When Kentucky wide receiver Jeff Badet took a pass and then ran around screens 85 yards for a touchdown last week in the Blue-White Spring Game, he was lined up at a position he’d never played before.
Normally an ‘X’ receiver in the Cats’ new offense, coaches opted to put him in at the ‘Z’ spot to try to get him involved more. Before that, the junior who had been talked up all spring for his elusive speed, had caught just one pass all game.
“Coach Gran was trying to get me the ball at halftime and he said he was going to find a way to get me the ball, so he actually flipped me to Z,” Badet said of UK’s new co-offensive coordinator Eddie Gran. “He said I’m going to run a ton of screens with you, so just run. That’s what I did.”
It’s happened quietly all spring, various wide receivers being moved to different spots to try and find creative ways to get them more touches. Ryan Timmons has been working at two spots. Garrett Johnson has been working at several spots.
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The mixing and matching of the wide receiver group was something that Gran and Darin Hinshaw did a lot at Cincinnati, and it’s part of their plan to improve the UK offense, too.
This summer as players mostly work out without coaching supervision, the wide receivers will stay at their assigned spots, but as it did in the spring, the shuffling will continue as part of fall camp.
“We want people to be able to learn both sides,” Hinshaw explained after the scrimmage, in which Badet scored two touchdowns in the second half.
“When we get to actual game planning, we’ll have plays where we’ll put Badet over here, let’s get him the ball, let’s get him a touch,” Hinshaw continued. “Let’s put Garrett Johnson over here, let’s get him a catch, let’s get him the ball. So there’s different things we can do.”
Coaches want to make sure they get players as many repetitions at their most natural wide receiver spot, but moving them around a bit and working them at other positions is useful, too.
I love how much confidence they have in us, which makes us have more confidence in ourselves.
UK’s Jeff Badet
“You want to try to get your best players on the field,” Gran said this spring. “Then with our offense, you want to be able to get your right side guys … on the left hand side.
“If you got a guy like Timmons that knows both inside positions, then if something happens and somebody gets hurt, then you’re not sitting there going, ‘Gosh almighty, we’re with a guy that may be better sitting on the sideline.’”
Kentucky’s wide receivers coach has seen the added responsibility help Timmons’ confidence and make him an important asset for the offense for the spring.
“We wanted to get him the opportunity to put the ball in his hands as fast as possible and then do what he does well, which is run with the football,” Lamar Thomas said. “We told him that’s what we want him to do, and you see his eyes lighting up and a big smile on his face.”
Having swing receivers also means more opportunities for playmakers to get the ball in places where they can make plays, which was part of the reason coaches moved Johnson outside for part of the spring.
Gran said the move was “really good for him because now he’s learning inside and outside, so for him that is going to be huge. It’s going to help us, too, with our depth.”
That coaches noticed that he hadn’t had many touches and worked to get him the ball had Badet excited about the fall, no matter what position he lines up at on the field.
“I just want to make plays,” he said. “And I love how much confidence they have in us, which makes us have more confidence in ourselves.”
For the first time in the Mark Stoops era at Kentucky, the Cats go into the summer with a clear indication of who the starting quarterback will be in the fall after the head coach said Drew Barker had earned the spot.
But there are still plenty of unanswered questions about that position.
Backup Stephen Johnson showed an ability to move the ball in a multitude of ways. In the first half with the second-string offense, Johnson struggled throwing the ball, connecting on just four of his 11 attempts, but the junior college transfer had some impressive, elusive runs. When he ran with the starting offense in the second half, he connected on both pass attempts for 99 yards (one was an 85-yard screen pass to Badet).
So is there a chance that UK coaches will find ways to get Johnson in the game for certain packages or in specific situations?
“I don’t think there’s any question,” Gran said of the quarterback that coaches would like to see gain about 15 more pounds before the first game of the season.
But Gran doesn’t want people packaging Johnson as just a “package” guy.
“Stephen can run the whole offense,” the co-offensive coordinator said. “Stephen can do anything that we ask Drew to do and all the other three quarterbacks to do. That’s the benefit of having Stephen and he brings you the legs. But can you have a package for him? Absolutely.”
▪ With all of the talk about Johnson and Barker, what are the Cats’ plans for true freshman quarterback Gunnar Hoak, who connected on four of his five pass attempts for 57 yards and a TD in his spring debut?
He seems a natural fit as a redshirt, but coaches didn’t seem ready to discuss that yet.
“We don’t ever say we’re redshirting anybody until we get into the season,” Hinshaw said after the spring game. “Gunnar, you can see, he’s got great ability. He’s young, but he’s come a long way this spring from where he first started. I’m really proud of him.
He’s the only one who has an option to redshirt, but we’ll make that decision as we go into the season and see what the quarterback situation is.”
Young and the reckless?
Kentucky no doubt turned some heads this week by offering a scholarship to a freshman offensive lineman at Scott County. But this spring, UK staff said part of their recruiting philosophy has been to identify talent early and offer quickly.
“We’ve been very good at identifying players young and offering them early,” recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow told the Herald-Leader in February. “And people think we’re taking chances by doing that, but every one of them has BCS offers and have turned out to be pretty good players. Most of the players we’ve offered as sophomores that we get down on campus, we can get them to commit.”
UK’s latest offer to Scott County’s Bryan Hudson, a 6-foot-4, 260-pounder who started all 13 games at left tackle last season for the Cardinals, is reminiscent of a similar offer the Cats extended to Landon Young of Lafayette.
After Kentucky made the offer to Young, who eventually grew into a five-star lineman with offers from some of the biggest names in the country, Marrow heard some skeptics.
Kentucky’s coaches said they’ve already seen some of their earliest offers start to pay off. The Cats offered both starting tight end C.J. Conrad and safety Darius West as sophomores, as well as Henry Clay corner Davonte Robinson in this most recent class.
“When Coach Stoops offered him, he was in shock, he didn’t even know he was that good,” said UK’s director of recruiting Dan Berezowitz of Robinson, who reportedly picked the Cats over Georgia, Louisville, Notre Dame and Ohio State.
Coaches aren’t just looking at the physical potential of the youngest players they’re offering either, the UK staff members said.
“A lot of it has been the character of the guys we’re trying to get,” Berezowitz said. “They want to work. They’re not just settling on that offer. … These guys want to come here and be good players and they keep working.”
Tackling the tackle spot
The interior of Kentucky’s offensive line is showing promise and plenty of depth, but the two tackle spots are going to need some help, the Cats coaches said after the spring game.
“We feel like we’re getting some really good bodies inside,” Stoops said, “tackle, you know, we need to keep on building our depth and bringing those guys along.”
For now at least, junior Cole Mosier seems to have secured a spot at left tackle backed up by junior college transfer Tate Leavitt, who was swimming a bit this spring trying to get up to speed, coaches said.
“Tate will be a very good player,” Stoops said. “It was a tough spring, but he’ll go back to work and get in great shape this summer and he’ll have a bunch of practices next fall before the first game.”
UK returns 16-game starter Kyle Meadows at right tackle and is getting some good work from redshirt freshman Mason Wolfe as well.
But there’s definitely an opening for a player like five-star Landon Young to get in the mix this fall, coaches said.
“It’s an opportunity for anybody, heck we might need to move a guard out there,” Gran said. “We’ve gotta do what we’ve got to do. If somebody’s not getting it done outside, let’s move someone from inside. … I think it’s a great opportunity.”