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First open practice: expectation, perception, reality

openpractice offense

By my estimation, Saturday’s Fan Day attendance was the largest in recent history. The BBN packed into the Nutter Fieldhouse to get a glimpse of the 2015 Wildcats. The indoor facility’s atmosphere was filled with excitement and cautious optimism. Autograph session ended and the party moved to the Tim Couch Field for an open practice. Fans lined the practice fields for a music fueled, two hour exhibition. My thoughts about the festivities will be divided into three distinct categories: expectation, perception, and reality.

Expectation

Current UK fan expectation ranges from as high as an SEC Championship run to as low as a 3-9 outcome. Historically, realistic expectation has not been one of my strongest suits. That changed three years ago when I entered the sports media world. Now that I’m writing for KSR, I’ve become even more cognizant of not projecting false hope by doing my best to provide objective analysis. At times, that’s been difficult. I do not apologize for that. I’m not objective by nature. I think I may actually have blue blood running through my veins. But that doesn’t cloud my responsibility entrusted to me by Matt and Kentucky Sports Radio. I intend to say what I mean, and mean what I say.

My expectation for Saturday’s practice was minimal in regards to execution but high on personnel and athletic improvement. I was not disappointed. The fruits of three years of successful recruiting have resulted in upgraded collective talent. However, and even with obvious personnel improvement, 2015 expectation should be filtered. I can say that the freshmen defensive backs impressed. Their size, fluidity, and competitiveness towered over their ancestors. Development of veteran players was also noticeable. Melvin Lewis, Josh Forrest, Zach West, and Farrington Huguennin are examples of player development through hard work and perserverence.

Perspective

Kentucky is clearly an improved football team. That was obvious throughout Saturday’s practice. However, that session was in helmets and shorts. You cannot truly judge a team until the pads start popping. Jeff Badet, Garrett Johnson, Ryan Timmons, and Dorian Baker are four legitimate, SEC receivers. But when applying proper perspective, most all SEC teams have four quality pass catchers. Boom Williams is as good as any running back in the league. Georgia has four high school All Americans on their depth chart behind Nick Chubb. Perspective. Josh Forrest and Ryan Flannigan are comparable to their inside line-backing piers across the south. But other programs play eight to ten elite linebackers on any given Saturday. Jason Hatcher’s untimely and unfathomable suspension along with Kobe Walker’s inactiveness due to injury places DJ Eliot in an early camp LB conundrum.

2015’s Wildcats are much better than the 2014 version that we last saw getting thumped by Georgia. But just how that measures up against its demanding schedule is yet to be seen. Undeniably UK has the appearance and talent of an SEC football team. The bump in talent and eight home games will keep games close enough to win. How the Cats can get over the proverbial hump is by leaning on intangible excellence. Jason Hatcher’s suspension is the very last thing this team needed going into fall camp. Other teams have suspended players for their opening games. Those other teams are also much deeper than UK.

Reality

Reality is that Kentucky is talented enough to win eight to nine games. Reality also states that UK’s depth is so thin at certain positions, that if injury or suspension becomes habitual, the Cats win total wouldn’t exceed three or four. That miniscule margin of error is where Kentucky will live in throughout the entire 2015 season.

The cold hard truth is UK will be as good as its quarterback plays. Patrick Towles had a solid practice, but so did Drew Barker. Naming a starter and beginning to prepare for Louisiana Lafayette are both critical and indefinite outcomes. Mark Stoops has his own time table for naming his offensive leader.

The Wildcats finally have skill players that will influence opposing defensive coordinators sleep habits. Running backs are skilled and diverse. Boom is the starter, but Dawson can change the game’s dynamic by adding Mikel Horton or JoJo Kemp. Tight ends are no longer an ineffective passing game decoy. Darryl Long and CJ Conrad can get open and score. Receivers are athletic and strong enough to go toe to toe with the SEC’s best on a weekly basis. The big guys up front finally have the appearance of what an offensive line is supposed to look like. Talent resides Lexington. Margin for error and depth do not. Not yet.

Defensively, I’m still not convinced that a permanent move to the 3-4 is feasible. For instance, at strong-side defensive end, only Farrington Huguennin has taken a game snap. Players behind him are listed as DE/OLB. Factor that and the lack of linebacker depth, I don’t see Kentucky having enough talented personnel to pull that off. Again, and unfortunately, the Hatcher situation will heavily influence which defensive scheme that we’ll see come 5 September. Secondary wise; AJ Stamps, Marcus Walker, Marcus McWilson, Darius West, and Mike Edwards are all capable and potentially elite safeties. In recent past, having a safety one on one against a tight end or receiver was a “close your eyes and hope” moment. No longer. Cornerback is the position of concern. But, as was evident today, the younger players are by far the best athletes of that group.

In summary, you can’t judge a team by a shorts and helmet practice. I could bore you with meaningless one on one results and who warmed up the fanciest. What you can judge in that environment is athletic improvement and obvious personnel deficits. Going into 2015, the improvements heavily outweigh the deficits. As it appears today, UK will go as far as its quarterback will take them and it cannot afford more irresponsible and selfish suspensions by critical personnel.

Article written by Freddie Maggard

Former University of Kentucky Quarterback and Andy Griffith Fan Club President

35 Comments for First open practice: expectation, perception, reality



  1. Jeffrey
    12:07 pm August 9, 2015 Permalink

    They said theyre two deep and then some at every position. So i think we should be deep enough to outlast the season.



    • CatsfaninFL
      8:22 am August 10, 2015 Permalink

      What you don’t understand is that you really need to be 3 deep and 4 in some positions would be best. Very few players are able to play every snap and even if they CAN that doesn’t mean you want them to. Watch better teams on Saturdays and they are constantly subbing. 2 deep works great until one of those 2 gets injured/suspended/etc(the former being quite common during a 12 game season). Now you’re rolling 1 deep with either someone not ready for primetime or someone playing out of position as their backup. 2 deep is WAY better than what we’ve had, but still leaves you vulnerable (as Freddie points out).



  2. DylanG
    12:49 pm August 9, 2015 Permalink

    Freddie, you’re acting like Hatcher is suspended for 6 games. HE’S ONLY OUT 2 GAMES, and I think we’ll win both of those with or without him.



  3. Andy
    12:50 pm August 9, 2015 Permalink

    Defensively we should be okay. There is talent, maybe experience not much. With Hatcher out, we have Jabari Johnson, Denzil Ware, Alvonte Bell, Kengera Daniels. If Courntey Love gets to play, then thats great added depth.



  4. chris
    12:50 pm August 9, 2015 Permalink

    Mike Archer claimed the 3-4 was the greatest thing since you never knew which was 4th rusher and it failed …

    SEC is about running and you need a 4-3 to stop it and we will struggle until we switch . Imo, a gimmick defense to cover up a weakness



  5. inside info2
    12:55 pm August 9, 2015 Permalink

    Joker has been in Lexington recently and is telling everyone that will listen that UK can and should beat UF this season. He said they are in disarray. He should know.



  6. HaganHall
    1:03 pm August 9, 2015 Permalink

    BOWL or BUST STOOPS. Period.



    • gobgblu37
      1:17 pm August 9, 2015 Permalink

      I bet you were one of those “Ditch Mitch Fire Brooks” fans!



    • Ha!
      5:22 pm August 9, 2015 Permalink

      This dick HaganHall will be gone soon….



  7. CalRipken
    1:16 pm August 9, 2015 Permalink

    Freddie – good article. I just hope the Cats play up to their potential. Would be nice for a change. I often thought that in the days of old a Mumme offense and a Claiborne defense would make a great Wildcat football team. Stoops has some players in place, plus some pieces and parts. Actions speak a lot louder than prognosticating what may, or may not, happen during the course of a season. I hope the Cats do well – maybe well enough to go to a bowl game!!!



  8. Radmankd
    1:30 pm August 9, 2015 Permalink

    I agree w/QB assessment. I hope Coach Dawson brings true team concept to the position. It was very frustrating last year watching those games when Towles passing was off. Neal Brown simply chucked the game plan and tried to win running the ball.
    Every other position utilizes the depth chart. I think the QB should as well. Yesterday’s practice drill showed Phillips to be an accurate passer. The entire team should not be held back if our QB is struggling. We now have Drew Barker available. I hope we use everyone available to win ball games.
    ALL IN!
    GO BIG BLUE.



  9. JohnW
    2:10 pm August 9, 2015 Permalink

    A lot of ppl like to talk about QBS, REC, and other fancy positions… we will win as many games as the OFF and DEF lines aloows up by protecting and filling their gaps…. GO CATS



  10. aengr
    2:39 pm August 9, 2015 Permalink

    the pics from media day and fan day show a “team” that is disorganized and undisciplined .and a group of coaches and assistant hangers-on that are not much better……….the head coach apparently didn’t know on Friday that his stud de was going to be suspended on Saturday or chose to lie about It at MEDIA day of all places……….I hope i’m wrong but this is beginning to look like another Barnhart screw-up



    • DylanG
      3:42 pm August 9, 2015 Permalink

      UL FAN GET A LIFE!



  11. Jota
    3:46 pm August 9, 2015 Permalink

    aengr

    Why, in the hell would a Louisville fan post on a Kentucky website?

    P.S.another great read. Freddie



  12. timer
    6:32 pm August 9, 2015 Permalink

    Really like your analysis Freddie, but we will only be as good as the game plans put together by the coaching staff. Great coaches have enough talent on this roster to win 8 – maybe even 9 – games. Give these two QBs and our WRs to Petrino and he might win 10. Let’s see how well this staff does.



    • TrollDar
      11:45 pm August 9, 2015 Permalink

      Obvious troll is trolling.



    • Dick Harpoonian
      12:30 am August 10, 2015 Permalink

      I can’t believe that all this trailer trash comes out of the woodwork



    • timer
      8:02 am August 10, 2015 Permalink

      Not a troll. A fan who has had season tickets for 40 years who is tired of everyone putting all the blame for losing on the players. Even though Stoops has had better success at recruiting over the past couple of years than we’ve had before, we are still well behind other SEC schools in terms of talent. If we are going to be successful, the coaches have to step-up the way Franklin did at Vandy or Pinkel has done at Missouri or the way Curci and Claiborne did at UK.



    • BenHur
      8:44 am August 10, 2015 Permalink

      Haha, if you aren’t a troll, then you are a slow learner. Forty years of season tickets should have taught you that we are still rebuilding and will still be for a couple more years. This isn’t Big East or ACC football, where we might win 8-9 games this year.



    • J-Dub421
      9:42 am August 10, 2015 Permalink

      No, you have to have talent. Missouri just had about 20 players drafted off of last year’s team. We had two. There is a huge talent gap. We’re starting to close that gap but it takes time. The coaches only coach, players have to execute on the field.



    • theWilkman
      11:42 am August 10, 2015 Permalink

      40 years of season tickets and you still don’t understand the game you’re watching. Might want to go ahead and gift those to the grandkids, hopefully they will put them to better use.



    • timer
      11:56 am August 10, 2015 Permalink

      Missouri and Vandy are recruiting on a level similar to UK. They have – or in Vandy’s case had – coaches who developed players. Chuck Smith did an outstanding job of developing linebackers while at UK. We need other assistants who can do the same.



    • Jesus Effin' Facepalming Christ
      12:30 pm August 10, 2015 Permalink

      I agree with timer. Bellarmine college could defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers if they had good coaching. It comes down to having a gameplan to overcome faster, bigger and more talented players. You give Petrino to the Bellarmine Kinights, and they make the NBA playoffs. We need coaches who can do the same.

      /sarcasm



    • RightForTheFight
      12:42 pm August 10, 2015 Permalink

      Although he could be a troll, he does have a point. Coaching will still go a long way this year. There’s no way those 9 win Franklin Vandy teams are more talented than our team right now. Sure the SEC East parity was at it’s highest during these years, but they still beat the likes of UT, UGA and Florida.



    • timer
      1:54 pm August 10, 2015 Permalink

      I’m just so tired of everyone putting all the losses on the players. It’s time for the coaches to man-up and develop some creative game plans that will enable us to beat teams with more talent. Franklin did it. Pinkel does it. The coaches at WKY, Georgia Southern and Appalachian State have done it.

      It’s time for this group to earn their money.



    • Mitch Barnhart
      2:17 pm August 10, 2015 Permalink

      “I’m just so tired of everyone putting all the losses on the players.”

      Excellent point.

      Thats why you see players get fired all the time. If we don’t go bowling this year, the entire team will be on the hot seat. I will strip them of their free education, and hire players that want to be coached. That simple.



    • timer
      3:06 pm August 10, 2015 Permalink

      Players lose scholarships all the time.

      I don’t think I’ve gone to more than maybe eight football games in 40 years where I looked down on the field and said that we have more overall talent than our SEC opponent. It simply isn’t gonna happen. If this group of coaches isn’t good enough to beat ul (who had about 20 (2 and 3 star) players drafted this year and who beat us last year with a 3rd string freshman QB who had virtually no game experience) and go bowling, the entire coaching staff and the AD should be on a very hot seat.



    • Dude
      4:19 pm August 10, 2015 Permalink

      Timer, you keep referring and comparing to Louisville and Petrino…. Methinks you are a troll as suspected.



    • timer
      4:27 pm August 10, 2015 Permalink

      Think what you want. Bottom line is that it is all gonna come down to coaching this year. We have guys who – if they are given superior instruction, preparation and game plans – have the talent to win. But our coach has to be better than his opponent on the opposite sideline or we won’t win more than three games.

      I hope Stoops succeeds. I like him. I believe he is our last chance during my lifetime to have a decent program. But he has to understand that in order to be successful at UK, at UT, even at Alabama you have to out coach the other guy.



  13. Mike D
    5:07 am August 10, 2015 Permalink

    Excellent analysis Freddie. Do continue to give it straight if we are bad or average somewhere. We have enough writers covering UK football that write feel good articles. It seems like they get fortunate enough to score an interview so they write it up and it is just rhetoric.

    That was one of the things I loved about Rich Brooks–if he said it it was true.



  14. fatbrat
    8:01 am August 10, 2015 Permalink

    Bone and Greenwood are both “SEC” type of receivers.



  15. Hard Hittin' CAT
    9:24 am August 10, 2015 Permalink

    Nice piece Freddie. I’ve enjoyed reading your posts. Glad to have you on board KSR. I’m sure the true UK football fans agree.

    It would be nice not to have to deal with the Hatcher suspension. The LB’s will be a big question for the defense starting out the year, but I’m optimistic that our defensive line will be a positive for this team. Hopefully they can create enough havoc up front to give the LB’s more opportunities to fly around the field and make athletic plays. As the season progresses hopefully the LB’s catch up experience-wise and we’re on track for 7-8 wins. My tempered prediction, which is usually a bit less so.

    GO CATS!



  16. DACats86
    11:24 am August 10, 2015 Permalink

    Blunt, but accurate and insightful. Another great article. Cannot begin to express my frustration and disappointment in early-season suspensions.



  17. Bull
    2:07 pm August 10, 2015 Permalink

    To the experts fans, lead, follow, or get out of the way. UK has hired someone to lead so that leaves only two choices. I say GO BIG BLUE.