It’s the off-season, after Signing Day and not quite Spring practice. There is still a lot for Wildcat football fanatics to talk about heading into Mark Stoops’ second year at the helm. It’s a big year for the head coach and the program after getting a mulligan for 2013, there needs to be some progress on the field to keep the flood of positive momentum that Stoops has incited flowing. So, without further ado, here are the most current news and notes for Kentucky football lovers:
- Former Wildcat linebacker Avery Williamson continues to prepare for the NFL draft and is gaining some respect in NFL circles. He posted solid numbers at the combine and his character is off the charts. Right now Williamson is looking like a fifth round pick in this years draft. Which, if recent history is any indication, means he will be a starter in two years. It truly is a shame that UK wasted a year of Avery’s eligibility of special teams as a freshman.
An ILB prospect in this draft class who doesn’t get enough love is Kentucky’s Avery Williamson. Active, productive and smart. I’m a fan
— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) March 11, 2014
- Most pundits who cover UK football have concluded that the quarterback derby this Spring will be between Reese Phillips and Drew Barker. Not so fast. Sophomore Patrick Towles, he of the big arm and big hype, will be spending his Spring Break on the beach. Not in Panama City but with QB guru George Whitfield. The two worked together at the Elite11 camp before Towles’ senior year of high school and Whitfield has agreed to work with the young man again. Whitfield is a respected QB coach who works with several NFL players, of which Ben Roethlisberger is the best comparison to Towles play-style.
- Spring Game 2014 tickets went on sale Monday morning for season-ticket holders. There have been no announcements regarding ticket sales yet, but several sections were sold out within an hour. Due to renovations Commonwealth will only hold 42,500 for the event this year. Theoretically the game could sell out before tickets ever reach the general public, although that seems unlikely. The game will be held April 26th at 3:30 PM.
- Rumors abound that part of the Commonwealth Stadium reservations will include changing the playing surface to an artificial one. The benefits of such a change would be many. If Kentucky will continue to run Neal Brown’s offense, a faster track would be a welcome addition. The upkeep on turf vs. grass, especially in a climate like Kentucky’s, is night and day. Changing to turf would allow Commonwealth to host events such as the high school football championships, something Kentucky prep coaches have wanted for decades.
- On the recruiting trail, Kentucky is getting creative again. This year the trend seems to be collages. The coaches sent 4* LB Eli Brown a bunch of small posters that pieced together to become a wall-covering showing Brown as a Wildcat. Just this week several recruits posted pictures of mail from Kentucky, the envelopes combined like a puzzle to make a picture of the player on the side of Commonwealth Stadium. You have to appreciate the creativity.
- Quarterback recruiting continues to be an enigma. After UK and Elijah Sindelar agreed to part ways, there hasn’t emerged a clear favorite of the staff. Top target Jarrett Stidham committed to Texas Tech, but was a long shot anyway. Kentucky was in on Joe Burrow early but he has blown up and the Cats have yet to offer. Drew Lock is likely locked into being a Mizzou Tiger. Alex Hornibrook from Pennsylvania is a lefty that Brown really likes but still doesn’t have an offer. It looks like Reese Ryan will have to prove himself at a camp. Recently Clemson commit Tucker Israel said that the coaches told him that he was their top QB target in this class.
- Kentucky continues to offer nearly every highly-rated prospect East of Texas. There far too many to discuss them all here at this time but the noteworthy point here is that they are offering such players. Under Stoops Kentucky has offered SIX times as many four-star or higher players as the previous staff did in more time. Perhaps a certain amount of the staff’s success can be attributed to simply asking.
- One four-star who shockingly doesn’t have an offer yet is Bowling Green LB Emmitt Smith. With linebacker being such a need and Smith’s apparent social media love for UK it’s surprising. There must be something holding the coaches back and their scouting abilities should not be in question at this point. Smith may not have protypical measurements for an every-down linebacker but the kid can play.
- New safeties coach and special teams coordinator Craig Naivar drew some high praise from a few former opposing coaches after the hire and from quite a few of his former Texas State defenders. Something to watch is Naivar’s knowledge of the 4-2-5 defense. Kentucky ran a hybrid system that was very similar last season with Blake McClain and Marcus McWilson playing the nickel back.
- A few fans have expressed concern over the lack of Yahtzees this Spring, but UK only had one commitment at this time last year so they are technically ahead of the curve there. It would be reasonable to expect a few around the Spring Game but after that expect the 2015 cycle to go a little slower. Sources close to the program say that the staff is chasing a different level of athlete this year and being a lot more selective. Many top players don’t commit until closer to Signing Day, so this could be the year that Kentucky gets a commit during an All American game.