How confident are you in the Kentucky offense going into spring practice? Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran has constructed a style that fits the strengths of his personnel and personality.
Let’s look ahead and assign a confidence grade for each position group. Scale is: 1-being extremely confident and 5-shows little hope for production.
Offensive Line: 1.5
John Schlarman returns four starters and eight rotational linemen that were listed by the SEC Network’s Cole Cubelic as the conference’s top group. Why the 1.5 instead of an endorsement ranking of 1? Simple, Kentucky has to replace its generational center, Jon Toth.
Just how that will happen is yet to be determined. Redshirt freshman Drake Jackson could possibly inherit Toth’s spot which would allow Bunchie Stallings to stay at guard; a position in which he excelled in 2016. Or, Stallings kicks over to center which would open a starting guard position that would most likely be filled by All SEC Freshman Team member Logan Stenberg.
Left tackle is in capable hands with Cole Mosier and Landon Young. Right tackle returns Kyle Meadows and George Asafo-Adjei. Guard Nick Haynes is the leader; redshirt freshman Luke Fortner is expected to play a utility role in 17.
Regardless, the big fellas have a world of momentum entering spring practice to go along with a dose of humble pie that was served up by the Georgia Tech front seven in the Taxslayer Bowl.
Stephen Johnson is Kentucky’s starting quarterback. Period. This position gets interesting at the number two spot. Redshirt freshman Gunnar Hoak has impressed coaches and teammates alike. He’ll likely push Johnson during spring practice and at least solidify the backup job.
An unwritten football rule is that players do not lose starting jobs due to injury. Enter Drew Barker. A successful back surgery provides a glimmer of hope, but exactly when he’ll be available for full-contact football is still in question.
True freshman Danny Clark is on campus and in full spirits that he will immediately contend for the starting quarterback job. That confidence is a trait that the coaches love about the rookie. Clark’s early enrollment will boost his “Welcome to the SEC” moment. It will be interesting to see the youngster face college defenders. Walker Wood is not expected to participate as he rehabilitates an injured knee.
Running Back: 2.5
Benny Snell will have a target on his back next fall. Opposing defenses will be in full understanding of the talents of the rising sophomore. Snell will have relief in the Wildcat as Lynn Bowden will potentially add a new element to the offense. Snell is special and is now the standard for all incoming Kentucky running backs to be measured against.
AJ Rose has the potential and intangibles to be the real deal. We evaluated him at an extremely high level coming out of high school and he’s made the most of his redshirt season by gaining weight, strength, confidence, and experience. Rose also gained his teammates respect by simulating opposing, mobile quarterbacks like Lamar Jackson and Justin Thomas.
The Rose/Snell combo is certainly a feature that many will be anxious to see in the spring game. Sihiem King also returns after he showed his worth by going for over 75-yards against Tennessee in Knoxville.
The 2.5 rating is based on Bryant Koback’s unknown health status and AJ Rose’s inexperience. Lessons learned tell us that UK will need to enter fall camp with four healthy and capable running backs to hold up to the perils of the Southeastern Conference.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: 2.5
2.5 grade is solely based on untested contributors such as Lynn Bowden, Clevan Thomas, JaVonte Richardson, and possibly Josh Ali or Isiah Epps. The rookies could provide a spark for the departed Ryan Timmons and Jeff Badet. Again, inexperience is the only knock on this group.
Senior Dorian Baker finished 2016 strong. His leadership and production will be vital. Garrett Johnson is expected to be the deep threat. Tavin Richardson showed glimpses of being a featured WR in his first season of game action. Jabari Greenwood, Blake Bone, and Kayaune Ross will compete for the X, or outside receiver position that has to increase production in the Red Zone.
Collectively, Lamar Thomas has the most talented group of pass catchers in recent memory. With a talented haul of rookies coming to campus in June, spring practice will be important to establish a rotation going into fall camp. In other words, it’s time to produce or be passed over.
Tight Ends CJ Conrad, Greg Hart, and Justin Rigg have Vince Marrow very excited to get to work. As an individual position, TE would be graded a 1 on this scale as UK will have three legitimate passing targets and two proven, high-level blockers in Conrad and Hart. With a permanent move to TE, 6’7 Dakota Holtzclaw could be another option.
We know who Stephen Johnson is and what he’s made of after the JUCO quarterback valiantly filled in for an injured Drew Barker in week three. The offensive line is a proven entity but will forced to prove its merits without Jon Toth. Receiver and RB were assigned grades based on the unspecified production from redshirt and true freshman.
Overall, on paper Kentucky’s offensive confidence level is at a much higher mark than this time a year ago. But, football isn’t played on paper. Spring practice is a time for individual competition which will lead to separation on the depth chart. Those that enjoy and welcome competition will move forward. Those that don’t, won’t.