UK Football

New NCAA rule frees freshmen from limbo. Can it help Kentucky?

Thanks to the new NCAA redshirt rule, true freshmen like defensive lineman Jerquavion Mahone can play in up to four games this season without losing their redshirt seasons. Nothing has been decided about UK’s freshmen yet, but coaches are excited about the flexibility the new rule provides.
Thanks to the new NCAA redshirt rule, true freshmen like defensive lineman Jerquavion Mahone can play in up to four games this season without losing their redshirt seasons. Nothing has been decided about UK’s freshmen yet, but coaches are excited about the flexibility the new rule provides. Lexington

It’s not intentional, but sometimes once a player recognizes that he’s going to be hanging out on the sidelines for his first season of college football, he stops paying as much attention.

For development reasons, redshirt players often have a much different schedule than their playing teammates in the weight room and the lunchroom.

There’s often a sense of detachment from the team as a whole.

Kentucky’s coaches like that a new NCAA rule allowing players to play in four or fewer games and still keep their redshirt season intact promises to change that separation.

“It keeps guys locked in,” defensive coordinator Matt House said last week of how he sees the rule working for UK on defense. “At this point you’re planning on playing them all.

“You’re not necessarily searching training camp to see who, you’re preparing like you’re going to use everybody. I think that’s huge.”

After Kentucky football’s practice on Thursday, August 16, 2018, defensive coordinator Matt House talked about the new redshirt rule. Under the new guideline, a player can play up to four games without losing a year of eligibility.

Players who seem close to being ready to play no longer live in limbo, offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said.

“You keep them in your room,” Gran said. “You keep them developed in terms of the system. They understand what a game plan is during the week, how we prepare.”

“Coach takes some of them on trips, so they go to the hotel. They go through the whole thing.”

That could be huge for players in Gran’s running backs room. Even if they don’t break into the rotation this season with veterans like Benny Snell, Sihiem King and A.J. Rose ready to go, the two freshmen will still be engaged and involved.

Gran will be able to keep a close eye on Kavosiey Smoke and Chris Rodriguez and, should injuries occur, they’d be more ready to step in and play.

“If you’ve got a guy who is developing better than others, he might be a guy that can go in there and if we have injuries, he can be a sixth-, seventh-, eighth-game guy,” said Gran, speaking generally, not necessarily about plans to redshirt anyone in particular.

“Those (starters) come back and if it’s less than four you can redshirt him. If he keeps contributing, then you play him.”

There have been plenty of examples of true freshmen who come out of fall camp ready to play, guys who seem to understand everything immediately. But then it becomes apparent — often far too late — that a developmental year would’ve been best.

“Sometimes you come with a guy that jumps out of the blocks and you feel like he’s definitely going to play and he may level out,” Mark Stoops said.

Like it’s always been, the redshirt evaluation and usage will be on a case-by-case basis, Kentucky’s head coach said.

“Some guys may be ready to play right away and you’re going to use them for the full year,” he said. “Some guys maybe aren’t ready.

“And by the end of the year, you have some injuries and you need to plug them in, so it will be on an individual basis, but I am excited about that opportunity.”

When asked at Southeastern Conference Media Days in July, every league coach seemed equally excited.

It’s a rule that can only help in developing players, Alabama’s Nick Saban said.

“It is very difficult for us as coaches to make decisions as to whether we should play a player,” Saban said, “and when you decide to play a player, you have to make sure he was going to play enough that that would enhance his development so that you wouldn’t really waste a year of his eligibility.”

There’s now flexibility the rule provides that coaches haven’t had in the past, Ole Miss’s Matt Luke said.

While some true freshmen pick up things immediately, there’s always a few that have a light come on midway through the season and missed an opportunity to get game experience.

“You’ll have some guys that come in and maybe take them a little bit longer to develop or learn the playbook, and you’ll be able to plug those guys in late,” Luke said.

Gerri Green, a defensive end from Mississippi State, wishes it had been an option for him when he was starting college.

“If I could go back, I would have wanted to play those four games,” Green said. “I think it adds to your experience and your game. Game speed is faster than practice speed.”

UK season opener

Central Michigan at Kentucky

When: 3:30 p.m. Sept. 1

TV: ESPNU

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