Coming off the team’s first preseason scrimmage over the weekend, now seems like as good a time as any to get caught up on the happenings over at the K Fund Joe Craft UK Football Training Facility. Mark Stoops’ Wildcats have been putting in the work behind the scenes–hidden beneath the headlines of COVID tests, school restarts, the issues in our country, the Big Ten being big chickens, etc.–and this team deserves all of the attention it can get as the Cats inch closer to what could be a very promising fall, given the circumstances.
If you’ve been too busy with your own life circumstances to follow the ins and outs of UK football each day, here’s a recap of what you’ve missed:
New Practice Schedule
The team had to wait until August 18 to begin practicing this year, thanks to the delayed schedule decided by the SEC. Beginning on that date through the first game of the season, they’re allowed 25 practices with a limit of 20 hours per week of practice time. A five-day acclimatization period was required, with two days in helmets only, two days in shells and the fifth day in full pads. This past Saturday was the first scrimmage in full pads.
The quarterback room is in good hands. Mark Stoops said so himself. Stoops recently told KSR, “I know our fanbase will be happy to know we’re in good hands at the quarterback position, going through what we went through a year ago. It doesn’t happen very often when you go through that type of injury at any one position, but we’re in good hands.”
Terry Wilson has fully recovered from last year’s injury and is the team’s first QB. Behind him, Sawyer Smith is back with experience from a year ago; Joey Gatewood is drawing Cam Newton comparisons as he awaits the NCAA’s decision on his eligibility; and Beau Allen, the true freshman from down the road at Lexington Catholic, is doing things like this:
New Names To Watch
It’s still very early in the preseason, but some of the new(ish) names we’ve heard so far include:
— Bryce Oliver, Wide Receiver: Need a WR to know opposite of Josh Ali? It’s Bryce Oliver, a redshirt sophomore ready for his turn. Oliver’s name has been said multiple times and on Saturday he took a screen pass to the house.
Looks like Bryce Oliver took a slip screen to the crib. https://t.co/kHiCgtMhRi
— Adam Luckett (@AdamLuckettKSR) August 30, 2020
— Nick Lewis, Offensive Tackle: Lewis saw action in 11 games last season as a reserve offensive lineman behind the Big Blue Wall. Now as a redshirt sophomore, he stands to earn more playing time as John Schlarman shuffles around the pieces to find his best version of this year’s Wall. Lewis’ name has earned praise on more than one occasion so far in camp for his play.
— JuTahn McClain, Running Back: Though tucked behind a very crowded backfield, McClain “has done some good things” in camp, Mark Stoops said Saturday when asked to list standout freshmen.
— Michael Drennen, Wide Receiver: Better known as Donut, Drennen has been as good as expected so far in UK’s offense, having already made a couple head-turning plays.
— Izayah Cummings, Wide Receiver: Another freshman to watch among the wide receivers.
— Vito Tisdale, Safety: Tisdale made his presence known early in camp by picking off two passes in one practice after he told a veteran teammate, Cedrick Dort, he would pick off two passes that day. Yusuf Corker said Tisdale has the “WOW” factor.
It’s Stoops’ best secondary at Kentucky… and that’s saying something.
We’re only a couple years removed from the best secondary in school history, the one that won the Citrus Bowl and then sent just about everyone off to the NFL. Well Stoops reloaded in a hurry with a great group last season and new additions ready to go with them, and this new bunch may already take the title for best ever.
Wide receiver Josh Ali, who has gone against both, said this current secondary is the toughest he’s faced in practice since he got on campus in 2017. Mark Stoops told KSR, “We’re way deeper there than we’ve ever been. We really feel like we have quite a few bodies in there, both at corner and at safety.”
Newcomer Bossman Fat is among the standouts in camp, along with returners Cedrick Dort and Brandin Echols. Those are three very good corners to go with many other pieces, including Davonte Robinson back from injury with Yusuf Corker, Quandre Mosley, Tyrell Ajian and the aformentioned Tisdale at safety.
Max Duffy is going to run it more.
Really buried the lede, didn’t I?
UK’s superstar punter has the green light to tuck it and run if he sees an opportunity. He said, “I think last year we probably missed two or three opportunities. It’s not a selfish thing for me – obviously, it’s really fun when I get to run it – but from a team point of view, if we can keep moving the ball, we’re going to… I’m going to look for those opportunities a little bit more this year and hopefully take full advantage of them because we missed out on a few last year.”
The Big Blue Wall
Mark Stoops told KSR, “They’re blocking the heck out of us, to be honest with ya. And we have a good defense… Those guys are really good players, they’re confident in their experience, and they work hard. That’s a great combination.”
After this past Saturday’s scrimmage, Landon Young credited the defense and visa versa, saying, “Iron sharpens iron, that’s the complete truth. I’ve got one of the (leading) sack returners coming back (Boogie Watson) and that’s who I want to go against every single practice.”
Drake Jackson downsized during quarantine.
UK’s All-SEC center lost 30 pounds of fat while the world was shut down, part of a challenge among the offensive linemen to stay in shape during time away.
“You’re always trying to change your body every offseason, eat healthier, work out hard, transform fat into muscle, but in March when we were hit with the quarantine, I decided it could go one of two ways: I could get fat and out of shape or lose weight and stay in shape,” Jackson explained. “I chose the latter. I’m glad I did. I think going into your senior year it kind of hits you low. It’s not like I never took it serious before, but now it’s really time to get serious and I had a lot of help doing it.”
Stoops turned to RB commit for depth at linebacker.
Inside linebacker depth is the biggest question mark on the roster. DeAndre Square is everything you want in a linebacker, but the unfortunate circumstances around his teammate, Chris Oats, has UK down one key veteran inside. Oats was set to replace Kash Daniel in 2020, now his absence from the team has UK scrambling to find help.
Jamin Davis is expected to be a worthy replacement for Oats in the starting spot; behind him, Stoops is getting creative. Stoops announced at the start of camp that Torrance Davis, the No. 28 running back in the class of 2020, joined the team and will switch positions to inside linebacker.
“Torrance Davis is a late addition to our class,” Stoops announced. “He is a two-way player who can play linebacker or running back and with our need at inside linebacker Torrance agreed to start inside. We’re happy to add Torrance to our roster out of Cleveland. He’s a very versatile player with a lot of play-making ability.”