Jen Smith on UK Football

Practice report: Talk of ‘wow’ plays, freshmen making push and concern about key injury

There was a lot of positive news out of Kentucky’s second full scrimmage of the preseason, but it was again overshadowed by news that a starter could miss time with what Mark Stoops called a “fairly substantial” injury.

Senior wide receiver Dorian Baker sustained an ankle injury, but the extent of it is not yet known.

“I’ll let us clean that up with the doctors and give you an update on that next week,” Stoops said of the injury to the senior, who missed much of last season with a hurt hamstring. “I just wanted to tell you so you don’t start hearing things and seeing him with a boot on. He has an ankle injury. I’ll update you on that next week.”

The news comes a week after the Cats lost starting offensive tackle Cole Mosier for the season to a torn anterior cruciate ligament, ending his UK career.

Baker, a 6-foot-3, 211-pound senior from Cleveland Heights, Ohio, has played in 32 games, starting four. He’s recorded 88 career catches for 1,015 yards and six touchdowns. Last season, he had 14 catches, including some pivotal ones late in the season, for 208 yards and two scores.

• A week ago, none of Kentucky’s coaches seemed pleased with what they called an “OK” scrimmage. This time, it was clear they had things to clean up, but there were solid plays made on both sides of the ball.

“We did some good things on both sides of the ball,” Stoops said. “Like always, I’ve got to watch the film and get more detail and see exactly who stood out and who didn’t. But just overall I thought it was a good, competitive scrimmage.”

Stoops said UK’s offense was “like they always are: physical.”

The offense recorded a few nice runs, including a few for starter Benny Snell, who played about 20 snaps.

“Benny was Benny,” offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said. “Benny really ran the ball well for the limited time he was in there. We were better with those guys. I wasn’t very happy last week.”

The offense had a few explosive runs, including one for about 60 yards for Sihiem King and another long one for A.J. Rose. The quarterbacks both mentioned true freshman running back Bryant Koback, who has been limited as he comes back from a broken leg a season ago, having a strong day running the ball.

Despite the praise for running backs, defensive coordinator Matt House seemed pleased overall with UK’s improvement.

“We’ve definitely grown,” he said. “We did a better job handling the run game. Now I’ll see it upstairs. They still popped one explosive run on a third-and-four, so that’s not acceptable obviously. But I thought it was better than a week ago. I definitely think we grew this week.”

Standouts, big plays

Kentucky’s scrimmage was closed to the public and the media, but there were some clear standouts, coaches and players said. Here’s a rundown of some of those:

• True freshman outside linebacker Josh Paschal continued to make a push for playing time.

“He made a play or two that really stood out to me,” said Stoops, who stands behind line of scrimmage during the practice. “Wowed me a little bit. I noticed that on the field. He showed three, four plays during the scrimmage that he just stood out today.

“I don’t want to get everybody all excited. He’s a freshman. He’s got a lot of work to do, but he’s very, very talented and does standout out there.”

• UK’s tight ends made a few big plays, Gran said. “good runs and catches. … We got it to them a little bit more in this scrimmage.”

• The defense recorded one interception, hauled in by nickelback Kendall Randolph, who has been coming back from offseason surgery.

• Freshman defensive lineman Quinton Bohanna continues to impress his coaches, including getting some reps with the first team this week. “He’s gotten better every practice,” House said. “We’re pleased with him. He’s a guy that’s a big twitched up guy. I mean for a big man he moves well. Another guy that I think football is really important to him, which if you’re blessed with athleticism, size and it’s really important to you you’ve got a potential to be really good.”

• Another freshman, offensive lineman Naasir Watkins, already seems ahead of where now starting left tackle Landon Young was at this time a year ago when he was a true freshman, Stoops said.

• There seems to be some concern from the coaches about depth at inside linebacker spots behind Jordan Jones and Courtney Love. Jones’ backup, Eli Brown, seems to be pushing for more time. ”Eli Brown has had a really good camp,” House said, noting he’s much more physical.

• Four freshman wide receivers continue to earn praise from their coaches in Lynn Bowden, Josh Ali, Isaiah Epps and Clevan Thomas, who caught one touchdown pass.

“They’ve made some plays,” Gran said. “Clevan came in and made some really big plays today; he scored a touchdown and he gets open, he’s physical.

Bowden had a few balls go his way, but he wasn’t as strong as a week ago. “I felt like he had an opportunity to make some really special plays and that didn’t happen,” Stoops said. “But I anticipate he’ll do that — the ‘wow’ plays.”

As a whole, that freshman group of wide receivers will be important going forward, the head coach said.

“They’re just ball players,” Stoops said. “They could probably help us on special teams. Bring them along, and as you know, we lose a pretty good group after this year.”

• It’s been a good offseason for Kentucky kicker Austin MacGinnis, who reported on Saturday that he’s improved his range and has a high level of confidence in his kicks from 55 yards and in. The senior, who is on pace to set the school scoring record this season, already owns the longest kick in school history at 54 yards and he had another at 53 yards.

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader

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