Kentucky held its second scrimmage on Saturday. Mark Stoops, DJ Eliot, and Eddie Gran took to the podium afterwards for rapid fire questions with media expectation (me included) for a sense of finality that can only be discovered after extensive film study. As in all scrimmages when Kentucky is taking on UK, there were positives, negatives, and concerns. Nevertheless, Saturday’s press conference had a strange vibe to it.
Positives, Negatives, and Concerns
-- The defense forced a three-and-out on the first drive which also included a QB sack. The opening of Saturday’s action was encouraging as the defense apparently got their butts handed to them in the first scrimmage.
-- Derrick Baity intercepted a Drew Barker pass. Much of camp talk has surrounded Chris Westry. CB Derrick Baity is equally as talented and will provide difficulties for opposing receivers.
-- Jordan Bonner’s name keeps surfacing when coaches are asked about rising outside linebackers.
Bonner is a pass rush specialist. Early thought was that he’d redshirt this fall. With pass rush limitations, Stoops/Eliot will be forced to play any and all defenders that can impede quarterbacks in the pocket. Kobie Walker is another name that has been consistently praised over the past two weeks. Walker is where I sense that defensive personnel’s diversity will lead to schematic multiplicity. The cold hard truth is that due to attrition (Hatcher, Meant, and Tubman), UK is not talented or deep enough to run a base defense and succeed in the Southeastern Conference. The kitchen sink may be thrown.
-- LB Di’Niro Laster has recently been working inside. After originally playing outside linebacker, Laster’s move could be related to Jordan Bonner/Kobie Walker’s surge in the depth chart or lackluster play from the first and second team, inside backers. Kentucky’s front seven (defensive line and linebackers) will remain an enigma until kickoff on 3 September.
Explanation: Lots of moving parts, inexperience, and lack of quality depth could force Stoops/Eliot to adjust scheme and rotation. The most telling and prevalent portion of the press conference was the duo’s overbearing concern about depth, or the lack thereof.
-- Tackling is a mandatory fundamental football skill. Stoops and Eliot both harped on their discontent with the defense’s ability to take opponents to the ground. First pass is that this should not be unexpected given that the scrimmage was the team’s second attempt at total game-like conditions. But, it’s much deeper than that. To make up for personnel deficiencies, this defense must masterfully execute basic fundamentals in addition to manufacturing explosive plays. To go to a bowl game, the Cats can’t survive with either/or; it must be effective at both.
-- Current defensive line situation could lead to a revolving door depth chart. I expect to see various fronts and substitution patterns as there is no clear cut definition of its starting lineup or two-deep rotation. Concern here is directed squarely on the shoulders of Tymere Dubose, Naquez Pringle, Alvonte Bell, TJ Carter, Kordell Looney and Kengera Daniel. This group must maximize every practice rep and instructional opportunity.
-- Both Mark Stoops and DJ Eliot expressed earnest concern about the front seven.
Linebacker and defensive line depth were the most critical points of discussion in the offseason. With two weeks remaining until the high flying Southern Miss Golden Eagles come to town, that concern may have evolved into anxiety. Both coaches' facial expressions were solemn when discussing the matter.
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-- Kayaune Ross continues to make big plays. On the second drive, the 6’6, 230-pound receiver caught a 60-yard touchdown pass. Ross has attributed for three touchdown catches in UK’s two camp scrimmages if you’re keeping score at home. Ross is raw and needs to develop a better understanding of the offense; however, he’s been dynamic in one-on-one situations.
-- Eddie Gran backed up his original “next man up” mantra by discussing Boom Williams’ scrimmage participation as competition remains at running back. Gran said this in a complimentary fashion. Fully expect Boom to be 100% for the opener but if he’s not, the team and offense must go on.
-- Drew Barker continues to be consistent. The offense continued to impress other than the scrimmage’s first three-and-out and not finishing its fourth drive. Let me stress “good” not great. There’s a great deal of improvement that needs to take place in order for the Cats to start the season 1-0. Stephen Johnson and Gunnar Hoak are also developing under Darin Hinshaw’s tutelage.
-- True freshman tight end Justin Rigg continues to impress. Rigg gives Gran three pass catching targets from a position that has struggled since Jacob Tamme’s departure.
-- The offense has not been turnover prone during fall camp. Much like the defense, Gran’s crew has to excel at the “little things” that add up to points on the scoreboard. Apparently Kentucky’s offense will have to carry this team if postseason play is going to come to fruition.
What does all this mean?
The coaching staff has a great deal to process from Saturday’s scrimmage. From that practice will come the opening game depth chart, scout team, and redshirt decisions. Saturday’s press conference was odd. This was mainly due to the scrimmage being on a Saturday and coaches being anxious to depart the podium to evaluate film in order to see exactly what and who they have for 2016. I’ve known several coaches that believe that fall camp’s last scrimmage defines a team and season. 14 days separate Saturday’s dress rehearsal from the real show. Lots and lots of work still needs to be done.