SEC Football Media Days: Inexperience a major hurdle for Kentucky

jsmith3@herald-leader.comJuly 16, 2014 

Running back Jojo Kemp during UK's 2014 Blue White Game at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, April 26, 2014. Photo by Matt Goins

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  • SEC MEDIA DAYS

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HOOVER, Ala. — Kids walking halls of high schools just a few weeks ago are going to be expected to make a big impact for many teams in the Southeastern Conference come August.

At SEC Media Days, Tennessee head coach Butch Jones lamented that while most teams are turning over a third of their rosters this season, nearly half of the Volunteers are new.

"We're having to replace almost half of our football team," the second-year head coach said. "We've had an influx of young talent and youthfulness."

Jones and Tennessee, with a recruiting class ranked fifth in the nation last season by Rivals.com, are not alone in their youth movement.

A quick survey of the Kentucky roster (which includes walk-ons) shows the Wildcats are in a similar boat with 43.3 percent of their players having never played in a collegiate game compared to 43.8 percent for the Vols.

UK and its own second-year coach, Mark Stoops, have 25 players listed as freshmen right out of high school, 16 as redshirt freshmen and four transfers who haven't played a game yet.

Sixty-one of the Cats' current non-finalized roster of 104 released on July 14 are freshmen, sophomores or transfers who have yet to play a down of football.

That's a lot of new players with different learning curves to accommodate in a short amount of time.

For Kentucky, it's going to mean going back to the basics for the offense, which returns six primary starters, but will be relying on inexperienced players at key positions such as quarterback, tight end and wide receiver.

"What we're going to do is dumb it down, not dumb down, but reduce it a little bit," UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown told the Herald-Leader this week about his plans for the Cats' playbook and adapting with so many new players. "I think less is more this year."

A lot of it has to do with giving some of the newcomers a chance to get involved early.

Even some of Kentucky's most experienced offensive playmakers like running back Jojo Kemp and wide receivers Ryan Timmons, Jeff Badet and Alexander Montgomery are just sophomores.

"We're still relatively young," Brown continued. "We're counting on a lot of freshmen and sophomores and a lot of these incoming guys I want to give them an opportunity to compete for playing time, and if we try to do too much, just the sheer memorization and those types of things is going to overwhelm them."

And an overwhelmed player isn't going to be a playmaker in Brown's offense, which relies on quick pace and quick thinking.

"If you're thinking, you can't play," Brown said. "I want them to think less and react more, so we're going to reduce that."

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

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