Kentucky’s Tuesday football practice was open to the media. Three quick observations:
1. The coaches aren’t kidding about depth at wide receiver
There’s Alex Montgomery, Jeff Badet, Blake Bone, Dorian Baker, Garrett Johnson, Charles Walker, C.J. Walker, Jabari Greenwood, T.V. Williams, Thaddeus Snodgrass and Tavin Richardson.
All seemed to make at least one big play Tuesday, whether in one-on-one drills or seven-on-seven pass drills or 11-on-11 drills. Alex Montgomery made several big catches, including one-hand grabs. So did Dorian Baker. So did Blake Bone. That’s just to name a few.
The “Air Raid” offense is known for spreading the ball around to various receivers, and new offensive boss Shannon Dawson isn’t lacking in targets. Heck, Ryan Timmons didn’t even practice Tuesday. The junior from Frankfort was wearing a protective boot and spent time on the exercise bike, but Dawson said the injury wasn’t serious. Timmons is expected back soon.
What depth does is ramp up the practice competition – exactly what happened with John Calipari’s platoon system in basketball last season. A receiver had better not drop many balls, because there are plenty waiting to take his place. Dawson said he tells his guys: If you make plays, you will play; if you don’t, you won’t. Very simple.
Do the Cats have an elite receiver? We shall see. It was obvious Tuesday that newly named starting quarterback Patrick Towles has a lot of confidence in his receivers.
Dorian Baker isn’t lacking confidence, either. He was posting to Instagram pictures of himself making one-hand catches, and that produced a conversation with Mark Stoops. But Baker made several tough catches Tuesday. He’s a big, physical receiver who should benefit from the playing time he got last season.
2. A talented and promising backup
Speaking of quarterbacks, the way Drew Barker threw the ball Tuesday, he might be the most talented backup QB Kentucky has had in a while.
In fact, although Dawson said Towles definitely deserved to win the starting quarterback battle, the OC was very impressed with the way Barker threw the ball all during camp.
One thing about Barker: He’s not afraid to take a chance. He’ll throw the ball over the middle. He’ll throw the ball into tight windows. He’ll try and fit the ball into a tight spot, which if successful can mean the difference between a big play and a stalled drive. If successful, those are the plays that keep a defense honest.
Barker’s job now is to learn how to prepare as if he’s the starter. Towles can help him there. Patrick was the starter last year for all 12 games and was a backup who had to prepare like a starter during his true freshman season in 2012.
It helps that Towles and Barker are friends. Towles said the quarterbacks – Towles, Barker and third-stringer Reese Phillips – all get along, all cut up in meetings, all are willing to do what it takes to help the others.
The guess here is at some point this season, Barker will get the opportunity to show what he can do.
3. A trouble spot on defense
On the negative side, the Cats could be hurting at inside linebacker, what with expected starter Ryan Flannigan nursing a shoulder injury and impressive true freshman Jordan Jones out for at least two weeks with an illness.
Senior Josh Forrest is the bell cow at one spot. Redshirt freshman Nico Firios is backing up Forrest. Khalid Henderson, a senior who was fighting with Jones for the backup spot behind Flannigan, is now running No. 1 at the other inside linebacker spot. And there’s no clear backup at that position right now.
It would help if Nebraska transfer Courtney Love gains immediate eligibility from the NCAA, but that could be a long shot. It also would have helped if redshirt freshman Kobie Walker were healthy, but he, too, has been banged up.