Jen Smith on UK Football

Lack of depth at key positions a concern after Cats’ second scrimmage

Mark Stoops is glad that there’s never a situation where his entire second team defense would have to play together.

There would be too many holes and too many issues.

There certainly were when the second string played all together at the closed scrimmage at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday.

“When you’re in a scrimmage like this and you’re looking at every player and you’re looking at 105 guys, it has a tendency to get a little sloppy with the twos and the threes,” Stoops said. “And that kind of puts a sour taste in your mouth because we need everybody.”

Stoops said UK needs to make a big jump at some key backup spots like inside and outside linebacker as well as the defensive line before the season opener two weeks from now against Southern Miss.

Overall, the head coach seemed pleased with the scrimmage and with his team’s effort overall in fall camp, noting that they’ve been able to do between 25-30 percent more work this year than in year’s past, which will only make them better.

“I feel like both sides did some good things,” Stoops said. “It was good to see the defense get some three-and-outs early and put the offense in some bad situations.

“The offense responded, did some good things as well. I think the biggest issue is, again, depth is what I’m concerned about and getting the guys that are twos and threes to play at a higher level.”

Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said UK looked much better with its first-string unit, but he also expressed concern about depth.

“Those second and third team players have got to improve fundamentally and assignment-wise, too,” Eliot said. “There's plenty we can get better at.”

And tackling again.

“It's only the second live tackling opportunity we've had, so it's not where it needs to be,” he said. “We're gonna have to get that accomplished in practice.”

Big plays of the day

For the defense, it was a pick of starting quarterback Drew Barker by cornerback Derek Baity. It was a rare turnover in fall camp for the sophomore.

“Derrick Baity made a nice play on the ball and intercepted him today,” Stoops said.

And after struggling in the first scrimmage, the defense got a three-and-out to open this one. It led to some of the first-string players exiting early.

The offense responded to the early three-and-out with a 60-yard touchdown from backup quarterback Stephen Johnson to junior college transfer Kayuane Ross.

“Good throw, good route. Great protection,” Gran said. “He broke some tackles. It was really, really good.”

Yards after contact were another positive the offensive coordinator saw.

Other notes

Star running back Boom Williams, who sat out last week’s scrimmage as he’s coming back from an offseason elbow surgery, played a pre-determined number of plays at full speed on Saturday, his coaches said.

“He got his three carries and I wanted him to get whacked,” offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said. “I wanted him to feel it, get on the ground. He picked up a protection, which was fantastic to see that. Really everything that I needed to get done with him got done.”

Stoops also was pleased to see the junior look good in live action at full speed: “It was good to see him go to the ground and take good, physical tackles.”

It’s good to see him playing at a high tempo and doing some positive things, Gran said, but the coach continued to stress consistency if Williams wants to be the starter.

“For him to have that job, you’ve got to act like it everyday,” Gran said. “And if you don’t, we’re going to move forward. He’s accepted that challenge and his last six, seven practices, he’s practiced like he wants the job.

“But if not we have other guys. That room is very competitive right now. That’s a great thing.”

▪  For the first time this camp, Stoops indicated that UK might play both true freshman punter Grant McKinniss and walk-on Bryan Kirshe in games this season.

Kicker Austin MacGinnnis looked better in this second scrimmage, Stoops said. “He kicked the ball good. He hit quite a few field goals, he kicked off today,” Stoops said. “We did all phases of special teams. It was good to get some live reps in the stadium with that. He certainly was stronger and looked better.”

▪  Minnesota transfer De’Niro Laster was moved from outside linebacker to inside linebacker at some point this week, Stoops said, but the coach didn’t specify which inside linebacker spot he’s playing at.

▪  Gran is waiting to see the tight ends catch the ball on a consistent basis, which he says is up in the 95th percentile. It sounds like they’re close to 80 percent now.

“We have to get better at doing that,” Gran said. “It’s a good group. They’re run blocking, they’re really trying to be physical.”

Injury report

Redshirt freshman linebacker Eli Brown suffered a minor stinger at a scrimmage on Wednesday at the stadium and didn’t play on Saturday. “Nothing major,” Stoops said. “He should be back out there on Monday.

▪  Wide receiver Blake Bone missed a second straight scrimmage battling a hamstring injury. Fellow junior Dorian Baker also had a small hamstring pull as well.

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader