Breaking down the Kentucky offense's depth chart after spring practice – Courier Journal


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Mark Stoops’ post-scrimmage news conference following the 2019 Kentucky football spring game.
Jon Hale, Louisville Courier Journal

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Kentucky’s football spring practice is finished, so it’s time to take a look ahead with a position-by-position breakdown of where things stand entering summer workouts. First up, the offense.

Quarterback

Projected starter: Terry Wilson (6-foot-3, 203 pounds, Jr.)
Backups to watch: Gunnar Hoak (6-foot-4, 212 pounds, Jr.), Walker Wood (6-foot-0, 189 pounds, Soph.)

Breakdown: Wilson has the starting job locked down after leading Kentucky to 10 wins in his first season on campus, but the No. 2 job is far less certain. Hoak is the only other experienced quarterback on the roster and would be the clear backup if he’s on the roster this fall, but he is graduating in May and could transfer to another FBS program and play immediately. If Hoak leaves, backup quarterback becomes a real concern as Wood is still working his way back from more than a year lost due to injury and has never played in a game. Freshmen Amani Gilmore and Nik Scalzo arrive in the summer.

Coach says: “As a quarterback, it’s just like a golf swing. You can’t think of the 36 things you have to do as you go to hit the white ball. Same thing with quarterback’s motion. You’ve got a ton of things to think about, but you can’t think about it while you’re playing. You’ve got to just go play. I’m really proud of (Wilson), where he’s gotten to right now.” – quarterback coach Darin Hinshaw

Check out: Kentucky football’s spring game offers hope for a more explosive offense

Running back

Projected starter: A.J. Rose (6-foot-1, 210 pounds, Jr.)
Backups to watch: Chris Rodriguez (5-foot-11, 224 pounds, RFr.), Kavosiey Smoke (5-foot-9, 225 pounds, RFr.)

Breakdown: Gone is Benny Snell, UK’s all-time leading rusher, but offensive coordinator Eddie Gran has to feel pretty good about his running backs. Rose totaled 11 carries for 86 yards and three touchdowns in the spring game and boasts more speed than Snell. Rodriguez is a Snell-like power runner, and Smoke showed off his home run threat with an 87-yard touchdown in the spring game. Expect a timeshare here, and don’t sleep on 2019 signee Travis Tisdale making an early impact either, especially on special teams.

Coach says: “I’ve done it every way. I’ve been at Auburn where we’ve had two or three (play), Florida State, two or three. So, it’s pretty unique here when you had Benny taking all that load. We’ll see. Right now, A.J. is holding up pretty well, but I like where the other two are coming. I think we’ve got an opportunity to play a couple this year.” – offensive coordinator Eddie Gran

Kentucky Football: How UK is replacing Benny Snell and Josh Allen this spring

Wide Receiver

Projected starters: Josh Ali (6-foot-0, 188 pounds, Jr.), Lynn Bowden (6-foot-1, 199 pounds, Jr.), 81 – Isaiah Epps (6-foot-2, 187 pounds, Jr.)
Backups to watch: Bryce Oliver (6-foot-1, 211 pounds, RFr.), Clevan Thomas (5-foot-11, 209 pounds, Soph.), Ahmad Wagner (6-foot-5, 234 pounds, Sr.)

Breakdown: Kentucky’s goal this fall will be to get Lynn Bowden the ball as often as possible, but he will need help from the outside receivers to prevent defenses from being able to focus solely on him. Ali might be the most likely candidate to step up there after receiving praise for his improvements this spring. Epps has apparently been inconsistent on deep balls this spring, but he caught a 60-yard bomb in the spring game. Wagner is an x-factor thanks to his size but is still adjusting to football after three years on the Iowa basketball roster. Oliver was the breakout star of the spring game and appears to have jumped ahead of classmates Allen Dailey, B.J. Alexander and Akeem Hayes heading into the summer. Kentucky probably needs at least one of 2019 signees DeMarcus Harris and Tae Tae Crumes to contribute as freshmen.

Coach says: “I’ve been really impressed with Lynn’s leadership, the way Josh Ali is practicing fast, and Isaiah Epps has made some strides. So as a group, I think we’re getting there, but we’ve got a long way to go. I think as you guys know that’s going to be a position that, again, we need to step up and make some plays.” – wide receivers coach Michael Smith

Tight end

Projected starter: Justin Rigg (6-foot-6, 263 pounds, Soph.)
Backups to watch: Keaton Upshaw (6-foot-5, 244 pounds, RFr.), Brenden Bates (6-foot-4, 250 pounds, RFr.)

Breakdown: Tight ends coach Vince Marrow has never been shy about sharing his opinion, but it is certainly worth noting he said this spring that the tight end room is actually better than it was a year ago with C.J. Conrad locked in as a four-year starter. That confidence speaks to Marrow’s usual bravado, but also the depth and versatility of the three returning options. Rigg looked the part of a starter in the spring game with three catches for 40 yards and a touchdown, and Bates, who has blocking experience from a a run-heavy offense in high school, also had an impressive 11-yard catch. Upshaw did not play in the spring game due to injury, but he might have the highest upside of the group as a pass catcher.

Coach says: “Keaton brings a different type of potential to that room, because you can flex him out. … What I’m excited about is where his strength is right now, and Bates is another highly recruited tight end. All three of them guys are going to play, but Justin is the guy that should be the guy from what I’ve seen.” – tight ends coach Vince Marrow

Also: NFL draft workouts ‘all cake’ for Kentucky’s C.J. Conrad after heart issue

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Offensive line

Projected starters: LT Landon Young (6-foot-7, 324 pounds, Jr.), LG Logan Stenberg (6-foot-6, 322 pounds, Sr.), C Drake Jackson (6-foot-2, 313 pounds, Jr.), RG Luke Fortner (6-foot-6, 304 pounds, Jr.), RT Darian Kinnard (6-foot-5, 324 pounds, Soph.)
Backups to watch: Nick Lewis (6-foot-9, 367 pounds, RFr.), Austin Dotson (6-foot-6, 381 pounds, Soph.), Quintin Wilson (6-foot-2, 291 pounds, RFr.), Mason Wolfe (6-foot-6, 323 pounds, Sr.), Naasir Watkins (6-foot-5, 310 pounds, Soph.)

Breakdown: The return of former five-star recruit Landon Young from a knee injury that cost him all of 2018 eases the sting of losing three starters from the Citrus Bowl, and there is no shortage of experience on the right side of the line in the race to replace Bunchy Stallings and George Asafo-Adjei. The offensive line should be a strength for Kentucky again in 2019, but progress is needed from several underclassmen, namely Lewis, Dotson and Wilson, to make the unit as deep as it has been the last three years.

Coach says: “Bunchy and George played very good ball for us last year. Right now, running with the ones it’s Luke Fortner and Darrian Kinnard. We’ve got to have them play at a very high level like we had last year at those two spots. That’s what I’ve been reinforcing to them. It’s like, ‘Listen, Darian, I know you’ve not even been here one year yet, but I’m asking you to play like a guy we just lost who was a four-year starter at some point and a senior.’ That’s what they’ve got to understand. Same with Luke. Bunchy played at a very good level last year. So, you’re not coming in replacing a guy that was a senior that did OK. You’re coming in and replacing a guy that was first-team All-SEC. We’ve got to expect a high level of play out of you.” – offensive line coach John Schlarman

Kentucky football: How Landon Young improved while rehabbing injury

Jon Hale: jahale@courier-journal.com; Twitter: @JonHale_CJ. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: www.courier-journal.com/jonh.

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