Sidelines with John Clay

Attrition rears its ugly head early in Kentucky football’s fall camp

UK head football coach Mark Stoops has to fill in gaps left by the loss of defensive tackle Regie Meant and sophomore safety Darius West, both projected as starters.
UK head football coach Mark Stoops has to fill in gaps left by the loss of defensive tackle Regie Meant and sophomore safety Darius West, both projected as starters. Lexington Herald-Leader

There is this impression a college football team’s fall training camp is all about blocking and tackling and installing schemes and practicing the necessary fundamentals. Not so.

Training camp is really about attrition.

Kentucky learned that the hard way last week, losing a pair of projected starters on the defensive side of the football before the Sept. 3 opener against visiting and highly dangerous Southern Miss.

On Monday, head coach Mark Stoops broke the unexpected news that junior defensive tackle Regie Meant had left the team indefinitely for personal reasons. A key reserve last season, Meant was not just expected to succeed the graduated C.J. Johnson but also make an impact.

Then Saturday, Stoops announced sophomore safety Darius West, who was practicing with the first team, had suffered yet another leg injury and would miss the season. It was another tough break for the Lima, Ohio native who broke his leg not once but twice in 2014.

“You really feel for him with the injuries he’s had already in his career and how hard he’s fought through to bounce back,” defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said Saturday. “It’s disappointing that he’s not going to be able to reap the rewards this year.”

There are hardly cases isolated to Kentucky, however. Already, three weeks before the college game jumps from the starting blocks, everywhere you look the headlines are filled with season-ending injuries and surprise departures.

At LSU, starting defensive end Christian LaCouture and reserve linebacker Isaiah Washington are both lost for the season with knee injuries. Last Wednesday, senior outside linebacker Corey Thompson suffered a lower leg injury that will delay his start to the season. On Thursday, wide receiver Tyron Johnson announced he had been granted his release and will transfer.

At Auburn, head coach Gus Malzahn booted talented running back Javon Robinson after alleged incidents with women and teammates. A short time later, Auburn defensive back Jamel Dean suffered a knee injury that will put him on the shelf for “an extended period of time.”

At Florida State, quarterback Sean Maguire will miss at least four weeks with bone spurs. He’s not expected to be available for the Seminoles’ Sept. 5 opener against Ole Miss in Orlando.

At Vanderbilt, offensive lineman Andrew Jelks will miss his second straight season because of knee injuries. At Georgia, starting linebacker Tim Kimbrough will transfer after reportedly not seeing eye-to-eye with the new coaching staff. At West Virginia, safety and returning leading tackler Dravon Askew-Henry is out for the season after suffering a knee injury.

It’s the annual camp conundrum. Coaches hold their breath in hopes everyone remains present and accounted for. Some coaches go light on contact drills in an effort to preserve depth. Others feel you have to be physical to properly prepare your team and cross their fingers. Alas, sometimes things knock you down you don’t even see coming.

For Kentucky, the early attrition is concerning given the circumstances. While the Cats have a new quarterback in Drew Barker and new offense under coordinator Eddie Gran, the team’s more pressing questions appear to be on defense. Stoops and Eliot feel they have closed the skill gap, but expect plenty of on-the-job training.

As for Meant’s spot, Eliot said Saturday he has been working with Adrian Middleton, the 303-pound sophomore from Bowling Green. He was also quick to mention, however, that freshmen T.J. Carter, Kordell Looney and Ja’Quize Cross had shown flashes. “It’ll be interesting to see how it pans out,” Eliot said.

Same goes for the secondary, which actually boasts players who have actually played. Veterans Blake McClain and Marcus McWilson are likely to fill West’s spot, though redshirt freshman Marcus Walker is a wild card. “I’ve seen him make a big jump about the last four, five, six days,” Stoops said.

Timing is the silver lining. Thankfully, UK lost Meant and West early in drills and not on the eve of the USM game. The coaches can consider options, devise plans and afford the replacements practice reps.

They’ll also be knocking any available wood. There’s still nearly three weeks to Sept. 3. Attrition probably isn’t finished.

Kentucky football 2016 schedule

Date

Opponent

9/3/16

Southern Miss

9/10/16

at Florida

9/17/16

New Mexico St

9/24/16

South Carolina

10/1/16

at Alabama

10/8/16

Vanderbilt

10/22/16

Mississippi St

10/29/16

at Missouri

11/5/16

Georgia

11/12/16

at Tennessee

11/19/16

Austin Peay

11/26/16

at Louisville

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