Mark Stoops sizes up start of Kentucky’s fall football practice
I attended Kentucky football’s open practice Saturday at the Joe Craft Football Training Facility.
Ten things I saw there:
1. Everyone got down to business. There was no early-season nonsense, no extracurricular shoving or pushing or horsing around. The closest deviation involved safety Mike Edwards trying to high-kick a tackling dummy after fielding a punt. That earned a quick, but understated cut-it-out admonishment from a coach. This is an older, more experienced team that knows how to practice.
2. Neither quarterback candidate threw an abundance of strikes. Junior college transfer Terry Wilson owns the stronger arm. Redshirt sophomore Gunnar Hoak has prior knowledge of the playbook. In the battle to succeed Stephen Johnson, both might have been guilty of trying too hard Saturday, sailing throws, trying to squeeze deliveries into narrow windows. Disclaimer: This was one practice. One early practice. One practice without pads. No conclusions.
3. The secondary showed up. Hyped a year ago, UK’s defensive backs instead disappointed. To their credit, they owned it and vowed improvement. Most all are back. All appeared determined Saturday to make a statement. Keep an eye on Chris Westry, the 6-foot-4 senior who after losing his starting job has one last chance to get it back.
4. The offensive line appears set. If you’re ready now, first-teamers from left to right included Landon Young, Logan Stenberg, Drake Jackson, Bunchy Stallings and George Asafo-Adeji. E.J. Price and Mason Wolfe are potential early factors off the bench.
(FYI, John Schlarman did coach Saturday after Friday’s somber announcement that the offensive line coach is dealing with a health issue.)
5. The ex-hoopster could post up at wide receiver. Ahmad Wagner played basketball three years at Iowa before deciding to switch sports. He enrolled at Kentucky, is immediately eligible with two years remaining and, according to head coach Mark Stoops, made a couple of nice grabs Friday. He added another Saturday. He’s 6-5, 238 pounds, by the way. Rust never sleeps, but he has some tools.
6. Yes, there are some big dudes out there. At Friday’s media day, the Cats proclaimed themselves bigger and stronger. You know, the familiar refrain. A trio of freshmen fit the part, however. Marquan McCall is a 6-3, 368-pound load of a defensive lineman. Nick Lewis is a 6-9, 350-pound skyscraper of a left tackle. Keaton Upshaw is a 6-5, 234-pound prototype of a tight end. Go big, or go home.
7. One door closes, another opens. After offseason shoulder injury, starting linebacker Jordan Jones is being eased back into the groove. In the meantime, Stoops is holding casting calls for his rookies. One that stands out: DeAndre Square, a 6-1, 208-pound true freshman from Detroit who played with the first-team defense in at least one drill and about whom the head coach said Saturday, “he’s definitely going to play some.”
8. You must be strong up the middle. So shine the spotlight on sophomore nose guard Quinton Bohanna. True, with Josh Paschal’s uncertain future, defensive tackles Andre Middleton and T.J. Carter must respond. Same goes in the middle for Bohanna, who must occupy blockers, produce some push, and take the pressure off his teammates on either side.
9. Senior wideout David Bouvier was catching punts. The catching part is the most important part. The graduated Charles Walker ably completed that task last season. As Stoops pointed out, SEC coverage teams can be unforgiving where punt return yardage is concerned. Rather than gambling with a breakaway threat who turns fielding punts into an adventure, the coach wants someone who knows when to catch it and when to let it bounce. Yards are gravy.
10. Chance Poore has a strong leg. The true freshman placekicker from Anderson, S.C., got in some early work, attempting a succession of kicks, five yards back at a time. A bad snap botched his first try. He was practically perfect the rest of the way. Replacing Austin MacGinnis, perhaps the best kicker in school history, will be difficult. And important.