LEXINGTON, Ky. — Benny Snell shouldered the second-largest workload of any SEC running back last season, but if Kentucky’s spring game was any indication, roommate A.J. Rose is here to help.
Rose was Kentucky’s standout player in the Blue-White game Friday night at Kroger Field. His highlight performance started early with 3 carries for 48 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter. He would go on to score twice more, finishing with 3 touchdowns and 134 rushing yards on just 11 carries.
“I’ve been waiting for [my] roommate to turn up, man,” Snell said with a smile. “He’s very fast, he’s very smart, he [has] a good fast vertical cut and hopefully it’s a three-headed monster going into the season.”
“It could be scary,” Rose said of the running backs. “It really could be scary.”
Sihiem King, one of the three key members, was held out Friday night with a head injury.
A.J. Rose looking really good. pic.twitter.com/WHLHGLK6jU
— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) April 13, 2018
Rose, a sophomore from Cleveland, Ohio, was a 3-star signee in Kentucky’s 2016 class with Snell. But since then, their careers shot in different directions. Snell was a 1,000-yard rusher as a freshman while Rose redshirted. Snell’s sophomore season saw him break UK’s career rushing touchdowns record as he finished with 19 on 1,333 yards. Rose had only 37 yards on 15 carries without a touchdown.
Spring game performances have to be weighed with caution, but offensive coordinator and running backs coach Eddie Gran was impressed with Rose.
“He’s just so much more confident,” Gran said. “I just liked, one time he flipped up over on his back pretty good, popped up, came out for one play and went right back in. Cause he knew I was looking. I love that.”
Rose’s lack of playing time in his first two seasons, besides being behind Snell and more veteran backs, was tied to Kentucky’s playbook. His first career carry came last season against Eastern Kentucky — a routine 2-yard gain. But Mark Stoops later said it could’ve been a “huge gain” if Rose had stayed inside rather than bouncing outside. Two plays later Rose missed a block on a blitz that led to a sack.
Things like that seemed to keep him on the sidelines.
“I just struggled getting to learn the offense,” Rose said. “It’s real different coming from my high school. We didn’t learn as much as I did here. So I just had to really sit down and focus. Being with my roommate, Benny Snell, he helped me a lot.”
Snell and Rose watched film together at home on Rose’s laptop. They’d bounce questions off each other. And then at the end of last season, something clicked for Rose.
“Everything was clear,” he said, “like the signals and all that. It was real easy for me.”
A larger role for Rose would be welcomed in Kentucky’s offense. Snell’s 262 carries in 2017 trailed only Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson in the SEC. Snell has proved durable in his first two seasons at Kentucky, but workload could become an issue. After splitting carries with Boom Williams and Jojo Kemp in his freshman season, Snell received 183 more carries than King in 2017.
“Benny’s a bull,” Rose said. “He can do it. But he doesn’t wanna do it by himself. It takes a toll on your body. If I can help him out, Sihiem [King] can help him out, and the backs coming in — we can all put it together and be a great offense.
Snell will and should receive a bulk of the carries this season, but Rose could be the missing third, or even second piece Kentucky lacked last year. Kentucky also signed two running backs — Kavosiey Smoke and Christopher Rodriguez — who should arrive in the summer.
“I want A.J. to push Benny,” Gran said. “If A.J. keeps playing like that, then he can be the guy. There’s competition and that’s what we’ve been yearning for at that position.”
Snell might have the safest starting job on the team, but Rose said his goal is to be the No. 1 running back.
Rose said he and Snell push each other. Competitors on the field, friends and roommates off the field, as he put it.
“We have fun together,” Snell said. “We’ll lose together, win together and we’re gonna get better together.”