UK Football

UK football notebook: Getting to know Kentucky’s new offense, system

Kentucky quarterback Drew Barker (7) threw the ball during the first half against Louisville on Nov. 28, 2015, in Lexington.
Kentucky quarterback Drew Barker (7) threw the ball during the first half against Louisville on Nov. 28, 2015, in Lexington.

The nuts and bolts come later, a few weeks after the introductory news conferences and the meet and greets are over.

So while there’s been some chatter about the adaptability and flexibility of the new offense run by Kentucky coordinators Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw, now seemed like a good time to start delving into details …

Both of the Cats’ former Air Raid offensive coordinators noted the simplicity of the playbook, bragging that installation could happen in less than a week so the fine tuning could begin.

So what about this new offense: the ever-evolving, multiple, pro-style offense?

Despite the mouthful description, Gran said it has a special simplicity to it.

“I’m not very smart, so the things that we do are simple,” the 28-year coaching veteran said in a recent sit-down. “Some of the stuff that we do is just one word. We have really tried to take this offense as it has evolved and make it shorter with the verbiage, where we can play faster.”

Specifically, Gran said the offense is simple enough that a true freshman coming in this summer will have plenty of time to learn it and become a playmaker by the Sept. 3 opener.

It doesn’t mean there won’t be some work involved, but Gran is confident the new offense can be picked up and applied with relative ease.

“They’re going to have to be sponges, and those are the things that we’ve been talking about with the players that are here on campus right now,” he said. “You just can’t go and look at the playbook for 10 to 15 minutes and think that you’re going to be great at your craft and great at what you’re going to be learning.”

Gran also talked about making it fun for the UK players, who are on their third offensive coordinator in as many seasons.

“The most difficult thing will be terminology and then just buying in,” he said. “And they’re not going to have a choice. This is who they got. This is who they have. So we’re going to make it fun for them, but it’s also going to be demanding.”

The biggest adjustment for all involved will be in terminology, the coaches said. Previously, Kentucky used a numbers system for calling plays, but that’s not the case with the new offense.

“We’re not so much into numbers,” Gran continued. “We do a little bit of both, but they’ll learn it, they’ll have fun with it conceptually what we’re doing, how we’re trying to stretch the field and what we kind of do on offense.”

One part of the transition will be getting the returning assistant coaches, like offensive line coach John Schlarman and tight ends coach Vince Marrow, up to speed.

“We’re going to get into the staff room and close the door and we’re going to go show them everything that we’ve done,” Hinshaw explained, noting that it’s an open-concept offensive room where all coaches will have a hand in the plan.

“We’re excited about being able to hear some input on different things that they’ve been successful at here and be able to integrate it with everything we’ve been successful with and continue to get better and do that.”

Before Chad Scott decided to part ways with UK and go to North Carolina to become tight ends coach, the former running backs coach agreed that the biggest adjustment for all involved will be in the wording.

“The concepts will be a little different, but some of the concepts will be similar except in how they’re worded,” Scott told the Herald-Leader. “I don’t think the learning curve will be as big a deal as people might think. It’s mostly about learning the terminology.”

Part of that closed-door time with the staff will include adopting some of their terminology to make the adjustment easier on all involved. For instance, the offensive linemen might already have terminology they use for combination blocks or run game fits, which Gran will adopt.

“I’ll learn that as we go, because it makes it easier for the transition,” explained Gran, who will coach running backs, but also seems to have an affinity for offensive linemen.

“I love o-line,” he said. “Big men lead the way. Those are my guys.”

‘Like finding your wife’

There is not a specific size, shape, style or star rating that Kentucky’s new quarterbacks coach is using to find the Cats’ future signal callers.

But Hinshaw knows what he wants when he sees it.

“This is like finding your wife,” he described recently. “There’s a lot of pretty ones out there, but at the end of the day I’m looking for certain things. You only get one shot most of the time to bring in one guy one year, and you don’t want to mess it up.”

Hinshaw — “a great evaluator, a great quarterback coach,” UK Coach Mark Stoops said — spends a lot of time studying film of quarterbacks, not their Rivals or ESPN rankings.

“Let me go detail him and film him and do all the things and find out about him before I can concur with that,” Hinshaw said. “So recruiting the quarterback position, I think it’s a hard, patient process.”

There is not a prototypical quarterback shape nor size that Hinshaw is married to either.

“I’ve researched and you look at all the great ones that have been successful and they’re all different sizes,” he said. “They’re all different skill sets.”

The only non-negotiable for Hinshaw is in a quarterback’s motion.

“They can throw the ball from point A to point B, they can hit a doorknob 35 yards away,” he detailed. “Those are the guys you have to have in the SEC to complete the football.

“Otherwise you’re going to see balls that are going to be inaccurate, thrown over people’s heads. And the motion is the most important thing.”

In the opening day news conference, Hinshaw specifically discussed how UK returner Drew Barker fit that mold: “He was a kid I was really impressed with and impressed with his motion.”

Ideally, Hinshaw is looking for a quarterback that can run the ball — both of the new offensive coaches have said that will be a component of every game plan — but also be able to sit patiently in the pocket and wait for plays to develop.

It’s also clear that UK’s new quarterbacks coach wants a player who is willing to put in the extra work. When asked what kind of quarterback he was at Central Florida, Hinshaw latched onto the fact that he went above and beyond.

“I was a real student of the game, honestly,” said Hinshaw, who credited several coaches with his success. “Maybe I didn’t have the best talent as everybody in the world, but I got to be a four-year starter because I outworked everybody, I outworked everybody on the field and I outworked everybody in the classroom.”

Down the stretch

With national signing day less than two weeks away, Kentucky is poised to have its second-best recruiting class under Stoops. It is rated No. 19 nationally by Rivals, No. 29 by 247Sports and No. 30 by ESPN.

Unlike the 2015 recruiting class, which started to splinter in the days and weeks leading up to signing day, this class (currently at 24 members with the additions of junior-college quarterback Stephen Johnson II and junior-college defensive tackle Naquez Pringle) seems to be relatively unified.

Similar to the 2014 class, which remains Stoops’ highest-rated class, this group has been strong, new co-defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley said.

“These kids have been very loyal to us,” Ansley said. “They’ve gotten a lot of opportunities where they can go to a lot of places, and they haven’t really batted an eye. We haven’t had many de-commitments, but the kids are really loyal and they’re really close as a group, a lot like the ’14 group.

“So when you get those guys that invested, that’s when you see a class stick together and hold strong down the stretch.”

Kentucky’s ability to hold onto recruits was part of the reason the new offensive coordinators decided to leave Cincinnati and head south.

“We followed (Kentucky’s) recruiting,” Gran said. “They’ve done an unbelievable job recruiting. We felt them in Cincinnati. We couldn’t get a sniff of a guy if he was visiting Kentucky at Cincinnati.”

Hinshaw referred to the recruits as “new toys” for the staff to play with. “Mark Stoops and this staff have done a great job recruiting. They have. It’s really phenomenal. Really excited about the class they have committed.”

In the Southeastern Conference, it’s always an uphill climb when rebuilding, so even though Rivals has the Cats’ class at No. 19, there are plenty of familiar names ahead of Kentucky: No. 2 Louisiana State, No. 3 Ole Miss, No. 6 Florida, No. 11 Alabama, No. 13 Texas A&M, No. 14 Auburn, No. 15 Georgia and No. 18 Tennessee.

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader