If we were surprised by Monday’s news that Kentucky quarterback Drew Barker is battling a lingering back issue, we shouldn’t have been. Even in this early stage of the 2016 football season, both college and pro, everyone is either injured or going to be.
Take the NFL’s brutal last weekend. New England lost emerging star quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to a sprained AC shoulder joint. Chicago lost quarterback Jay Cutler and linebacker Danny Trevathan, the former UK star, to thumb injuries. San Diego lost running back Danny Woodhead for the season to a torn ACL. Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson tore the meniscus in his knee.
At one point during Indianapolis’ loss at Denver, CBS sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson noted that the Colts were without five different cornerbacks because of injuries suffered either before or during the game.
Saturday’s college games were far from free of medical mishaps. Oregon wide receiver Devon Allen, an Olympic hurdler, tore an ACL for the second time in three seasons. He’s done for the year. Colorado outside linebacker Derek McCartney, grandson of former Colorado coach Bill McCartney, tore an ACL versus Michigan and is out for the year.
Florida and Tennessee tangle Saturday in a key SEC matchup. Yet Florida is without quarterback Luke Del Rio, who suffered a leg injury on an apparent late hit against North Texas. Tennessee is without three defensive starters injured in the Vols’ win over Ohio. Cornerback Cam Sutton broke an ankle. Linebacker Quart’e Sapp tore an ACL covering a kickoff. Linebacker Darrin Kirkland injured an ankle.
Some programs possess the depth to overcome such bad luck. In the NFL, the Patriots are a plug-and-play team. One player gets hurt, or suspended, and another steps into Bill Belichick’s well-oiled machine. For a program like Kentucky, however, there is far less margin for error.
The preseason loss of starting safety Darius West for the season to a leg injury is one example. West’s injury is not the reason the Cats rank 122nd of 128 teams in total defense. It did, as Mark Stoops, explained Monday, force the staff to move nickelback Blake McClain to safety. McClain’s replacement at safety, Kendall Randoph, has not played to McClain’s level at the position. At safety, however, Marcus McWilson hasn’t played well enough to move McClain back to nickel.
“Marcus McWilson is a guy that needs to play better,” Stoops said Monday. “I was counting on him coming into the year to play well.”
Meanwhile, though it didn’t get much attention at the time, the offense was hurt by an in-game injury at Florida. Starting left tackle Cole Mosier left the game in the first quarter with an injured ankle. Reserve tackle George Asafo-Adjei did not make the trip to Gainesville because of an injury suffered in practice. The Cats were forced to play true freshman Landon Young, who acquitted himself well under the circumstances. Still, The Swamp isn’t an ideal place to baptize a freshman.
That move may turn out to be a blessing. Young played well Saturday against New Mexico State. “It’s really nice to see a young player get better at some areas where he’s weak in just one week,” Stoops said. “It’s very evident to see the talent he has.”
Once Barker departed after last week’s first series, Stephen Johnson’s talent became evident. The backup quarterback directed the Cats to a 62-42 win. The junior-college transfer will face an entirely different challenge, of course, this Saturday against a South Carolina defense that has now seen him on film.
The Gamecocks have injury problems of their own. Their visit to Commonwealth Stadium will not include a pair of offensive line starters. Tackle Blake Camper and guard Donell Stanley are both nursing high ankle sprains. It’s one reason the Gamecocks rank just 87th in rushing offense.
South Carolina is far from alone, however. These days, when it comes to injuries, misery has plenty of company.
South Carolina at Kentucky
Where: Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m.
TV: SEC Network with Brent Musburger, Jesse Palmer and Kaylee Hartung
Radio: UK Network with Tom Leach, Jeff Piecoro and Dick Gabriel