Kentucky fans are cautiously optimistic about this season after a 7-5 breakthrough last year. The hope is to be even better this year. As the Cats progress their way through camp, we can take a look at how specific players and portions of the team are looking so far.
Let’s take a look at how the team’s stock is trending.
Lynn Bowden: Up
Bowden has finally gotten to campus, after a long battle with academic eligibility. Now that he’s joined the team, he’s making a great impression. He’s only had one week of practice and he hasn’t learned much of the offense because of the lack of time spent on it, but offensive coordinator Eddie Gran was pleased with Bowden after their last scrimmage, saying, “I thought he was one of the guys who showed up and made some plays.”
Head coach Mark Stoops praised him as well, and said he was working as a kick and punt returner.
“Lynn is really coming on,” Stoops said. “He’s just a good football player. It’s hard to force-feed them, there’s so much learning involved. He just got here. The other day he had a really good practice. He showed up today with a couple of nice catches.”
He’s the most-hyped true freshman on this year’s team, so it’s good that it sounds like he’s making up for the lost time.
By all accounts of the coaches and coordinators, Drew Barker is looking like the Drew Barker from last camp, which is good. It also sounds like Stephen Johnson, the expected starter, is doing well.
Stoops praised them both as a pair after the last scrimmage.
“I saw both guys really do a good job of protecting the football, first and foremost,” Stoops said. “I thought both guys really showed up at times with some impressive throws and threw it in some really tight windows.”
Having both guys playing at starter level would be a good problem for UK to have compared to last year’s issues at the quarterback position.
Outside Linebackers: Up
Denzil Ware and Josh Allen have had a plethora of praise heaped on them from the coaching staff.
“Those kids have no problem with work,” assistant coach Dean Hood said. “I’ve noticed just an incredible intensity and willingness to do things right.”
Stoops added to that praise, saying, “They’ve been really good. We did some two-minute (drills), like I talked about. We did some two-minute this week, a couple days, and in predictable pass situations they’ve been very good, very tough to block.”
Hood has been helping them with footwork, hand placement and other details to help them get into the backfield more effectively, something they’re both trying to do with regularity this year. Teammate Jordan Bonner has said that they’re both trying to get 12 sacks individually this year, according to Jen Smith of the Lexington Herald-Leader.
Run Defense: Up (?)
One of Kentucky’s worst attributes last year was their front seven’s inability to stop the run. They gave up 228.2 yards per game on the ground last year.
The improvement of the run defense sounds like it may still be a work in progress.
“I think we were stout up front,” Stoops said. “I think our run defense was better, in general. They did rip off a couple. But in general I think we were more solid.”
The fact that a couple big runs were given up is troubling, but you have to remember who’s in the backfield for UK this year. That being considered, perhaps the run defense is on a slight up-and-up.
Ball security: Even
Ball security, like run defense, is one of Kentucky’s biggest areas of concern this year. The Wildcats had one of the worst turnover margins in the nation last year, and Eddie Gran said the offense fumbled during Saturday’s scrimmage.
The worst part about this is it happened on the one-yard-line, and the offense was unable to recover.
It was just one fumble, but it’s still troubling for a team that struggled so much in that department last season.