Mark Story

What happens when a Louisville high school football star commits to Kentucky

Eddie Gran breaks down UK’s running backs for 2019

UK offensive coordinator talks about the competition to replace Benny Snell as the Wildcats' top running back in the 2019 season. AJ Rose is among those vying for more carries.
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UK offensive coordinator talks about the competition to replace Benny Snell as the Wildcats' top running back in the 2019 season. AJ Rose is among those vying for more carries.

Quick hitters from the Blue-White Spring Game after parties:

21. Jared Casey. The true freshman linebacker from Ballard High School was one of four Jefferson County products to sign football scholarships with the University of Kentucky in the class of 2019.

20. The Twitter reaction. After the 6-foot-1, 232-pound Casey, an early enrollee at UK, tied for the White Team lead with six tackles in Friday night’s Blue-White spring football game, I asked what it was like for a player from the home of the University of Louisville to commit to Kentucky?

19. Feeling the “love.” Perhaps because the hometown Cardinals were fresh off a 2-10 shipwreck when Casey committed to UK last December, the linebacker says the reaction on Twitter to his choosing the Cats was mostly positive. “I got a lot of love,” he says.

18. Ducks “hate.” Before casting his lot with Kentucky, Casey had been verbally pledged to play football for Oregon. “When I decommitted from Oregon, I got a lot of hate from Oregon fans,” Casey says.

17. An advantage gained. By going through a college spring practice in what could have been his final months of high school, Casey says he learned something valuable. “You can’t think too much,” he says. “You’ve got to play fast, but not think too much.”

16. UK’s cornerback quandary. All four corners who were on the 2018 Kentucky two-deep depth chart during the Wildcats’ 10-3 season are gone. Seniors Derrick Baity, Lonnie Johnson and Chris Westry ran out of eligibility; redshirt freshman Michael Nesbitt left the program.

15. Filling their shoes. In the Blue-White game, it appeared that incoming junior-college transfer Brandin Echols and redshirt sophomore Cedrick Dort were the first-team CBs.

14. Trust earned. UK linebacker Chris Oats singled out Echols, a 6-foot, 180-pound junior from Northwest Mississippi Community College, as a player who impressed this spring. “We trust him back there,” Oats said.

13. Digging the deep ball. Kentucky has an obvious need to enhance its vertical passing game. UK offensive coordinator Eddie Gran was encouraged when starting quarterback Terry Wilson connected with wideout Isaiah Epps on a 60-yard bomb Friday night.

12. “Threw a great ball.” “It was nice to see Epps finish that play on that deep ball,” Gran said. “Terry threw a great deep ball. Those are the ones we’ve got to make.”

Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops talks to the media after his team’s annual Blue-White Spring Game on Friday, April 12, 2019. Stoops said he was happy with the way his first-teamers performed on offense and defense.

11. Oklahoma connection. Wilson and Epps have a home-state bond. The UK quarterback, a redshirt junior, is from Oklahoma City; the wide receiver, a junior, is from Jenks, Okla.

10. “A little chemistry.” “We knew each other before we got here,” Epps says of Wilson. “(That) kind of builds a little chemistry.”

9. Room to improve. Wilson completed 67.3 percent of his passes last season, but UK was last in the SEC in passing. The Cats averaged only 164.8 passing yards a game.

UK quarterback Terry Wilson talks about the opening days of spring practice with the Wildcats football teams. Wilson is returning to Kentucky for his second season as the starter.

8. A QB’s progression. Gran says the biggest improvement Wilson showed this spring was in “knowing where to go with the ball. We’re still working on (passing) accuracy.”

7. Losing the right side. UK must replace the right side of its offensive line, since both right guard Bunchy Stallings, an AP First Team All-American, and right tackle George Asafo-Adjei have graduated.

6. The replacements. In the Blue-White game, it appeared that Kentucky was alternating senior Mason Wolfe and junior Luke Fortner at right guard and sophomores Nassir Watkins and Darrian Kinnard at right tackle.

5. Landon Young. After missing last season with a torn ACL, UK starting left tackle Landon Young returned with a strong spring. “He didn’t miss a (practice) rep,” Gran said. “. ... He looks stronger. He’s done a good job of working on his pass protection.”

Landon Young, a 6-7, 324-pound right tackle, talks about his return to Kentucky football practice after recovering from knee surgery.

4. Replacing an iconic RB. UK all-time leading rusher Benny Snell gave up his final season of eligibility to enter the 2019 NFL Draft. Kentucky still looks to have capable backs in redshirt junior A.J. Rose and redshirt freshmen Kavosiey Smoke and Christopher Rodriguez.

3. A RB quartet? Gran says incoming freshman Travis Tisdale, a 5-9, 175-pound product of Valdosta, Ga., will be given a chance to earn a place in UK’s 2019 running back rotation in the fall.

2. An echo of “Boom?” Tisdale, Gran says, could give the Kentucky offense some of the big-play capacity former Wildcats running back Boom Williams (2014-16) once provided.

1. A “change of pace.” Tisdale is “going to be a guy who is a little different (than UK’s other backs), a 10.6 (seconds) 100-meter (dash) guy,” Gran says. “I think he’s going to be the guy with the speed and a little bit of a change-up.”

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Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a Herald-Leader sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.
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