The Mark Stoops era has rocket launched Big Blue Nation into a football frenzy the past 100+ days. His recruiting successes have given the media plenty to talk about, but unfortunately it is what is: just talk. Beginning today, we have the opportunity to finally take a peek into the transition taking place on the field. For the next 3 weeks, KSR hard-hitting journalism will be at its finest; here are some storylines you should expect to see frequently.
Max Smith, Jalen Whitlow, or Pat Towles? This will no doubt be the question that will stay on the air waves throughout the entire 3-week Spring season. Even though we had the opportunity to see all 3 play last year, Pat and Max both had injuries, and Jalen was forced to run for his life the majority of the time as a TRUE freshman in the SEC (true freshman QB in the SEC doesn’t happen often). While most predict that Max’s experience will help him learn Neal Brown’s offense quicker, do not be too quick to discount Jalen’s athleticism or Towles’ big arm. Not only does this QB competition give the media plenty to discuss during a sub-par basketball March, but it will make the Blue/White game 10x more thrilling knowing that the Top Performer will likely become #1.
Replacing Matt Smith and Larry Warford. The biggest loss this offseason (besides that whole coaching change thing) was Kentucky football’s greatest guard/center combo of Smith and Warford. The coaching staff stockpiled recruits like Justin Day, Ramsey Meyers, Kyle Meadows, and Nick Haynes to buffer the loss, but none of them can participate in Spring practice (they have things like Senior Prom and Graduation that are much more fun). Will the staff rely on these freshmanin the fall, or will someone like Shaquille Love be able to step-up to save Max and Co. from injury?
Can last year’s “playmakers” get it done? The Air Raid cannot be successful without numerous athletic WRs that can rack up some yards after catch. After Max was injured, we were only limited to flashes of greatness from Damarcus Sweat and occasionally Daryl Collins. Those two, along with Demarco Robinson, have the Spring season to solidify starting spots before Ryan Timmons and Javess Blue have the opportunity to showcase their talents. Even though it may seem like there are plenty of WRs, WR Coach Tommy Mainord said on NSD that they would prefer to work with, “4 or 5 more guys”. QBs will have slim pickens’ this Spring; the Blue/White game may look rough if the guys already here do not step up.
4 Defensive Linemen Instead of 3. The Fan base is excited to see big-time recruits and hear the old Air Raid sirens, but what may be the biggest and best change will be happening on the other side of the ball. “Nuclear” Rick Minter’s 3-4 defense was about as effective at slowing down SEC offenses as “smoke-free campus” signs are at keeping people from smoking (the smoking police on campus are quite the try-hards). Stoops’ #2 defense last year prides itself on their ‘front 4’. Last year’s defensive line was actually their strong point, but the problem was that they only played 3 at a time, leaving guys like Donte Rumph stuck between playing a position that they do not ‘fit’. With Rumph and Cobble at tackle to accompany a plethora of exceptional defensive ends (Za’Darius Smith, maybe Bud Dupree, Farrington Huguenin, and Jason Hatcher to name a few), expect the Cats to finally have a bull in the fight down in the trenches.
Where will Bud Dupree play? When I asked Stoops on NSD about Bud’s whereabouts on the field, the status was a ‘TBD’ until Spring practice. Well would you look at that, it’s Spring practice! Stoops recognizes that Bud is able to do a variety of things, but finding the best fit may be a challenge. The only guaranteed starter at linebacker will be the run-stuffer in the middle, Avery Williamson. Where Bud ends up will all depend on how others perform, however with added depth on the DLine, don’t be surprised if Stoops turns him into the tenacious OLB that we’ve been hyped about since he arrived on campus.
Did Freshman DB experience actually help? 27 freshmen took the field last year for UK, so this question can be applied to almost all positions, however the Frosh almost never left the field in the DB core after half the season had passed. Cody Quinn picked up 25 tackles and 5 pass break-ups at cornerback, and the Blaylock twins shared some success with 30 tackles between the two. Josh Forrest and Dakotah Tyler all received praises from last year’s coaches despite not seeing any PT (playing time; not the abbreviation for toilet paper TP) until late in the season. I believe that despite taking $5 ass-whoopings regularly last year, that experience makes a difference. Little things that are first taught in college do not become involuntary movements until after a year of work. With superb “coaching up”, this unit will be much less passive than last year.