true did little to dispel the fury, and actually likely only added to it. The high peaked on Friday night as Drew and I sat 10 feet away from two tennis legends, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for a match that I will always remember (and spent a good time writing about here at this site. Both were significant events and both included a call to my good friend Ryan Lemond, whose birthday was today. Most of the readers here know Ryan as our goofy sidekick on KSR Radio and some of you were familiar with him prior thanks to his years in Lexington television. Lemond is truly talented and it was his decision to join the KSR gang and come on the radio that I think truly took it to the next level and led to the syndication and massive ratings that we have seen since. But while we like to give Ryan a hard time for his bizarre actions and odd mind (what he doesn’t know still shocks me), what some of you may not know is just what a wonderful person he really is. He was always a friend of KSR, but in the past year he has done a lot to keep the sanity of the site and me in particular. He has become like a big brother to me and Drew and I can’t imagine doing the radio show now without him. Please wish him a happy birthday and celebrate by admiring this picture of a young Ryan Lemond meeting his hero Lou Brock:
With that dose of sentimentality behind us and UK’s school year just about 9 days away from getting going, I thought it would be a good time tonight to take a reset and look at where we are with both the UK Football at this very moment going into the season. We will do the same thing later this week with the basketball team heading into the players reporting:
Mark Stoops is now halfway through fall camp and by all indications, it has generally been a positive two weeks. While the team still has many needs to fill, Stoops has been generally happy with the effort and with the notable exception of one day, has given praise to the team after each daily workout. But the question now becomes, where are the Cats at each position going into the season? After spending some time talking to people today who know a lot more than I do (aka everyone), here is what I think is a good macro view of the team position by position:
Quarterback: Here is what we know. Jalen Whitlow will be playing for Kentucky this year at quarterback. Mark Stoops has said as much in press conferences and after multiple conversations this weekend, I am confident that a plan is in place for him to run a number of snaps this year in every game. The question is whether he will be the sole quarterback or will share the role with someone else. By all indications, Max Smith is running second in the proceedings and this week will be spent determining whether he will be the starter with Whitlow in certain packages, or whether Whitlow does it all. Patrick Towles seems to be third, although I am told his last few practices (outside of the scrimmage) were a couple of his best. The staff is happy with Reese Phillips and he has surprised everyone, but I still think a Redshirt is likely.
Running Back: Raymond Sanders is the primary guy here and is going to be counted on to be a team leader. His work load hasn’t been tremendous this fall, in part to keep him healthy. They are thrilled with the play of Freshmen JoJo Kemp and you can expect him to get a lot of playing time and make big plays. The question for the rest of the camp is whether Dyshawn Mobley, Jonathan George and others can make a statement and perform better to demand to be on the field. But I would expect to see a lot of Sanders/Kemp out of the gate.
Wide Receiver: A position that UK feels slightly better about than before camp is at Wideout. There are still no stars yet, and this is a position where depth is much greater than height. There are at least ten guys who could see time this year, including a couple of walk-ons. Some Freshmen have come in and hit the ground running and surprised, like Alex Montgomery, and some have taken slightly longer. The upperclassmen are inconsistent and while all will get a chance, this is a position where we probably won’t know who “the guys” are until the actual games when they perform. Against Western and Miami, I expect at least 8 guys to see major time….then a core group will emerge…who is in that group is anyone’s guess and changes from day to day. Plus, UK feels good about where they are at Tight Ends, where at least four players are of SEC quality. This is a position that will be dynamic all season and folks will need their program to know who is in at a given moment.
Offensive Line: Another pleasant surprise has been the offensive line play. While the Cats are not loaded with stars, the first five players have all been doing very well. UK does however need to have some backups emerge and this has been a process that has been very slow. One person told me recently, “we have seven guys we can count on”…after that, we need guys to improve quick.” They key here will be remaining healthy…and the ability of this offense to have any success could be determined by that fact.
Quick break to say…poor Pam Oliver
Defensive Line: Without question this is the strength of the team. Not only are the first four all very good, Zadarius, Dupree, Mister Cobble Donte Rumph, but new guys are coming and impressing, including Jason Hatcher and Regie Meant (is he the first Reggie to ever have only one “G”?). If Kentucky is going to have a chance to pull upsets this year, it will be because of the strength at this position, which may be one of the best five defensive lines in the conference.
Linebacker: I am told that no position has been more frustratingly inconsistent than the Linebackers. Avery Williamson is a rock and might be the most important player on the team. That isn’t an exaggeration…lose him at Middle Linebacker and I don’t know what happens. For UK to get better, it is imperative for Kory Brown, Miles Simpson, Khalid Henderson, Josh Forrest and others to improve and be consistent in SEC play. UK has been fortunate to have really good linebacker play for the past few years. This may be the position with more riding on it than any other and no health watch is more important than Mr. Williamson’s.
Secondary: Much has been written about the status of this position and at this point, we know it is a weakness. Between Ashely Lowrey, Daron Blaylock and Glenn Faulkner, the Safety position should be ok, and handled relatively well (although consistency from Faulkner is worth watching). The issue will be at Cornerback, where opposing teams’ offensive coordinators are ready to feast. Nate Willis has only been at practice for two days, but he may end up starting if his output matches his talent. Then it becomes about whether Fred Tiller, Cody Quinn, Eric Simmons or a host of walk-ons can make due on the other side. The reality is that UK is going to be way behind at this position…we just have to hope someone steps up and surprises or else UK may be bringing eight at the Quarterback and just hoping.
Special Teams: UK is Punter U and Landon Foster may be one of the best yet. Not only is he hilarious but he will probably play at the next level. The kicking situation is solid with Joe Mansour as the likely winner of a job that Austin MacGinnis will nail down in years forthcoming. Of all the worries, this is unlikely to be one.
That is the small, surface breakdown, If you have missed Duncan Cavanah’s in-depth previews at each position, click the links below. They will have all you need:
And with that, we go into a new week…WR recruit Blake Bone announced he will make a decision soon…it will be either UK, Auburn, South Carolina or Louisville…if the Cats can get the playmaker, it will be quite a pull. Basketball will really ramp up now and I expect all players on campus by the weekend. It’s about to get really fun…and with that in mind, here are two videos to start your day:
The first is a Wendy’s training video on how to make chili to be utilized by its employees…it is bizarre, which is of course why it is awesome and it made me laugh and sing along:
And speaking of singing, I have been singing this all day…some bands you probably know (Mumford and Sons, Old Crow Medicine Show and others) singing an old Southern gospel song “This Train is Bound for Glory.” I watched a documentary that featured it, so why not share as well:
Finally, the state fair is going on and the Secretary of State’s office has a voting booth that is pitting UK fans versus UL fans. The questions include favorite team, coach, winner of this year’s game and favorite broadcaster. On the last, I am up against Vanetti and Tom Leach is against Paul Rodgers of UL’s play by play team. Go cast your ballot and don’t let those Dirty Birds win…but watch out…awesome UL fans like this one below are out and about (by the way, a number of you have sent in pictures of UL fans from the State Fair…I like them and will use them but I am in no way responsible if you get your ass kicked taking them):
With that, radio begins at 10 am…come join the fun.