Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to football coverage in the coronavirus era. I’m your host, Nick Roush, ready to guide you through a preseason unlike any other. Allow me to use this vehicle to share the odds and ends from Zoom conversations that don’t often make the cut at Kentucky Sports Radio’s infamous copy desk. First up, a day focused entirely on the team’s playmakers. Please, keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times, and thank you for reading UK football news in the most ridiculous manner possible at Kentucky Sports Radio!
How QB Reps are Split
Unlike preseason’s past, this will not feature a quarterback competition. If there is one, it’s to see who will immediately back up Terry Wilson. Some of that is out of the coaching staff’s hands as they still wait to hear Joey Gatewood’s fate from the NCAA. In the meantime, Gatewood is still getting team reps with the twos. On Tuesday Gatewood split time with Sawyer Smith and Beau Allen. TW3 shared some of the first-team reps with Allen and Gatewood.
Promise from Pass-Catchers
Lofty preseason expectations from wide receivers is an annual tradition around the Kentucky football program. This year might be the first time we can unequivocally guarantee there will be more production at the position than the year prior. Even so, the sentiment shared by many folks will be, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” I too fall in that camp when it comes to UK’s pass-catchers, but it’s better to hear praise from the OC than nothing at all, right?
“They look really fast. They look, I think right now the word is hungry,” said Eddie Gran. “They want the ball, they want to be a part of it. I think we threw the ball pretty decent today. Not great, but for the first day out, as fast as we were going, I thought it was good. If we continue to improve on it, we’ll have a chance. Those wide outs, I really like where Coach Bo (Jovon Bouknight) is with them right now. They’ve got a great relationship and love the way he coaches and he’s teaching right now.”
Josh Ali is the ringleader of the crew, along with Allen Dailey and Clevan Thomas. Gran said Bryce Oliver made three impressive catches to start the preseason. Consistency at practice will give him opportunities on the field. As for the newcomers, Gran isn’t ready to guarantee any of the four guys will play right away, but he liked what he saw on day one.
“You look at Mike Drennen, he came in a little bit late but you can see he’s in good shape right now. He’s very athletic. I’m going to tell you, he can do a lot of things. I’m looking to see how he keeps improving. I saw Earnest Sanders today showed up on a couple catches; I saw Kalil (Branham), he did as well; Izayah (Cummings) — all those guys today I actually felt their presence. That’s good.
“They’re making our other group really work hard. They know, they see the athleticism. They see the size, so I think it’s only going to push that group to make them better. Is any of them going to come in and help right now as a true freshman? I’m not sure yet. We’ll see how it goes the next three weeks. The good part is the four games (redshirt rule), you can keep developing them, they keep getting better and you can get them into some games and not burn a redshirt, so that’s a great thing for us and them.”
Running Backs: Not Personal, It’s Personnel
Gran has always given carries to the hot hand. That changes from time to time and worked incredibly well with Benny Snell. You could not always say that in 2019, especially when the team struggled in short-yardage situations. Gran said Tuesday that this preseason he will give players reps in every different personnel grouping to determine who is best in various scenarios. How they perform in certain packages during the preseason will determine how they are used during the season.
“We’ve got some great competition there. We’ve got really good running backs. Travis (Tisdale) having a year under his belt now and JuTahn McClain, we’ve got a group back there where I think any one of those guys can help us win. We’ve got some new stuff this year that we’ve been working on that it’s gonna be a personnel decision. As they keep doing some of those plays, who ever runs those the best will be in.”
Gran continued, “It’s going to come down to production. Our couple scrimmages that we’ll have will be really important for them. I do think they’ll all play. I do think they’re that talented, but there will be some personnel decisions based on plays. And if somebody does get the hot hand, we’re going to let them go.”
A.J. Rose is primed to be the third-and-long back, not just as an experienced pass protector, but as a pass-catcher. Rose said he used the additional time in the offseason to catch passes from Terry Wilson and improve his route-running. In 2018 he showed flashes of that pass-catching ability, reeling in eight receptions for 82 yards and a touchdown.
John Schlarman is still Practicing
Many fans were curious if Kentucky’s offensive line coach would continue working with the team. As he actively battles cancer, Schlarman falls in the at-risk category for COVID-19. Even so, he’s still in the trenches this preseason. This year there’s just more space between him and his players as he socially distances while wearing a mask.