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The Big Blue Nation finally got an up close and personal look at the Cats on Saturday during its open practice on Fan Day. There’s been a plethora of speculation about Liam Coen’s new offense and the quarterback position leading into fall camp. I came away with a few observations after spending a couple hours in a hot Kroger Field. Let’s dig deeper shall we?
First, we’ll take a look at the quarterback position. Will Levis has tremendous arm talent. The football jumps off his hand and he possesses a quick release. The former Penn State quarterback demonstrated the ability to make all the throws in the passing tree and impressed during team periods. Beau Allen also played at a high level and displayed accuracy in the intermediate passing game. Joey Gatewood ran with the first team offense and had some success. The QB battle is long from over. All three candidates had promising moments. But, it’s hard to establish continuity when pass catchers are rotating on a regularbasis. If I had to rank the trio after today’s practice I’d go with Levis, Allen, and then Gatewood.
The Big Blue Wall continues to be the team’s strength. While depth charts are fluid this early in camp, guard Eli Cox and tackle Jeremy Flax were running with the ones along with veterans Luke Fortner, Darian Kinnard, and Kenneth Horsey. True freshmen Jager Burton and David Wohlabough were primary backups at guard and tackle respectively. LSU transfer Dare Rosenthal was behind Kinnard at left tackle. Rosenthal’s talent and imposing size are undeniable. This was especially evident during one-on-one blocking periods. He’s far too talented to not be on the field in 2021. Eli Cox’s emergence and development were evident and a significant takeaway from Saturday’s practice.
Wan’Dale Robinson and Josh Ali highlighted the receiver position. Both are potential stars in the SEC. However, the depth chart remains fluid after those two. Rahsaan Lewis is presenting as a vertical threat after catching multiple deep passes. This position group is filled with youthful players but will yet again be under the microscope. The Wildcats will need to identify additional, consistent contributors in order to sustain a threatening passing attack. Again, it’s early. There’s plenty of time to construct an adequate rotation.
Losing tight end Keaton Upshaw hurts. There’s no way aroundthat fact. However, freshman Jordan Dingle and former receiver Izayah Cummings were fluid in their routes and appeared to be implemented at the position. Both will factor in 2021 and could be prominent contributors in the passing game. Veterans Justin Rigg and Brenden Bates started the team period on the field at the same time. Multiple tight end sets look to be a primary option for the Cats.
The Wildcats are deep and talented at the running back position. Chris Rodriguez Jr. is the real deal. He appears leaner and possesses a quicker burst than he displayed last season. Arguably the best running back in the SEC, Rodriguez Jr. showed the ability to catch passes out of the backfield after securing a seam or vertical reception on Saturday. Kavosiey Smoke was limited and didn’t participate in team periods. JuTahn McClain impressed and is a versatile option for a change of pace runner that can also be aligned all over the football field.Freshman La’Vell Wright is a perfect fit for Coen’s system. His strengths are his vision and cut-back ability which are prerequisites in an outside zone scheme. The running back position is a team strength.
What Does All This Mean?
It’s day two of fall camp. Jumping to conclusions from a helmet-only outing wouldn’t be the smart play. But, there were aspects of Kentucky’s offense that looked and sounded different. For starters, the Wildcats huddled. Quarterbacks called cadence. Hey, those are big changes and I strongly approved. Offensive pace was faster than before. We may not have the full understanding of Liam Coen’s offense until the Missouri Tigers roll into town on September 11. However, it’s obvious that the new play caller is committed to finding balance.
Kentucky’s offense was basic on Saturday. It executed base plays and didn’t venture too deeply into the playbook. There were also several new faces getting reps. In addition, there was an obvious emphasis on the passing game. I’m fairly certain that’s why the former Rams assistant was brought to Lexington. But, it’s going to take time to develop additional receivers into downfield pass catchers. Fall camp is a marathon, not a sprint.
The offense appeared to be more comfortable when it ran the football. There’s years of familiarity in this phase of the game so that’s to be expected. The ground game was ahead of the passing attack on Saturday. As of now, offensive strengths are at offensive line and running back. Taking advantage of established strengths on the ground will lead to effective play action and boot leg action by the time the Cats take on Louisiana Monroe.
There’s a lot to like about Kentucky’s new offense but it will take some time to refine. Coen’s hire was an intentional move to revamp the Wildcat’s passing game which ranked last in the SEC for the past three seasons. The Cat’s second fall camp practice was a promising look of what lies ahead.