The news out of yesterday’s Kentucky football practice was not entirely positive. Head Coach Mark Stoops confirmed that starting defensive lineman Regie Meant was on an indefinite hiatus from the team due to personal reasons, leaving a huge hole up front.
The word from UK Offensive Coordinator Eddie Gran was much more subdued coming out today’s practice, the team’s first in full pads. Coach Gran discussed the team’s progress in learning the new offense, tight ends and the situation at wide receiver, a subject that the new position coach Lamar Thomas chimed in about as well.
New Offense Coming Together Nicely
One of the challenges of this preseason camp is that the Kentucky offense is still learning a new offense, their third in the last four seasons. Coach Gran seemed pleased with how his unit is handling the learning curve thus far.
"I thought they handled it really well. I thought they came out with energy after five days of practice and executed really really well today", Gran said.
Over the summer, members of the offense took old playbooks and ran their own version of practices. While Gran stated that he was excited about their workmanlike attitude, methods such as that are an expectation and not a cause for celebration.
"We have high expectations for this offense," Gran explained,"and with high expectation you’ve got to pay a price." He also reiterated a point that Mark Stoops made on media day about how the team needed to focus on doing the small things well, and today at practice Gran said he saw the team focusing on the "details."
Competition at Tight End is Fierce
Recruiting and keeping quality tight ends on the roster is crucial in today’s college football, Gran said, and finding athletes to fit the position is equally as challenging.
However, even with the departure of Darryl Long, the Wildcats are in good shape at the position, where the remaining players are pushing each other for playing time.
"Justin Riggs is pushing Greg Hart and CJ (Conrad) to get on the field," Gran said.
So far has Riggs has exhibited "soft hands", a willingness to listen to coaching, and "loves the game", in addition to his tremendous size and speed, said Gran.
Gran also noted how the camaraderie between return players Hart and Conrad inspires them to push on another every day in practice, which he views as essential for building a quality football team.
Drew Barker Was on Target
During today’s practice, Gran said that Drew Barker throws started a little low due to it being the first time he has worn pads since the spring but that Barker’s completion percentage was about "70 percent" by the end of practice.
And while Barker is making precise throws, Gran is more impressed with how he is handling his teammates on the field.
"If somebody's not lined up right, he now knows – 'Hey hey, c'mon, get over there. We got motion. You're starting there, coming this way,'" Gran said. "And that's what he's got to do…We didn't see that much in the spring and I'm asking him to be more vocal that way because if the back's on the wrong side eventually, it's gonna be him that gets his rear end knocked into the dirt."
Lamar Thomas Loves His Wideouts
Wide Receivers Coach Lamar Thomas gushed about how hard his players are competing.
"Oh man, it’s been great. The competition is awesome. These guys are working every day to get better. They are understanding that in the meeting room they can be sitting in the front room today but tomorrow they could be sitting in the fourth room."
The increased competition is good because Thomas expects to have "six to eight" players in the rotation by the first week of the season.
Thomas, like Stoops and Gran, stressed that for the wide receivers to leave up to their tremendous potential that they must hold each other accountable, and so far veterans like Jeff Badet and Garret Johnson have developed as leaders who will do just that.
After a long redshirt season, Jabari Greenwood and Tavin Richardson have come ready to "earn or steal a position". Coach Thomas said that both players have a smile on their face each day in practice and are working hard.
Finally, JUCO transfer Kayaune Ross, whose size earned him a mention as "Godzilla" by Coach Thomas, is still trying to acclimate himself after a year off from football. Despite the layoff, his height and ability will make it hard for him to stay off the field.
Heralded five-star offensive line recruit is still adjusting to college life, but Eddie Gran seems pleased with the Lexington native.
"He’s got a lot going on with all the calls and everything, but boy you can see his athleticism," Gran said. "Saw a lot of toughness in him. It’s hard when the first couple days you go with no pads, and then they put the pads on and you can just see he’s not backing down. He’s honing his craft, and I love that. He’s a good football player."
Boom Williams shifty moves in the backfield have produced plenty of highlight reel moments during his two years in the Wildcat backfield. Coach Gran is apparently trying to put the clamps on Boom’s habit of running east to west.
"It's got to be one cut, and it's got to be vertical. We can't go side to side, now. Not in this league", he said before adding that Williams needs to do that if he wants to play in the "next league."