UK football: Za'Darius Smith returns to practice; Rashad Cunningham ineligible

jsmith3@herald-leader.comAugust 23, 2013 

Just a few days after Coach Mark Stoops said he was starting to worry that an injured Za'Darius Smith might not be ready in time for the Western Kentucky kickoff, the defensive end re-emerged as good as new at Kentucky practice.

His practice on Friday seemed to ease any fears his head coach had.

"He looked good," Stoops said of the junior-college transfer. "Really good."

Smith suffered a high ankle sprain on Aug. 8 and has been sidelined since then, but he said he's been working hard where he can to stay up to speed. His efforts included extra film study and extra time in the weight room and on the stationary bike.

When asked if the defensive end would be too far behind, Stoops said no.

"We'll get him caught up," he said. "He'll be fine."

Smith said it was good to be back on the field with his teammates instead of in the training room. The 6-foot-6, 254-pound end from Greenville, Ala., said it was difficult to be away.

"Hard. Hard," he said. "Just to know that I was out for camp and just not having two-a-days in my first time being here, it was stressful."

Smith, ranked the nation's No. 10 overall junior-college prospect by ESPN, is expected to hold down one end of the line opposite Alvin "Bud" Dupree.

The coaches were pleased to have Smith back.

"He adds some good size at end there for us," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "He's a good technician like he was in the spring. It's good to have that back on the defense."

Eliot said it would've been nice to see how far Smith could've developed if he'd been through the entire camp, but he still thinks Smith will be an impact player.

"He was probably the furthest along as it was at defensive end going into camp, so I still feel good about him."

■ When Stoops was asked about the ankle injury to Cody Quinn, he implied that injury updates would be a thing of the past now that the team is in game-planning mode.

"I don't want to discuss it any further," he said when asked about the cornerback's progress. "I've been very lenient with you guys (grinning), so don't push it. It's getting time to start preparing for games."

Departures, upgrades

Defensive tackle Patrick Graffree tweeted on Friday morning that he will continue his playing career at Eastern Kentucky.

Stoops confirmed that on Friday afternoon, adding that the transfer surprised him a little.

"We had a talk with a lot of guys when we got through camp (about) where we were at," Stoops said. "So he may not have been happy with that. I understand that. I don't want to get into detail on that, but I do wish him the best."

Stoops was asked later if he expected there to be other transfers after other camp conversations and he said: "Possibly."

That came a few hours later when Graffree tweeted that fellow redshirt freshman tackle Thomas Chapman was transferring to Murray State. UK officials couldn't confirm that on Friday, though.

Graffree, out of Central Hardin, was the No. 10 prospect in the state in 2012, according to Rivals.com. Chapman, a standout at Manual, was the No. 3 recruit in the state and the No. 30 defensive tackle in the class nationally.

■ Rashad Cunningham, one of just four returning wide receivers for UK, will not be eligible to play this season, but he will continue to practice, Stoops said Friday.

■ Walk-on center Max Godby, who is running with the first team, was awarded a scholarship for the season. It was announced to him and the team on Friday, Stoops said.

"The team was excited," the coach said. "He was excited."

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

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