As camp kicks off, Kentucky football coaches have lots of decisions to make

jsmith3@herald-leader.comAugust 4, 2013 

Neal Brown, Kentucky's offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, said "it's the unexpected" that's keeping him up at night as fall camp approaches.

  • UK football

    Monday: Media Day and first practice

    Friday: Fan Day at Commonwealth Stadium, 6 p.m.

    Season opener: Aug. 31 vs. Western Kentucky at Nashville

    Home opener: Sept. 7 vs. Miami (Ohio)

For about three weeks this summer, Neal Brown slept really well.

Then the worry started to take hold.

The tossing and turning started.

The closer Kentucky gets to fall camp, the less its coaches and coordinators sleep. There is planning to do, work to do.

So what is keeping up UK's offensive coordinator as fall camp begins this week? The same thing that's probably keeping up all of new coach Mark Stoops' new staff:

"It's the unexpected," Brown said in late July.

When Brown left Texas Tech for Kentucky, he left behind a two-year starting quarterback, a veteran fifth-year senior. He left behind a group of veteran receivers, offensive linemen and running backs.

He inherits a three-man quarterback competition, a young offensive line with a new center, and four wide receivers that have 57 catches and no touchdowns between them from last season.

"It's a new system, so you never know how it will be picked up," Brown said of his 'Air Raid,' high-octane offense. "A lot of new players, so it's the unexpected.

"Coaches like to have control. You can't control when something is totally new and the guys are going out and doing it for the first time."

Brown, who is taking over an offense that was 113th in the nation overall and 116th in scoring last season, said he's sleeping "enough" as is D.J. Eliot, UK's defensive coordinator just down the hall of the football facility.

But Eliot has his share of worries, too. What has him flipping the pillow constantly?

"Probably the development of depth," Eliot said. "We have to develop some depth in training camp and throughout the season for us to be successful."

He believes the depth is potentially there, and the influx of freshmen should help some, but there are still a lot of question marks as the Cats take the field for their first practice on Monday afternoon.

"Staying healthy and depth and then the other thing is just how quickly we can develop the players," Eliot said. "That keeps me up at night. Not keep me up, but you know, it's definitely a concern. How quickly can we develop them before game one?"

Eliot likes that he can rely heavily on a veteran defensive line: "Those guys are playing the best out of all our defensive players." And he likes the leadership of guys like middle linebacker Avery Williamson.

But there are questions at the skill positions like cornerback and safety, where the only primary returning starter is Ashely Lowery, who is still recovering from a bad car accident in May.

Luckily, the coordinators and Stoops said, the first game against Western Kentucky is still weeks away and there's plenty of time to get prepared.

"I promise you this team is going to work around the clock to make you all proud — a bunch of guys you're going to be proud of, on the field, off the field," Stoops said a recent alumni event.

UK will spend the first week of camp relearning the offensive and defensive schemes the coaches introduced in the spring, then the team will grow from there, the head coach said.

What he wants to see this fall is consistency: "We can't have a good practice and then a bad practice or the offense be very good one day and the defense be bad," he said. "We've gotta be consistent, we've gotta be competitive, and we're going to get that done. I'm excited. I'm excited about this team."

Position battles to watch in UK football training camp

QUARTERBACK

UK returns three sophomores in Maxwell Smith, Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow. Offensive coordinator Neal Brown likes how all of them have handled the off-season in their leadership roles, but he's hoping one of the three will seize the spot come mid-August.

"I've seen quarterback controversies tear teams apart and we don't really have that," Brown said. "We have a competition, not a controversy."

He's confident that whoever ends up at that spot can move the offense and run the system, noting that the winner will have to show "leadership skills (and) they have to be productive; they have to score. And I think they have to be really accurate passing."

CENTER

Kentucky has to replace long-time starter Matt Smith at a key leadership spot in the offense. Vying for that position are redshirt freshmen Zach Myers and Jon Toth as well as Max Godby, a former walk-on who was the backup last season. Don't be surprised to see Zach West, who started at left guard last season, also get a shot.

"I'm intrigued to see who's probably made the most movement at that position because that's probably sliding under the radar, but that's going to be just as important," Brown said of the center spot.

LINEBACKER

UK returns leader Avery Williamson but needs to find consistent players at the other spots. Miles Simpson is coming back from an injury and is competing with Kory Brown for that strongside spot. Khalid Henderson made strong moves in the spring at weakside linebacker, but depth is going to have to develop.

SECONDARY

The Cats have more questions than answers at these spots, with just Ashely Lowery returning. But his conditioning is still a question after his car accident in May. Daron and Zack Blaylock as well as Glenn Faulkner will have to take on leadership roles. Cody Quinn, Fred Tiller and J.D. Harmon saw significant action last season at the cornerback spots, but how big of a leap did the sophomores make in the off-season?


Monday: Media Day and first practice

Friday: Fan Day at Commonwealth Stadium, 6 p.m.

Season opener: Aug. 31 vs. Western Kentucky at Nashville

Home opener: Sept. 7 vs. Miami (Ohio)

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader.Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.

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