Random notes from Saturday's University of Kentucky open football practice:
The thermometer read 30 degrees for the two-hour outdoor practice, but that didn’t stop 100 or so fans from watching Kentucky on Saturday morning. The cold also didn’t stop center Jon Toth from wearing a jersey that showed off his bare arms and nearly his entire abdomen, which became a running discussion.
“I thought maybe we’d get a little break from that today, but definitely not, that’s for sure,” quarterback Patrick Towles joked afterward.
Toth was talked up for more than his clothing decisions on Saturday, though, with Towles calling the center the “brains of the operation,” and head coach Mark Stoops added equal praise: “He’s really playing some good football, toward the end of last year and this year he’s gotten better. He’s really improving. He’s got a chance to be a really good player.”
Kentucky’s running backs had a strong showing on Saturday, including three touchdowns from Jojo Kemp in a scrimmage-type situation. Two of those runs were 30-plus yards. On his final scoring play of the day, he high-fived nearly every fan that stood on the sidelines for the open practice. “I had to make it worthwhile coming,” the junior said. “I had to make sure they enjoyed their time here.”
Stoops said he loved Kemp’s attitude and enthusiasm. The head coach jokingly asked the official standing next to him if there should be some kind of penalty for high-fiving every fan there. “I thought we were at Lambeau for a minute,” he said. “Felt like Lambeau out there today.”
Kemp’s joy for the game is contagious, his quarterback said.
“People kind of downplay the effect that can have on an offense, but when something’s going bad and you have Jojo running around giving everyone high-fives, it lightens it up a little bit. It lets you relax,” Towles said. “I love it. I hope he does more of it.”
As for the other UK running backs, Stanley “Boom” Williams missed the last part of the scrimmage with a hip pointer, but made a couple of nice runs and even caught an underthrown pass on a wheel route and took it for significant yards.
Towles said he’s seeing a much different Mikel Horton as well, noting that the sophomore spent his offseason working on his body, shedding 15-20 pounds. “He’s a lot more cut and he’s running a lot better,” Towles said. “He was kind of that big, lumbering guy last year, but he’s going to surprise a lot of people this year with his speed, that’s for sure.”
New defensive tackle turned fullback Jacob Hyde caught some eyes with a catch in the backfield to start practice. And while the 6-foot-2, 333-pound player hasn’t figured it all out, he’s made some of the UK running backs happy. When asked about the kind of holes Hyde opens up, Kemp said: “Big ones, ones his size.”
Going back and forth from defense to offense provided a little bit of confusion for Hyde's coaches, too.
“The official was back there telling me there were only 10 on defense,” Stoops relayed. “I kept on saying, ‘Are you sure?’ He said, ‘Yeah, there’s 10,’ and Jacob was in there with the blue (offense) shirt on. ... Jacob’s such a good kid. He just wants to play, wants us to be better. I love his attitude.”
Both Towles and Drew Barker led UK’s offense on some nice drives in the faux scrimmage. Towles had a touchdown pass and Barker added two. In general, Stoops was pleased to see them put together two solid back-to-back practices.
“I thought they looked more calm and more confident out there,” Stoops said. “I thought they were as poised as they’ve been since I’ve been here, sitting in the pocket and throwing the ball down the field. As I’ve mentioned the past two days and even today with the success they had, yesterday we got the ball down the field even better. They’re doing a better job.”
They got a nice boost from two new tight ends in true freshman C.J. Conrad and redshirt freshman Darryl Long. Conrad caught one of Barker’s scoring passes near the corner of the end zone. Both players will have an immediate impact, coaches and teammates said. “C.J. and Darryl are playing really well,” Towles said. “They’re a quarterback’s best friend, so I’m excited about that.”
* Wide receiver Alex Montgomery’s surgically repaired knee was a little banged up Saturday and he didn’t practice, but he has been able to go through much of spring drills.
* Kobie Walker suffered an ankle sprain.
* Nico Firios hurt his shoulder on Friday, but is expected to be back on Monday.
* Regie Meant and Fred Tiller were in red jerseys on Saturday and didn’t practice.
* Some defensive players who made some nice plays included Darius West and Mike Edwards at safety.
*Denzil Ware, Blake McClain and Melvin Lewis blew up a couple of plays for the UK offense. Stoops likes Ware’s explosiveness, but said the defensive end needs more game/scrimmage experience.