Camp continues to roll on throughout the Southeastern Conference as we are less than three weeks away from the season starting. On the horizon is a Saturday full of college football on Saturday as the ACC and Big XII begin their season. We got some interesting news regarding the Big Ten this week and we are fresh off a Saturday full of college football. Things are moving forward.
The Monday Huddle is back this week after another week of practice for the Kentucky football program concluded on Saturday with the second scrimmage of camp. This week we saw a true freshman running back make some huge waves, some shuffling in the secondary and a surprising trade in the NFL.
First Down: JuTahn McClain Can Play
The class of 2020 continues to receive an incredible amount of praise from the coaching staff as we’ve heard about quarterback Beau Allen and safety Vito Tisdale making plays since the beginning of camp. Those high three-stars are impressing, but there is another high three who has wowed his position coach.
JuTahn McClain ran for 4,406 yards while averaging 8.20 yards per carry with 48 receptions on his way to 60 total touchdowns in his last three years of prep ball at Fairfield High located just north of Cincinnati. The top-400 prospect was a major recruiting win and offensive coordinator Eddie Gran loves what he has seen from the young back.
“The old adage is the eye in the sky doesn’t lie. He doesn’t. You watch tape everyday you look at effort. You look at straining. You look at mental errors and that young man doesn’t have ’em. I feel very comfortable putting him in the game. There’s a lot of competition in my room right now.”
This comes after some other big time praise for his young tailback following a spring practice back in March. Kentucky has a loaded running back room as it returns three backs who combined to rush for 1,975 yards with 18 touchdowns while averaging 6.15 yards per attempt. Cracking this rotation could be tough for any true freshman, but it appears McClain is going to find a way to do it.
His pass protection has been a plus early and that is going to give him the chance to get playing time on third downs. McClain is passing the early test and looks like another guy who is almost certainly going to be a hit from the 2020 class.
Second Down: Getting Three Corners on the Field
As the 2019 defense impressed everyone last year in Brad White’s first season as the primary play-caller, one huge surprise was the play the Wildcats got at corner. Mid three-star junior college transfer Brandin Echols became one of the best corners in the SEC recording 52 tackles with a bunch of pass break-ups and two forced fumbles. Meanwhile, Cedrick Dort Jr. proved to be one of the best cover guys in college football.
Lowest completion % allowed at outside CB in 2019:
1. Cedrick Dort Jr, UK – 30%
2. Caleb Farley, VA Tech – 33%
3. Vincent Gray, UM – 34% pic.twitter.com/ZoEzK7Wc7b
— PFF College (@PFF_College) July 6, 2020
This was a very good and promising sign for a secondary that had just lost all of its starters to the NFL. Before the 2019 season started, Kentucky added LSU transfer Kelvin Joseph who was a former top-50 recruit out of Baton Rouge. Now UK is trying to figure out how to get their best 11 on the field.
White notified the media that Echols has been getting some reps at nickel during training camp and that was a surprise since UK has specifically used safety players there such as Mike Edwards and Jordan Griffin in the past. Davonte Robinson figures to have the spot locked down, but sliding Echols inside could be a possibility.
Last year the junior college transfer proved to be a very strong tackler and a guy that could help in run support in addition to being sticky in coverage. Playing the senior there would allow both Dort and Joseph to get on the field all together. Just something to keep in mind as the Wildcats are trying to find the best pieces to play at the same time.
Third Down: Don’t Sleep On This Redshirt Freshman
DeMarcus Harris was a low three-star recruit out of Vero Beach, Florida in the class of 2019 and the 6-foot-1 wide receiver earned all-state honors as he set the record for most receiving yards from a single player at Treasure Coast High School. In his prep career, he showed some nice route running ability with the potential to play in the slot in addition to both X and Z on the outside.
This week we heard Mark Stoops talk about how Harris just “puts his head down and plays hard” while also notifying the media that he made a big play in the scrimmage on Saturday. Both Echols and wide receiver Clevan Thomas Jr. also pointed out that Harris is having a very good camp and is someone to keep in mind as a guy that will be in the rotation come Week One.
Fourth Down: Understanding the Bowden Trade
When Lynn Bowden Jr. was drafted by the Las Vegas Raiders in the third round there was an odd selection immediately afterwards. The Raiders turned around and selected Bryan Edwards who was the all-time leading receiver in South Carolina football history directly behind Bowden. Then when you took a further look at the roster in Las Vegas it did seem like a strange fit.
With Henry Ruggs III taken as their first round pick and Edwards balling out in camp, Jon Gruden appeared to have the outside wide receiver spots figured out. Meanwhile, Clemson product Hunter Renfrow had an excellent rookie season and is trending towards being one of the upper-shelf slot receivers in the NFL. That left only one more position for Bowden to potentially impact at and that was as a third down back.
In this position, you need a player who has running back skills with the ball in addition to a guy who can impact the game as a pass catcher on top of helping block in pass protection. However, the Raiders seem perfectly content with their third down back Jalen Richard who his entering his fifth year. Richard, who went undrafted out of Southern Miss, has over 100 receptions in the last two years and just recently signed an extension with the Raiders.
You add that in with the fact that Las Vegas plans on riding second-year back and former first-round pick Josh Jacobs while tight end Darren Waller should be a Pro Bowl candidate. There aren’t many touches to go around meaning Bowden was the odd man out. Now the rookie is heading to a franchise that needs skill talent.
The Tua Tagovailoa era has begun in South Florida and the Miami Dolphins are being very careful with their cornerstone piece due to injury history. Grizzled vet Ryan Fitzpatrick is expected to be QB1 when the season begins this Sunday. The Dolphins are fishing for answers at running back while there could be the potential for snaps at slot.
The fit in Vegas was odd and the arrest at his grandmother’s house could not have helped. Getting out of there early is probably going to be a good thing for both parties. Miami has had zero coaching and very little franchise stability, but opportunities to get on the field should be there for Bowden. Best case scenario is he finds a way to crack the rotation by the end of the season and then solidifies a spot somewhere on the field with Tagovailoa officially takes the reigns in 2021.
Football is coming.