The Kentucky football team has a group of quarterbacks that can pass the football. That could not be said just a few months ago.
“We’re completing footballs. We’re throwing and our receivers are catching it. It was fun to see kind of back to more of our base offense,” offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said Tuesday morning. “The first day it’s hard to tell, but it sure was fun. A lot of energy and really excited about that group. We got some guys that can sling it. They’re swimming, but they should be on the first day.”
Kentucky was forced to suspend forward passing operations (for the most part) in 2019 thanks to a pair of injuries to Terry Wilson and Sawyer Smith. In their absence Lynn Bowden performed admirably. The stopgap measure worked well enough to win eight games, capped off with a victory in the Belk Bowl. Josh Ali’s late-game heroics helped propel UK to victory over Virginia Tech, but the wide receiver is happy to hit the reset button in the passing game.
“It’s back to normal. We got to start over, get our timing right and everything again, but it’s just going back over it again,” Ali told KSR. “I’m really excited. I just want to get out there and show everybody what I can do because they haven’t seen it all yet.”
Josh Ali put a big smile on his face when I asked him about Terry Wilson’s return. pic.twitter.com/oAyA7lqSSW
— Nick Roush (@RoushKSR) March 3, 2020
This spring the first person Ali is catching passes from is Sawyer Smith. After suffering a separated shoulder and a dislocated wrist, quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw is pleased to report that the senior grad transfer from Troy has kicked off the cobwebs from his injuries.
“It was like the Sawyer that we got last year when we started camp. Again, there’s a lot of things we can get better at from first day, day one, but I was really pleased with all of the quarterbacks,” said Hinshaw. “There was some rustiness, but I was pleased.”
To start spring practice Smith will receive all of the reps with the ones. Joey Gatewood, Beau Allen and Amani Gilmore will rotate with the second and third string as they learn more of the offense. Meanwhile, Terry Wilson is perfecting his timing with receivers in one-on-ones and working mental reps during team periods.
“He’s going to be out there behind the quarterback and literally, he’s taking a mental rep every time. I’m telling him to go through his steps, pointing where to throw, pointing where he should be going. We’re filming him also doing some of that stuff. The mental part of it is going to be huge. The physical part, his rehab, he’s doing really well,” Hinshaw added. “He’s exactly where we want him to be and hopefully by the end of spring we might be able to get him some true reps.”
Gran also mentioned that Wilson may be able to take team reps once everyone returns from spring break in a month.
“He’s progressing,” said Gran. “The doctors, trainers, they love where he’s at right now. He had a little time where he was just kind of flat and it was hard. He had to push through some things. Now he’s a ton better. His attitude and I think some of the soreness, just getting the atrophy and all of that stuff out of there. I think he’s doing real well.”
Until Terry Wilson is able to go back under center, Kentucky is getting back to the basics offensively. During the spring they will look like the Kentucky team from the first two games of the 2019 season. As players progress at different positions, Gran and Hinshaw can add more nuance to the scheme with some of the lessons they learned from Bowden Ball.
“It all comes down to personnel,” said Gran. “We’ll just see how that goes, how it develops. We might not know until after 29 days of fall practice. Matter of fact, I think that’s when we’re going to know it.”
What exactly will Kentucky’s offense look like in 2020? It will take some time to discern the specifics. We do know with 100% certainty that this year’s offensive game plan will include the forward pass.