LEXINGTON, Ky. — After losing starting left tackle Cole Mosier to a torn ACL in a scrimmage last weekend, Kentucky was dealt another blow Saturday.
Starting wide receiver Dorian Baker suffered a “fairly substantial” ankle injury, coach Mark Stoops said after the scrimmage. The senior caught 14 passes for 208 yards and 2 touchdowns last season. Baker was listed as Kentucky’s starting “Z” receiver on the preseason depth chart. Junior Kayaune Ross was listed at the spot behind Baker.
Stoops said he’ll update Baker’s status next week after he clears things up with the doctors.
Here’s what else we learned after the scrimmage Saturday
Deciding on a depth chart
Kentucky’s season opener at Southern Miss is two weeks away. While Stoops and his staff emphasize all starting positions are in flux during preseason camp, now’s the time when players start separating themselves on the depth chart.
“I told the team that point blank yesterday in a team meeting that we’re going to be making some decisions with playing time and moves on the depth chart after this scrimmage,” Stoops said. “Guys that either can’t do it or won’t do it are going to get passed up because we do have a lot of depth and a lot of talent on this team. At least a lot more than we’ve had.”
Freshman wide receivers pushing for playing time
Josh Ali, Isaiah Epps, Clevan Thomas and Lynn Bowden are four names that have stuck out throughout camp. All happen to be freshman wide receivers, and all will likely have spots on the plane to Hattiesburg, Miss., in two weeks.
“They’re just ball players,” Stoops said. “They could probably help us on special teams. Bring them along, and as you know, we lose a pretty good group after this year.”
The emergence of the freshman receiving corps gives offensive coordinator Eddie Gran options, especially with the uncertainty of Baker’s status.
Ali caught a touchdown in the scrimmage last week and Thomas hauled in a score Saturday. Stoops said Bowden makes the game look easy, but that Bowden was unable to capitalize on chances during the scrimmage despite a solid week of camp.
“Today, I felt like he had an opportunity to make some really special plays and that didn’t happen,” Stoop said of Bowden. “But I anticipate he’ll do that — the ‘wow’ plays. He had some balls that were slightly overthrown or in traffic. I expect him to come up with those, and he’s been consistent all week.”
Freshman LB Josh Paschal wowing Stoops
Stoops wanted to curb his excitement for Josh Paschal, but there’s no slowing down from the freshman outside linebacker.
“He made a play or two that really stood out to me, wowed me a little bit,” Stoops said after the scrimmage. “I noticed that on the field. He showed three, four plays during the scrimmage that he just stood out today. I don’t want to get everybody all excited. He’s a freshman. He’s got a lot of work to do, but he’s very, very talented and does stand out out there. He’s a physical guy. He’s got a lot of twitch. He has good instincts. He’s smart. We can move him around, do some different things with him. He’s one of those versatile guys for how big he is.”
Paschal, at 6-foot-3 and 270 pounds, is working behind All-SEC outside linebacker Denzil Ware.
Quinton Bohanna/Naasir Watkins showing promise on opposite sides of the line
Paschal and the receivers haven’t been the only freshman standouts. Two linemen — Quinton Bohanna on the defensive line and Naasir Watkins on the offensive line — were pointed out by coaches Saturday.
Kentucky’s lack of depth on the defensive line has been chronicled, and Stoops said in the past that Bohanna was making a push to be on the two-deep depth chart.
“He’s gotten better every practice,” defensive coordinator Matt House said. “We’re pleased with him. He’s a guy that’s a big twitched up guy. I mean for a big man he moves well. Another guy that I think football is really important to him, which if you’re blessed with athleticism, size and it’s really important to you you’ve got a potential to be really good.”
And on the offensive line, Stoops said Watkins — who played with Paschal in high school in Olney, Md., — is ahead of where former 5-star tackle Landon Young was this time last year.
“That tells you what we think of him,” Stoops said.
Watkins could add depth in the absence of Mosier. Young is expected to start at left tackle.
Quarterback play inconsistent
It’s difficult to gauge where the quarterback competition, if there is one, stands. It seems all but certain that junior Stephen Johnson will start against Southern Miss in Week 1, and that junior Drew Barker will serve as his backup.
As for now, Gran wants to see more consistency from the quarterbacks.
“Again it goes down to short throws and just our target throws being right — if we do that, then we’re going to be OK,” Gran said. “I think here in the next couple weeks, we’re going to really take the game plan and start really honing in on Southern Miss. And what we’ve done well for the last 17, 18 practices we’ll have that and get it analyzed and what they do well. Then we’re going to employ that and we should be a lot more efficient then.”
As for the specifics he’s looking for, managing the offense is priority No. 1.
“That’s going to the right place at the right time, getting us right in protections, getting us right in terms of being efficient,” Gran said. “But that’s everybody. Our quarterbacks, we’ve just got to make the routine plays. If we don’t make the routine plays, we’re going to be in trouble.”
Johnson, who says he’s his own biggest critic, characterized his scrimmage performance as “alright.”
“Those first two series weren’t too good,” Johnson said. “I had a few missed throws. Toward the end of it, really getting the ball down the field. Completing it, giving it to playmakers, letting them do what they need to do. Overall, just alright in my eyes.”
Other scrimmage notes
- Freshman running back Bryant Koback participated in the scrimmage and was singled out by Johnson and Barker. Koback has been in a red no-contact jersey throughout much of camp after breaking his leg during his senior year of high school.
- Sophomore running back Benny Snell was limited to around 20 plays.
- Stoops said the defense did a better job of keeping the offense out of the end zone than it did in last week’s scrimmage.
- Junior running back Sihiem King had a run of around 60 yards.
- Gran mentioned Snell, wide receiver Garrett Johnson and the tight ends group as individual standouts.
- Gran said wide receiver Kayaune Ross has had a “good but not great” camp.
- House said they’re going to find ways to get linebacker Boogie Watson on the field.
- Kendall Randolph had an interception in the scrimmage, House said.