John Clay: Kentucky gives newcomers the green light

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistAugust 16, 2014 

Kentucky coaches have praised junior safety A.J. Stamps, a transfer from East Mississippi Community College. "He's been progressing really fast," said defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot.

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Maybe Kentucky football should change its colors from blue and white to green and white.

Every time a media member has made an inquiry as to who has looked good this fall camp, youth is served.

"Dorian Baker is still a guy who stands out a little bit," said UK head coach Mark Stoops during the question-and-answer following Saturday's closed scrimmage.

Baker is a 6-foot-3, 197-pound wide receiver from Cleveland Heights, Ohio. He's a true freshman.

"Blake Bone," said Neal Brown on Friday when asked to name one or two players who had made the offensive coordinator take notice. "He came here and put on like 20 pounds in the summer and he's made a bunch of plays in live situations. So he's really showed he's capable of playing."

Bone is a 6-5, 198-pound wide-out from Woodruff, S.C. He's a true freshman.

Saturday, Brown said Mikel Horton, a 230-pound running back from West Chester, Ohio, looked the best he's looked since he arrived on campus in the spring. Horton is a true freshman.

The story of fall camp on the offensive line is Cole Mosier, a 6-6, 348-pound walk-on guard from Walton-Verona. He's a redshirt freshman.

It's no different on defense, where Matt Elam gets pluses for size and athletic ability. Elam is a true freshman, a huge true freshman.

Ryan Flannigan will be a considerable factor at linebacker. Flannigan is a junior-college transfer from Texas, so this is his first year of major college football.

Same for A.J. Stamps, a junior-college safety from Vicksburg, Miss., who by all reports has made a difference in the secondary.

You get the idea.

Stoops has been around the coaching block a few times. He was an assistant at Miami, Arizona and Florida State (among other places) before becoming the head coach here. Has he ever been in a situation where a team must rely on so many young players?

"No. I don't think I have been around anything quite like that," Stoops said Saturday. "As you know, it's difficult to count on incoming freshmen to come help you win SEC football games. It's very difficult to do, but they can give us some depth and they're very talented. So, if they're forced into action we'll see what they can do."

There isn't a lot of choice. The roster contains 11 three-year lettermen. There are only 14 two-year lettermen.

"Every season is different everywhere I've been," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "I have been at places where we've had to play young players and it's just part of the game. You just coach who you've got and go win some games."

If you're a fan, you think ahead to when guys like Ryan Timmons, Jojo Kemp, Blake McClain, Jon Toth and Jason Hatcher, among other sophomores, are seniors. Or when Lloyd Tubman, Stanley "Boom" Williams, Thaddeus Snodgrass, T.V. Williams and Kobie Walker, among other true freshmen, are juniors or redshirt sophomores.

If you're a coach, with the opening kickoff approaching quickly, however, you concentrate on the here and now. Like picking a quarterback, for instance.

Reading between the lines, an announcement appears imminent. Patrick Towles remains the guess, with Reese Phillips as backup and Drew Barker showing the staff just enough to give them pause.

Oh yeah, Towles is a sophomore who redshirted last season. Phillips is a redshirt freshman. Barker is a true freshman.

"I like where we're at, I really do," Stoops said Saturday. "Like you said, the tough thing is you're still counting on some young guys. That makes it frustrating at times. But, it is what it is."

Here's what it is: This year, it may not be easy being green. Down the road, however, green could become gold.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com.

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