Kentucky has wrapped up their first full week of training camp as the season-opener against ULM is just three weeks away. The Wildcats are installing a new offense and have a defense that is loaded with experience. Meanwhile, an injury scare wasn’t what it seemed just a day or so after the fact.
There are a lot of good things happening behind closed doors at the Joe Craft Football Training Facility. With the pads on and depth chart considerations being made, here is what KSR learned about the Kentucky football team on Saturday.
Buy Izayah Cummings stock
Every fall camp there is a star that emerges. In 2018, it was slot receiver David Bouvier, and in 2019 it was defensive end T.J. Carter. Usually, an upperclassman steps up to the plate and is ready to make a splash. However, this year it has been a second-year player.
In every media session since camp began, sophomore tight end Izayah Cummings has been a talking point. Right before the season, the 6-foot-3 wide receiver decided to move to tight end. The potential of the move was tantalizing due to the athleticism that the Louisville (Ky.) Male High product could bring to the position, but offensive coordinator Liam Coen was tempering expectations to start.
That is out the window now.
On Saturday, both head coach Mark Stoops and wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson gave praise to Cummings. The sophomore was comped to an all-time great college football player, and the head coach continues to be wowed by what Cummings is bringing to the offense.
“I think he’s a difference-maker,” said Stoops. “He’s just so natural — it’s so friendly to the quarterbacks, somebody that’s that athletic with that kind of catch radius and is so smooth.”
Pass rush is developing
Last season, Kentucky finished 113th nationally (4.04%) sack rate. Only Arkansas ranked lower in the SEC. This was on the heels of the 2018 and 2019 teams ranking in the top-25 in sack rate. Fixing the pass rush was an obvious point of emphasis for defensive coordinator Brad White heading into 2021.
Josh Paschal will play an integral role in the team’s pass rush this season. The redshirt senior has twitchiness that can help create havoc in passing situations. After being banged up for most of last season, Paschal and the defense are looking to improve in that area. This group is making strides.
“I think we’re doing pretty good,” Paschal said about the pass rush. “We got after it today on pass rush, we had some good rushes. Jordan Wright’s been looking really good, we had some young guys get after it today as well. It’s going good so far.”
We won’t know if the pass rush has truly improved until Kentucky plays a game this season. However, the program knows it is a major weakness and is working on correcting that weakness this preseason.
Martez Thrower, Trevin Wallace are flashing
To close the 2021 class in the late signing period, Kentucky landed top-100 prospect Trevin Wallace out of South Georgia. The blue-chipper joined Martez Thrower as two players from the same region coming north to Lexington to play inside linebacker. On tape, both players excelled at running and tackling — two great traits for linebackers to have. The head coach loves what he’s seeing from the rookies.
“They’re just players. They’re just good football players,” Stoops said about Thrower and Wallace. “They don’t know what they’re doing with all the calls yet, but they can tackle the guy with the ball. And that’s what you’re looking for, right?”
The addition of Ole Miss transfer Jacquez Jones gives Kentucky more depth at linebacker and allows the Wildcats to bring the two rookies on slowly. The duo is learning, but their skill level is evident. Expect both to at least help out on special teams at a bare minimum this year.
— Stoops confirmed that this is an old team and player-led. That experience gives the coaches more flexibility, and the ninth-year head coach believes the super senior movement has been a great development for both player and program in Lexington.
— New punter Wilson Berry is currently out of the lineup with a “minor issue” according to the head coach. That will be something to monitor moving forward. Placekicker Chance Poore was spotted punting during the open practice at Kroger Field last weekend.
— The offense and defense both played well in the scrimmage on Saturday. That has resulted in many happy campers. Kentucky’s offense is creating explosive plays in practice settings while the staff knows what it has in a veteran defense. The team and coaching staff are confident.