Entering spring football practice, Kentucky expecting boost from redshirt players

jsmith3@herald-leader.comMarch 27, 2014 

Erik Korem is the University of Kentucky Football team's new High Performance Coordinator, Korem is in charge of fitness, health, nutrition and numerous other facets that get the athletes to perform at peak efficiency.

CHARLES BERTRAM — Herald-Leader Buy Photo

  • SPRING FOOTBALL

    When: Friday through April 26

    Where: Nutter Training Center (practices closed to public)

    Spring game: April 26 at 3:30 p.m. at Commonwealth Stadium

They are the forgotten faces of the football team.

They are redshirt players whose names are on the Kentucky roster but who spend a season on the scout team pretending to be someone on another team for the benefit of their own team.

"That can be a hard semester in the fall where you're working hard, you're on the scout team, you don't get much praise," UK offensive line coach John Schlarman said of the Cats' redshirts.

"You kind of get — you're not forgotten about — but those guys all have done a tremendous job. And I think this spring, that's going to show out there on the field. They're going to compete for spots."

The wait is over for those players, with spring football starting Friday and continuing through the Blue-White Spring Game on April 26.

This group of redshirt players is highly anticipated, especially those on the offensive and defensive lines, because they were the first group to go through an entire season of strength training as a part of UK's High Performance program.

"By the end of the season, you could look at those guys and go, 'OK, they look different,'" High Performance coach Erik Korem told the Herald-Leader. "Their body composition has changed."

And other players — the ones who played in games last season and couldn't lift on such a strenuous schedule — couldn't help but see the difference.

"They still have a ways to go, but the rest of the team definitely noticed, 'Holy cow, these guys are strong.'"

The biggest physical changes came for players on the lines: offensive linemen such as Ramsey Meyers, Kyle Meadows and Nick Haynes. That threesome put on a combined 52 pounds of muscle, according to the spring roster.

The changes were seen in defensive linemen such as Regie Meant, Melvin Lewis and Jacob Hyde.

Korem holds up Hyde, who came on campus at 330 pounds and is now listed at 326, as someone whose body has changed dramatically even if the scale didn't.

"A great example of when you do something right what happens," UK's high-performance maestro said. "They all kind of became good examples for the rest of the team if you buy in and do what we want you to do, good things are going to happen."

The UK head coach noticed the difference even before the end of last season.

"Jacob Hyde has changed his body," Mark Stoops said in November. "He really works hard. I'm really proud of Jacob. I think he's been a big, strong guy, but he's actually leaned up a little bit and getting more flexibility and working hard."

Interactive: Who will win Kentucky's quarterback battle

Near the end of the season, there were several situational scrimmages involving the redshirt players and many stood out as potential starters this season, UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown said.

"The two inside guys have an opportunity to be factors for us and compete for starting jobs or be critical backups: Ramsey Myers and Nick Haynes," Brown said recently.

"I'm looking forward to seeing Kyle Meadows. His body's changing; he's gaining weight. I'm looking forward to seeing how much improvement he's made when he gets his chance in the spring."

Another redshirt player who could be a big difference-maker, Nebraska transfer Braylon Heard, said he's looking forward to running behind that group.

"Those guys worked their tails off; they had a great attitude," he said. "Sometimes being on the scout team, you get guys who don't think it matters because they're not playing, but those guys had a great attitude coming into practice every single day."

The players Brown mentioned also rolled off Schlarman's tongue as potential starters, potential difference-makers for a Kentucky offensive line that was short on depth and long on question marks during Stoops' 2-10 first season.

The UK offensive line lost just one starter in Kevin Mitchell to graduation, but gains a lot of potential.

"From tackle to tackle, we're better than we were at this point last year," Schlarman said on signing day in February. "What we turn that into as far as wins and offensive production is yet to be determined. ... It's going to be a much more competitive group and you're going to have to earn your time."

It wasn't just offensive players impressing in those redshirt scrimmages, either.

"Regie Meant's the first one who jumps out," Brown said late in the fall when asked about players that stood out against his offense. "Regie Meant, he's going to be a big factor. ... He's going to be a major factor in what they're doing.

"Melvin Lewis is a kid, who if he continues to get in shape and continues to get stronger and takes coaching, he's a guy in there who can be a factor, too."

Meant earned high praise from then-senior linebacker Avery Williamson, too.

"I'd say a real good guy is going to be Regie Meant," Williamson said. "He's going to be a talented D-lineman next year."

Various players were redshirted for reasons other than getting bigger and stronger — such as transfers Heard, athlete Demitrious Davis and defensive back Chris Davis — and are expected to be factors as well.

Coaches just hope they'll make a difference, starting as soon as Friday morning.

Roster notes

The day before spring practice begins, UK released its roster. There were mostly cosmetic changes. Here are a few that stuck out:

■ Two transfers were added: Grant Aumiller, brother of former Kentucky tight end Jordan Aumiller, is a senior linebacker who transferred in from Campbellsville. Dylan Greenberg is listed as a freshman center who transferred from Youngstown State.

■ Two UK quarterbacks put on double-digit weight in the off-season. Maxwell Smith, who underwent shoulder surgery and hasn't been training, is listed at 236, up from 218 last year. Patrick Towles went from 225 to 236.

■ Defensive ends Alvin "Bud" Dupree and Za'Darius Smith both packed on some weight, with Smith adding 10 pounds and being listed at 264 and Dupree gaining 15 pounds, up to 267.

■ Two players are listed with different numbers, with Josh Forrest going from No. 8 to No. 45 and Jeff Witthuhn from No. 10 to No. 46.

■ Senior Ronnie Shields, who was listed as a wide receiver/tight end combo player last season, is back to just being listed as a tight end.

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

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