John Clay

For Kentucky football, a strong #finish starts with summer sweat

2016 UK Blue-White football game

2016 UK Blue-White football game
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2016 UK Blue-White football game

The final horn had barely blown on Kentucky’s 2016 spring football drills Saturday when the head coach set the tone for the summer.

“I told them I’m giving them Sunday off,” said Mark Stoops with something of a twinkle in his eye. “Then Monday, it’s back in the weight room.”

Back to huffing and puffing and lifting and lugging and squatting and sweating and watching video until your eyeballs fall to the floor — and not one second sooner. Summer vacation? That’s for losers, and Kentucky football has had enough of that losing stuff over these past few years, thank you very much.

Just like The Donald has “Make America Great Again” right there on his hat, Kentucky football had its plain-spoken campaign slogan right there on its spring practice paraphernalia: #finish.

Two years ago, Kentucky started 5-1 and visions of a bowl game danced through peoples’ heads in the Big Blue Nation. And then: Didn’t finish. Last season, Kentucky started 4-1 and the Cats vowed that a repeat of the previous collapse would not happen. And then: Didn’t finish.

“We’ve got to get over the hump,” Drew Barker, Kentucky’s newly appointed No. 1 quarterback, said after Saturday’s spring game.

Lexington Herald-Leader sports columnists John Clay and Mark Story discuss what they saw during Kentucky football's annual Blue-White Game on Saturday.

As we’ve learned from UK football over the years, saying you’re going to get over the hump is not the same exact thing as getting over the hump. Blood, sweat and tears are involved. The magic is in the work. So Stoops amped up his winter conditioning program, hiring a new strength coach (Mark Hill from Indiana), not to replace his old strength coach (Corey Edmond), mind you, but to double up on the players’ pain. You know, no pain, no gain.

To a man, players’ eyes grew big when describing the intensity of the winter workouts before their voices turned serious when raving about the benefits. Stoops pronounced himself satisfied with the results, saying his team was able to handle more during this set of spring drills from a physical standpoint than it had in the past.

But the grunt work doesn’t stop there. You think Nick Saban has giving Alabama players the summer off to work on their tans? You think Florida plans to water ski all off-season? You think it’s summer and the livin’ will be easy for Georgia under new coach Kirby Smart? The clock is always ticking.

“We know we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Barker said.

Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops talks about the spring game, about quarterbacks Drew Barker and Stephen Johnson and says Barker is No. 1.

We saw glimpses of that Saturday. Spring games are usually not much more than a big bowl of vanilla and that was primarily the case at Commonwealth Stadium. No sense giving those tuning in on the SEC Network anything they might be able to use against the Cats come fall.

Barker was solid, if not a tad better. Receiver Ryan Timmons, early candidate for Comeback Player of the Year honors, showed his speed on a long touchdown catch-and-run. So did Jeff Badet, who showed off a nice stop-and-smart cutback move. C.J. Conrad made a nice touchdown catch in traffic, which brought back fond memories of what tight ends used to do around here.

Defensive end Denzil Ware couldn’t be blocked, which is good or bad, such is the nature of spring games. The secondary should be a strength. The jury is out on the defensive line. The linebackers have ability but practically no experience. In the SEC, it’s not easy being green.

Stoops must find a defensive ends coach/special teams coordinator to replace Andy Buh, who recently left to be the defensive coordinator at Maryland. But the combo hire of new offensive coordinator Eddie Gran and quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw is getting good early reviews. Gran has been around long enough to know the sharp curves up ahead. Hinshaw is a technician for a position where technique can make a difference.

By all accounts, the spring was a good start, nothing more, nothing less. The BBN has become accustomed to the tease of a good start. It wants to see a strong #finish. So does the head coach.

Kentucky football 2016 schedule

Date

Opponent

2015 result

9/3/16

Southern Miss

 

9/10/16

@Florida

Lost 14-9

9/17/16

New Mexico St

 

9/24/16

South Carolina

Won 26-22

10/1/16

@Alabama

 

10/8/16

Vanderbilt

Lost 21-17

10/22/16

Mississippi St

Lost 42-16

10/29/16

@Missouri

Won 21-13

11/5/16

Georgia

Lost 27-3

11/12/16

@Tennessee

Lost 52-21

11/19/16

Austin Peay

 

11/26/16

@Louisville

Lost 38-24

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