Mark Stoops described UK’s first major scrimmage as being just “ok”. In my opinion, “OK” can be interpreted as exactly where the Cats should be following two weeks of fall camp. Think about it for a minute; an athletic competition stalemate can be labeled as ok if there is no rooting interest. A “draw” means both sides were equally as efficient. The fact that the Wildcat offensive line and running back Benny Snell aren’t steamrolling a questionable defensive line on a consistent basis can only be construed as an improvement or better than expected outcome. As you can read in my post of the inner workings of a fall camp scrimmage, Saturday was the Cat’s first game-like simulation. Coaches were on the sideline. Plays were signaled in from coordinators and assistant coaches. Imaginary and literal cords were cut. This may not seem like a big deal; but it is, especially for younger players. Here are some of the significant happenings that were announced by Mark Stoops, Eddie Gran, and Matt House on Saturday:
– “Good thing we still have three weeks” was an early press conference phrase that grabbed my attention. Some head coaches intentionally send motivational messages to their team that indicates performance was substandard regardless of actual circumstances. I do not think Stoops is cut out that cloth. He’s proven to be a coach that says exactly what’s on his mind and has not sugar coated his remarks during his stay in Lexington. The fact that the first live scrimmage was not completely adequate did not come as a surprise. Nerves and the uniqueness of simulating its first actual football game since April are conditions that add to its difficulty level.
–Left tackle Cole Mosier was injured in the scrimmage. The extent of his injury will be announced on Monday. Hopefully for Mosier, test results will be minor. However, quality depth at the tackle position will lead to Landon Young moving into the starting role if Mosier’s injury is serious. To me; this was the most severe news that came out of the Joe Craft Football Training Center. But, camp injuries are a part of the game. Attrition is managed by roster construction and management.
–The offense turned the football over in the red-zone. Stoops was especially not pleased with this result. But, as the head coach, he was thrilled that his defense produced a turnover in the red-zone. It’s the give-and-take nature of scrimmage evaluation by a head coach.
-Stoops has been pleased with OLB’s Josh Allen and Denzil Ware. He feels good about those positions but reinforced that his interior defensive line has to consistently “play stronger”.
-He singled out freshman Lynn Bowden as “showing up” during Saturday’s practice. Also as expected, Bowden is working as a punt and kick returner. The more Bowden has the football in his hands in open space the better the Kentucky Wildcats will be in 2017.
– “We are our own worst enemy” referred to the offense’s 10-12 play drive that resulted in a red-zone turnover. Turnovers cost the Cats a couple wins in 2016. Gran understands that a repeat -7 turnover margin will greatly limit its ability to win football games.
-Freshman RB Bryant Koback is not full-go, but is expected to be so next week. I’ve said it many times; it takes four running backs to navigate a SEC schedule. Koback’s presence on the depth chart would be a bonus.
– “We find out a lot when the lights come on” was a phrase that Gran used to describe the difference in a typical practice and a full-live scrimmage that took place on Saturday. Again, there is a major difference in having coaches in player’s ears from behind the huddle to normal sideline-field communication. It’s like a sense of independence that can lead to unwelcomed pressure which negatively impacts execution.
-Gran reinforced Stoops in praising Lynn Bowden as one of the guys that showed up.
-Kayaune Ross has stepped up and will factor in the receiver rotation. Ross is one of the hardest workers on the team. I’m happy for the young man.
-Garrett Johnson made two contested catches. But the major news about Johnson is that he’s playing outside instead of a slot position. This frees up repetitions for the younger players.
– “Got a goal line stop”. The defensive coordinator was happy with that result but unhappy that the offense drove the length of the field prior to the turnover.
-Cornerback Derrick Baity made good plays. House also singled out true freshman OLB Jordan Wright and the “good things” he did rushing the passer.
-Jamar “Boogie” Watson is receiving practice reps at both inside and outside linebacker. DE Calvin Taylor excelled in the spring game. His coordinator expressed positivity in Taylor’s continued development.
What does all this mean?
-Internal scrimmages are a give-and-take event. The only cause for concern would be if either the offense or defense dominated the action. The first live scrimmage of fall camp is rarely an occasion that is praised by coaches. The scrimmage’s speed and intensity were faster and more physical than prior practice sessions. Immediate responses from coaches were raw and hesitant. Accurate and literal assessments will come from dissecting film.
It is apparent that Lynn Bowden will play a significant role on offense and special teams. Matt House and Mark Stoops really like their linebackers, especially those on the outside. This can be interpreted by former OLB’s being moved to different positions for experimentations that assists in roster management. Just as House likes his linebackers; I can see Gran’s appreciation of his offensive line. A major portion of this affinity is attributed to its diversity and versatility in positional movement. Keep a close eye on the Cole Mosier situations. While Landon Young can easily move into the starter’s role; additional personnel adjustments may be needed if Mosier’s injury turns out to be serious. Mason Wolfe or other offensive linemen could be shifted over to receiver reps at LT.
The closer we get to September 2nd the more confident I’m becoming in the Kentucky defensive line. Call it a hunch or a gut feeling that newcomers Kordell Looney, Calvin Taylor, Quinton Bohanna, Phil Hoskins, TJ Carter, and especially Coach Derrick LeBlanc have added a spark to the situation. Veterans Adrian Middleton and Naquez Pringle remain steady. Good things are being said of Kengera Daniel and others. This unit has been called out, questioned, challenged, and doubted for months. There is an overabundance of motivation. I’m also intrigued by the freshman receivers. Josh Ali, Lynn Bowden, Isaiah Epps, and Clevan Thomas have made noise in fall camp. QB Stephen Johnson’s improvement from year one to year two is also a source of positive momentum. Drew Barker and Gunnar Hoak are also capable of playing. Suspense and anticipation rising for Southern Miss.
Mark Stoops will have a better understanding of his 2017 team after hours of scrimmage film study. I still feel this is by far the most talented roster that Stoops has taken into week one. But, as the UK head coach said “good thing we still have three weeks.”