Earlier we discussed individual positions. Judging from a body of work consisting of just one open practice and a spring game with a fixed outcome to evaluate, the following are additional observations that may be of interest.
— Uncharacteristically Kicker Austin MacGinnis missed a makeable field goal. No fret, the senior is money in crucial situations. MacGinnis enters 2017 with a streak of 7 consecutive made field goals. His 257 career points rank second in UK history just 48 shy of Lones Sieber’s 305 mark.
— Punting is a totally different matter. Grant McKinniss averaged 39.2 yards per punt in 2016 which was close to the sophomore’s middling outcome on Friday. McKinniss possesses adequate leg strength as seen when he booted a 50 plus yarder. Consistency has been all but absent and must be improved in the offseason.
Strength and Conditioning
— Prior to the game I tweeted that the UK Strength and Conditioning Staff (Corey Edmond and Mark Hill) were in the early running for Most Valuable Player(s). We’ve discussed body changes on the Depth Chart Podcast in length, last night’s advancements were on display for all to see.
— Two examples are true-sophomores: LB Kash Daniel and RB Benny Snell. First, both possess a desire to advance. Success matters to them. Results have been positive and obvious.
— Presence of explosion or quick twitch body movements were more common on Friday than in last year’s spring game. This could be seen in the secondary and at linebacker in particular.
— Much like the example used with Daniel and Snell, individual players must buy-in and self-motivate for the process to work. At times, players that show little strength-conditioning development lack the desire to be advanced. The term “coachable” is applicable here. Self-responsibility and accountability have to be taken into consideration.
— Some may call this recruiting; I’d rather refer to the term as player selection. Mark Stoops and Vince Marrow are proven talent evaluators as the Cats are often the first to offer prospects before others quickly follow suit. There seems to be a common personality trait within the younger players, especially early enrollees.
— Cedrick Dort, Clevan Thomas, Jamin Davis should have been preparing for their senior prom. Instead, the trio excelled in their first spring game. A portion of their success should be credited to natural ability. But as Mark Stoops talked about after the game, there’s a sense of maturity and purpose that resonates within his freshman and sophomore classes. That does not happen by chance. The “want-to” matters as much as the “how-to”.
— Receiver Isiah Epps, DE Abule Abade-Fitzgerald, OT Sebastien Dolcine, OT Austin Dotson, and DE Chris Whittaker fit this same description. Unheralded by meaningless circumstance and evaluation standards, all have a chance to develop into contributors and eventual starters.
— On Friday, younger or backup players looked as good as starters in previous years and starters looked better than their predecessors at certain position groups. I’m not sure if the term “Player Development” has a definition but I’m fairly confident that what I saw on Friday fits the description. This team still has a long way to go.
— Obvious player development advancements in Friday’s spring game occurred at all four linebacker positions, in the secondary as well as along the offensive and defensive lines.
— Gunnar Hoak put on a show and is the future of the program. There is depth at quarterback. However, I’ve heard and read several saying that Stephen Johnson was only successful in the Governor’s Cup and did very little else. Numbers paint a different picture. The senior quarterback finished 9th in the SEC’s Total Offense category with 2364 yards, a 13-6 TD-INT ratio, and racked up 197 yards per game. In addition, his 130.95 QB rating surpassed 2015’s total of 112.01.
— Jamar “Boogie” Watson dominated spring game action just as he did during an open practice. Watson was a basketball player; football was his second direction. Much like other multi-sport athletes, talent evaluators missed on him as he wasn’t a fixture at camps and combines. Those events don’t measure heart nor do they gauge the importance of sport-crossover traits. We’ve also seen this in Josh Allen and will soon see in a bunch of 2017 signees. Watson’s been on campus for less than a year and has taken full advantage of available resources in order to develop into a potential future starter.
— Consistency in youthful success is also a testament to player development. Kordell Looney is a prime example on the defensive line. DE Calvin Taylor is another. Both are obviously better on the field which resulted from countless hours dedicated in meeting rooms, weight rooms, cafeteria, and practice fields.
— Examples are plentiful along the offensive front as well. Guard Logan Stenberg’s advanced rapidly in his two years on campus. Bunchy Stallings, Nick Haynes, and so forth have all greatly improved since day one.
— The most improved player that I evaluated on film was guard/tackle George Asafo-Adjei. Mentally sharp on assignment; the junior’s athletic movements were crisper, more purposeful, and explosive.
— Defensive coordinator Matt House often screams the word “Strain”. I asked him to define the term. In his typical hoarse, post-practice voice, he said it meant to ask more than just good effort. Effort is a mere baseline; strain means to go further. His messaging has been taken to heart as most all defensive players interviewed during spring practice repeated the coach’s catch phrase.
— The defense certainly strained on Friday. At times it wasn’t successful but schematic scales were heavily weighed against them. In the open scrimmage House blitzed then blitzed some more. His aggressive style fits current personnel and produced positive results. Example, OLB’s Josh Allen and Denzil Ware’s name was rarely called on Friday. Both are considered upper tier SEC LB’s and will be active come September 2nd. All SEC LB Jordan Jones didn’t play. His presence automatically transitions the unit’s personality. Forcing the issue will be paramount; read and react has been replaced by attack and disrupt.
— Boogie Watson is now a known name within the BBN. So is Josh Allen, and Denzil Ware. Soon a slew of highly skilled newcomers will join them in Lexington. All of these players are assigned to Coach Dean Hood. OLB is the most difficult position within the UK defense. Dean Hood is a proven teacher and developer. Perfect match.
— Derrick LeBlanc’s impact could be seen on Friday as well. Kordell Looney, Calvin Taylor, Adrian Middleton, Kengera Daniel and others seemed to play more freely and with increased aggression. Both traits that LeBlanc frequently discusses. Competition is another aspect that was a common along the defensive front. This especially applies to the nose tackle position. Knowing the importance of the position to the overall success or failure of the defense, Naquez Pringle and Matt Elam were rotated on the first team based upon play-by-play accomplishment. Looney is pushing Middleton. There is a four-man logjam at defensive end. Competition is a coach’s best friend.
As the defensive line goes so could this team. LeBlanc will play a critical role in this team’s outcome.
Has this been a sunshine pumping post? Partly yes and that’s ok. Things are trending up. However, I’ll say it again; this team has a long-long way to go. As history has shown us, there is a fine line between 5-7 and 7-5.