There’s been a plague in the Kentucky football program. A word that could not be mentioned without a wince. The D word has been unforgivable in SEC play, but that negative is turning into a positive in 2015.
“Right now I feel comfortable with probably two deep at every position going into the (first) game,” said offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson.
That was not the case when Neal Brown took control, frequently admitting the Cats’ receiving corps was barren. Their biggest weakness, is now the Cats’ strength, “Offensively, it’s nice at the wide receiver position,” Stoops said. “We’re certainly deeper there.”
The problem with depth is that it cannot be cured overnight. To use one of Stoops’ favorite terms, “It’s a process,” one that’s finally starting to show results, “It’s taken some time, as you know,” Stoops said. “But it’s nice, because you really have to have that.”
Elite recruiting is adding up, with freshmen defensive backs expected to make an immediate impact. Players have enrolled early to mitigate the learning curve, and it’s paying off for Big George Asafo-Adjei and C.J. Conrad. The staff took their licks last year, redshirting 10 freshmen on both sides of the ball. Darius West and Mike Edwards will surely shake things up on defense, and offensively, the receivers will have plenty of fresh legs after Jeff Badet, Alex Montgomery and Thaddeus Snodgrass wore a redshirt in 2014.
The additional depth allows Stoops’ scheme to be more creative, ““We can do a lot more because we have a lot of depth now,” Blake McClain said. Instead of fighting physical and mental exhaustion, fresh legs ensure help eliminate setbacks. It’s even more important in practice where the quantity of reps is less important than the quality of the rep.
It’s importance is undeniable, especially when injuries pile up. In earlier years, a young guy may have been thrown into the fire because there was no other option, even though that person probably didn’t know what they were doing. Now, they are comfortable on the field and can be trusted.
Even though the D word is much kinder than previously, it doesn’t apply to every position. The one position Kentucky could not afford to take many losses – linebacker – has already experienced some setbacks. Ryan Flannigan will miss a week or more, and rising freshman Jordan Jones will miss a few weeks because of illness.
“I felt like this was going to be the best we’ve had (at LB) since I’ve been here, coming into training camp,” D.J. Eliot said. “It’s going to be more of a challenge if you don’t have the numbers you expected you would have.”
Although it has improved, the depth needs to continue to develop if the Cats expect to weather the SEC storm this Fall. Most importantly, these guys believe in their teammates and trust that they can get the job done.
“We’re hungry,” McClain said. “If somebody gets hurt, it’s the next guy up.”