Jen Smith on UK Football

Ten storylines, players to watch at Saturday’s Blue-White Spring Game

At the Blue-White Spring Game on Saturday, all of you will be studying every step in the pocket of quarterback Drew Barker, but there are plenty of other interesting storylines to watch at Commonwealth Stadium.

Here are 10 things I’ll be watching (with one to grow on):

1. Courtney Love: The linebacker transfer from Nebraska has become a vocal locker room leader without ever playing a down of football at UK. His play in the center of the defense this season will be pivotal.

2. Linebackers in general: Perhaps D.J. Eliot summed it up best when he said: “We just don’t have any experience at that position.” Replacing guys like Josh Forrest, Khalid Henderson and Ryan Flannigan in 15 practices won’t be easy. I’ll be interested to see how comfortable they look doing the basics. Lots of chatter this offseason about the motor of Josh Allen and the bump that could come from guys like Eli Brown, Kobie Walker, De’Niro Laster and others Let’s see what all the talk’s been about.

3. C.J. Conrad: In a word, his position coach called the tight end “wow” earlier this spring, but how will the under-utilized player deal with being used in so many different ways within this new offense? And will we finally get a look at Nebraska transfer Greg Hart, who also has been called a potential difference maker?

4. Ryan Timmons: After what the wide receiver described as one of his worst seasons of football in 2016, will we see the “new” more confident Timmons everyone has been describing? The former Franklin County star and fellow slot wide receiver Garrett Johnson have both been moved around this spring to get the ball in their hands more. Will be interesting to see how that works out.

5. UK wide outs versus UK secondary: Little battles that have quietly been the talk of the spring have been going between the Cats underwhelming wide receiver group last season and its young, overachieving secondary. It’s been fun to watch them go back and forth this spring, we’ve been told. I’m eager to see that.

6. Punt and kick returners: Those positions could change dramatically with the influx of freshman talent arriving on campus this summer. But it will be fascinating to see if any players have stood out in those areas. Someone needs to this season if UK wants to break its streak of six straight years without a punt return for points (Randall Cobb) and seven straight years without a kickoff return for a score (Derrick Locke).

7. Special teams: Mark Stoops laid out how the teams will be divvied up for the spring game with the No. 1 offense and defense in blue and the others in white (with a little overlap for subs), but he did not say if there would be any punting, kicking, etc. So we’ll all have to wait and see what we get to see. UK is still looking for a full-time special teams coach, which could alter the plans a bit, too.

8. Offensive line: So many storylines with four of the five starters back, but uncertainty about who will play where and when. I’ll be looking at that left tackle spot that seems to belong to Cole Mosier as well as how George Asafo-Adjei looks after being moved from tackle to guard. This is the fourth year of college for that highly touted group of linemen (Nick Haynes, Kyle Meadows, Ramsey Meyers). Will this be their breakout season?

9. Defensive line: Regie Meant and his motor have been a highlight of the spring and he’ll be on one side of Matt Elam with Courtney Miggins on the other. It will be fascinating to see how this group works together and whether or not they’ll be able to help the Cats in both run stop and getting to opponents behind the line of scrimmage.

10. Crowd size: Fans likely haven’t forgotten the second straight late season collapse for the Cats nor the second half collapse against Louisville at Commonwealth Stadium just a few months ago. More than 20,000 tickets are out for the game and the weather is supposed to be stunning. So how many will show?

11. Drew Barker: OK, OK. You guys aren’t the only ones who will be studying his every step and theorizing about his every throw. UK needs a reliable, consistent pocket presence to run this new offense. Can Barker be that guy? This also will be our first long look at junior college transfer Stephen Johnson at QB.

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