John Clay

Three reasons UK football could actually be different this year

Quarterback Drew Barker signed Lane McConathy’s jersey during UK Football Fan Day inside Nutter Field House on Saturday.
Quarterback Drew Barker signed Lane McConathy’s jersey during UK Football Fan Day inside Nutter Field House on Saturday.

At Friday’s Kentucky football’s annual Media Day, a veteran of the event happened to be walking when he stopped with a brief observation.

“Heard it all before,” he said.

Yes, we have. We’ve heard it before. The team is together. The team is in shape. The team is anxiously looking forward to the season ahead. The coaches can’t wait to get out on the practice field and get started. This could be the year when it all turns around. Yada yada yada.

So what’s different? Or, if you’re a long-suffering Kentucky football fan, what are some things that might make you think that this year, this 2016 season, could actually be different than the past few seasons?

Here are three:

First — No quarterback controversy. Really since the first time since head coach Mark Stoops stepped on campus, there is not an argument over who should start at quarterback. Stoops’ first year, it was Jalen Whitlow versus Maxwell Smith. They ended up sharing the job as Patrick Towles redshirted. Second year, Towles took over as starter, but there was a lot of talk about highly-coveted recruit Drew Barker, who ended up redshirting. Last year, Towles and Barker battled until Stoops named Towles the starter, only to have Barker take over the starting spot for the final two games.

Not this year. Towles took the graduate transfer route to Boston College. At the end of spring practice, Stoops formally announced what everyone pretty much knew all along. Barker is the man. And he is the man, as was demonstrated during Saturday’s open practice as part of the team’s annual Fan Day festivities.

Yes, the four quarterbacks each took reps, but there was no debate about who was in command. Barker threw bullets. He lofted long passes. He checked down to running backs underneath coverage. Not every throw was on target, but a great many were right on the button. And, at the risk of repeating ourselves, Barker has the makings of a high-risk, high-reward quarterback. He’s going to take chances.

Second — UK is not counting on untested true freshmen in key spots. To prove this point, here’s one example.

Jordan Griffin is a well-regarded defensive freshman back from Jonesboro, Ga. A couple of years ago, or even last year, Griffin would be on the field right away, not necessarily because of talent but because of need. Stoops would have needed Griffin to play right away to try and solve a problem spot. Not now. Stoops has a secondary pretty much set with sophomores Chris Westry, Derrick Baity, Darius West and Mike Edwards. He has experience with seniors Blake McClain, J.D. Harmon and Marcus McWilson. He has a promising redshirt freshman in Marcus Walker, who made an interception on Saturday.

Thus, he can afford to bring Griffin and former Henry Clay star Davonte Robinson on slowly. Those guys didn’t make it on the field until late in 11-on-11 drills. Griffin even picked off a pass. The promising youngsters can provide depth without being counted on too quickly.

Third — New facilities. Instead of holding its Fan Day open practice at Commonwealth Stadium, as has been the norm, Stoops used the new practice fields at the new Football Training Facility. Emphasis on new.

The combination of last year’s renovation of Commonwealth Stadium, plus this year’s addition of the $45 million training center and practice fields, gives the program more of an SEC feel. The administration and donors have made the investment to bring UK up to the level of other conference schools in terms of facilities.

That may not show up immediately in the win-loss column, but it has to give the current players a motivational and psychological boost. It’s like moving from an old, aging house into a spacious, newer model. There’s a upbeat, optimistic feel to it.

Will these three factors make this year’s outcome different? We won’t know until the end of November. But here, in the first week of August, after just a pair of practices, there’s always hope for change.

Kentucky football starters on depth chart

Unit

Pos

Player

Class

Off

LT

Cole Mosier

Jr

Off

LG

Nick Haynes

Jr

Off

C

Jon Toth

Sr

Off

RG

Ramsey Meyers

Jr

Off

RT

Kyle Meadows

Jr

Off

TE

C.J. Conrad

So

Off

WR

Jeff Badet

Jr

Off

WR

Ryan Timmons

Sr

Off

WR

Garrett Johnson

Jr

Off

WR

Dorian Baker

Jr

Off

QB

Drew Barker

So

Off

RB

Boom Williams

Jr

Def

DE/SLB

Josh Allen

So

Def

DT

Regie Meant

Jr

Def

NG

Matt Elam

Jr

Def

DE

Courtney Miggins

Sr

Def

DE/OLB

Denzil Ware

So

Def

MLB

Courtney Love

Jr

Def

WLB

Jordan Jones

So

Def

CB

Derrick Baity

So

Def

SS

Mike Edwards

So

Def

FS

Blake McClain

Sr

Def

CB

Chris Westry

So

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