The University of Kentucky has postponed its April 11 spring game and the remainder of spring practice.
The Wildcats, along with the rest of the Southeastern Conference, would greatly benefit from the extra practices during the spring. These sessions are primarily used to build depth, gain experience, and become familiar with the playbook. However, based on game experience, Kentucky is built to survive the loss of additional work.
UK returns a high number of starters and experienced contributors at critical positions. Additionally, rule changes allow more on-the-field instruction during the summer months which will ease the loss of reps. Kentucky opens its season against Eastern Michigan on September 5. The opener will serve as a test-drive before the Wildcats head to Gainesville to face the Florida Gators. Let’s take a look at the offense and defense and how the lack of spring practice could impact the 2020 season:
The obvious concern is the quarterback position. Terry Wilson was limited; thus Sawyer Smith was taking the majority of snaps with the first team. Word is that he’s returned to his pre-injury status in both confidence and capability. Joey Gatewood, Beau Allen, and Amani Gilmore could have gained experience through reps, timing, and system familiarity. The lack of spring practice limits overall depth development. But, Wilson’s projected return will be the story of fall camp.
The other glaring position under scrutiny is at left guard. Gone is Logan Stenberg. Enter veterans Kenneth Horsey and Austin Dotson. Both badly needed repetitions. Competition for this spot will be intense. However, don’t sleep on incoming freshman RJ Adams and junior college transfer Jeremy Flax. Both are fully capable of immediate consideration. The Big Blue Wall returns four starters that will compete for All-American and All-SEC honors.
The running back position is comprised of three veterans that rushed for over 500 yards respectively. Gran’s plan to implement freshmen JuTahn McClain and Travis Tisdale into the rotation is now on hold. The offensive position that could have benefited from spring practice the most other than quarterback is wide receiver. UK has to replace Ahmad Wagner and Lynn Bowden Jr. But, let’s be honest, this group didn’t catch many passes in 2019 and should have been chomping at the bit to see some catchable passes in the spring.
Josh Ali is the Cat’s top returning pass catcher. Allen Dailey Jr, Clevan Thomas, Bryce Oliver, and others can use summer throwing sessions organized by the quarterbacks to regain their place in the offense.
Coach Vince Marrow brings back all of his tight ends and fullbacks. Justin Rigg and Keaton Upshaw will be essential passing targets for Terry Wilson. TE/FB Drew Schlegel also comes back to provide in-line blocking.
Phil Hoskins’ return after missing 2019 and Josh Paschal’s move to the interior answer two questions at defensive end following the departure of TJ Carter and Calvin Taylor Jr. Rising senior Kordell Looney is another experienced player at DE. Nose tackles Quinton Bohanna and Marquan McCall are veterans and upper echelon players that shouldn’t be impacted by missing reps. Spring practice could have given Coach Anwar Stewart the chance to develop depth and a wealth of youth. But, his core group remains in place.
Much like the defensive line, Kentucky’s starting rotation at linebacker is mostly in place. This group is talented, fast, and most importantly, experienced. Junior inside linebackers Chris Oats and DeAndre Square are poised to compete for All-SEC honors. They’re joined by veteran backup Jamin Davis. OLB Boogie Watson is the conference’s top returning QB sack leader and will likely be joined by Jordan Wright on the outside. JJ Weaver, Xavier Peters, and KD McDaniel could have used the extra tutelage under Brad White.
The secondary returns starting cornerbacks Brandin Echols and Cedrick Dort. Jamari Brown and Kelvin Joseph will make a push to enter the starting rotation. Safety Davonte Robinson is scheduled to return after missing 2019 due to injury. Robinson joins Yusuf Corker and Quandre Mosely to compose a formidable collection of veterans at safety/nickel. Lots of talented returning starters/contributors and newcomers in this group (Taj Dodson, MJ Devonshire, Moe Douglass, Dru Phillips, Joel Williams to name a few). Expect multiple position competitions in fall camp.
What Does All This Mean?
Football is irrelevant given our current pandemic situation. Stay safe out there.
But, with spring practice postponed, UK has a core group of returning starters and contributors to sustain going into fall camp.