Every year when the calendar turns to March it usually means one thing for the members of the Big Blue Nation. Will the Wildcats make another run in the NCAA tournament and bring home title number nine? However March also means the beginning of spring practice for Mark Stoops and the football Wildcats. Today it is time for the Kentucky Wildcats Spring Football Preview.
You ready? We are.
— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) March 5, 2017
Coming off a 7-6 record and the school’s first bowl game in five years, the trick now is to continue the momentum. Having one of the youngest squads last season with only 11 seniors, the Cats return many of their key players from 2016. However there are a few question marks heading into the spring.
Replacing Play Makers on Offense
Who backs up Stephen Johnson at quarterback?– Heading into spring practice Johnson is the unquestioned leader of the offense. The question is who will be his backup?
Drew Barker headed the depth chart going into the 2016 season. However he was injured during the Florida game and missed the rest of the campaign. Barker is coming off back surgery and while he will take part in drills he will be held out of contact.
Behind Barker is Luke Wright and Gunnar Hoak. Wright, a transfer from Cincinnati, started against Austin Peay in the season’s next to last game. However when the Cats fell behind 13-0 he was quickly benched in favor of Johnson. According to the coaching staff Hoak has shown much improvement during spring practice and for now has the inside track.
Benny Snell’s backup will be??– The “Boom and Benny Show” is no more in Lexington. Stanley “Boom” Williams is trying to turn heads for the upcoming NFL Draft. Mikel Horton transferred and Jojo Kemp graduated. As a result the Cats are missing over 1,500 yards rushing and 13 TD’s from last year.
Offensive Coordinators Eddie Gran and Darrin Hinshaw will turn to a talented yet inexperienced group for Snell’s backup. Siheim King is the leader heading into the spring with A.J. Rose just behind him. In 2016 King ran the ball 11 times for 81 yards.
Eddie Gran was high on RB Sihiem King today. Also stressed competition & time for some to step up-earn scholarship, no more free food.
— Freddie Maggard (@FredMaggard) March 7, 2017
The Cats also have early enrollee Bryant Koback, but he will sit out the spring recovering from a broken leg.
Kentucky’s big play guy will be whom??- Receivers coach Lamar Thomas got a surprise when Jeff Badet decided to transfer. In his place the Cats are taking a next man up mentality. Garrett Johnson is first on the depth chart and was one of the Cats big play guys in 2016.
Johnson led the Cats in receiving last year with 39 catches for 585 yards and five touchdowns. His breakout game came in the 41-38 upset of Louisville with 164 yards and two scores.
Kentucky has a number of weapons behind Johnson, however many are unproven. Blake Bone, Tavin Richardson and Jabari Greenwood have the potential to become that guy. They just have to take that next step.
Big Shoes to Fill on the Offensive Line- After starting all but one game in his four years at Kentucky, Jon Toth graduated leaving a big hole at center. Junior Jervontius “Bunchy” Stallings and redshirt freshman Drake Jackson are fighting for the spot. If the season started today, Stallings would get the nod.
Bunchy Stallings is athletic and a perfectionist. He's playing well at center spot, Gran said.
— Jen Smith (@jenheraldleader) March 7, 2017
Defensive Changes Under Matt House
After being torched in the first two games of 2016 Stoops took over defensive play calling duties from DJ Eliot. The former Pittsburgh coordinator Matt House is the new man in charge of the defense as Eliot moved onto Colorado. Stoops says make no mistake House will the guy in charge.
Stoops says that new defensive coordinator @CoachMHouse will call the plays on defense, but he will be there to help if needed.
— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) March 6, 2017
In addition to House Kentucky has four other coaches with defensive coordinator experience.
Last season the Wildcats finally broke through and got to that elusive bowl game. There is more momentum around the program since the late 1990’s. As a result it will be up to Stoops’ Troops to keep the buzz going.