LEXINGTON, Ky. — Mark Stoops is in what he calls “talking season,” and more talk from Stoops, offensive coordinator Eddie Gran and defensive coordinator Matt House came Tuesday at Kentucky’s annual kickoff luncheon.
The blazer-clad coaches spoke in a second-floor club at Kroger Field as multi-course meals were dished out to alumni and fans.
Here are three things we learned.
Answers to defensive line questions
Kentucky’s much-maligned defensive line has been a topic all offseason, and that likely will continue until the Wildcats show improvement up front. First-year defensive line coach Derrick LeBlanc will head up the position group, and defensive coordinator Matt House offered a bit of optimism.
“I think that group improved through spring and has improved through the summer,” House said. “It’s a group that there’s a lot of potential. I think Derrick’s done a great job of detailing the technique at that position and I think [Stoops] has made a big point and challenged those guys all spring. I’m really, really excited to see them in training camp ’cause I do think there’s been a steady improvement.”
SEC Network analyst Greg McElroy made headlines for blasting nose guard Matt Elam at SEC Media Days. Stoops stuck by the senior on Tuesday.
“Much has been talked about with Matt Elam, but Matt cares,” Stoops said. “He cares a great deal. He wants to be successful.”
As for other players to watch on the defensive line: end T.J. Carter and tackle Adrian Middleton.
“T.J. I’d say got better up front,” Stoops said. “Adrian had a good end of the season. Hopefully Adrian will continue to play well. We need him, too.
“There’s a lot of questions marks about our defensive line, but like Matt said, I think Coach LeBlanc and our defensive staff has worked hard to get these guys better. They’re challenged. It’s important to them. They don’t want to hear this talk anymore. They’ve worked really hard and hopefully they’ll step up.”
Still no closure at quarterback
Stoops often makes it clear that every position is up for grabs during fall camp, and Kentucky’s coaches are sticking by that line — even at quarterback. Stephen Johnson was an integral part of Kentucky’s 7-win season in 2016 and the offense changed and thrived when he took over for the injured Drew Barker.
But with a healthy Barker and redshirt freshman Gunnar Hoak, Gran left the door open for competition.
“What we have is a great competition,” Gran said. “Coach Hinshaw has done a great job of working to develop these guys in the second year of this offense. Who knows where it’s gonna end up? That’s the great thing that’s happened here in this program is the competition.”
Johnson was listed as the first-team quarterback on Kentucky’s first depth chart with the second-team slot reading Barker “OR” Hoak.
“I think we have a bunch of guys that are capable, and we’ll see how they perform,” Gran said.
More Lynn Bowden hype
Stoops was asked to single out a few freshmen who could be playmakers this season.
“There’s gonna be some freshmen play, but really it’s hard to predict,” Stoops said. “I think the guy that jumps out to you is Lynn Bowden. He’s a guy that’s electric. He’d dynamic with the ball in his hands.”
On one hand it’s no surprise that Bowden, Kentucky’s top signee in 2017, was the only player mentioned. On the other hand, Bowden is one of two signees, along with Michael Nesbitt, who didn’t arrive with the rest of their signing class this summer.
He won’t be able to work out with the team until camp starts Sunday. That leaves him about a month of preparation before Kentucky kicks off the season at Southern Miss.