LEXINGTON, Ky. — The spring game is over, and the waiting game has begun for Kentucky and several other college football teams across the country.
Plenty of promise was shown at the Blue-White game, but there’s an equal amount to improve upon.
Here are five priorities Kentucky might have during the offseason.
1. Developing depth on the defensive line
There’s no bringing anyone else in between now and the Sept. 2 season opener at Southern Miss. Instead, new Kentucky defensive line coach Derrick LeBlanc will have to develop the players he has up front.
The starting line will consist of Naquez Pringle, Adrian Middleton and presumably Alvonte Bell at defensive end. But the task will be developing depth behind them. Senior defensive tackle Matt Elam can plug the middle, but then younger and more inexperienced players will need to step up.
T.J. Carter showed promise at end and Kordell Looney was a popular name at tackle in the spring. And reinforcements in the 2017 class such as Quinton Bohanna and junior college transfer Phil Hoskins will soon be arriving.
A couple injuries would be disastrous to any position group, but Kentucky is especially thin up front. Developing talent on the defensive line likely will be the defensive staff’s primary goal.
2. Finding another contributing running back
Benny Snell, Sihiem King, A.J. Rose …
Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran seems to feel good about his running back room, but who’s next in line after the top three? It’s a question that wasn’t there heading into last season when Kentucky had Boom Williams, Jojo Kemp, Mikel Horton, King, an unknown Snell and a redshirted Rose who could have been used in an emergency.
Freshman Bryant Koback is likely the fourth running back, but he missed all of spring while recovering from a broken leg suffered in high school. Past that, there aren’t any scholarship running backs. Koback was the only running back signee in the 2017 class.
The wild card is Lynn Bowden. Kentucky’s top-ranked incoming freshman is likely to play primarily as a slot receiver, but coach Mark Stoops said he could play running back and quarterback as well. Bowden was a quarterback in high school, and it sounds like he’ll be a get-him-the-ball-in-space back in college.
Expect to see Bowden in the slot, taking snaps in the wildcat formation, and if needed, maybe even lining up at running back.
3. Figuring out the punting problem
Friday was a night to forget for Grant McKinniss. He averaged less than 40 yards a punt with no rush coming at him.
“We need to punt the ball better,” coach Mark Stoops said after the game. “Grant needs to punt it better.”
In Stoops’ first press conference of the spring, he said Kentucky might try to bring in competition for McKinniss, and the staff did just that with Columbia graduate transfer Matthew Panton. The former Ivy Leaguer is from Australia, but he’s not exclusively a rugby-style punter.
Panton split punting duties at Columbia, but he averaged more yards per punt (41.1) than McKinniss (39.2) last season. McKinniss had the lowest average among qualified SEC punters a year ago.
There’s likely to be a punting position battle in fall camp.
4. A healthy Drew Barker
Redshirt freshman Gunnar Hoak shined in the spring game and looked capable of taking the second-team quarterback spot, but Kentucky needs a healthy Drew Barker.
The former starting quarterback said last week that he’s about 75 to 80 percent. He was held out of the spring game as a precaution and is still working to return to full health after his back surgery in November.
It should be a fun battle for the second-team quarterback if Barker enters fall camp at full health. A trio of Stephen Johnson, Barker and Hoak in the room would give quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw a more-than-capable group.
5. A stronger Stephen Johnson
Johnson is on an enviable 5,000-calorie-per-day diet in hopes of adding weight and thus improving ball security. Fumbles were a big problem last season, and adding strength and weight could help in that department.
Johnson is listed at 185 pounds and his target weight is 195 — or better yet, 200.
It’s Johnson’s first full offseason at Kentucky, and his body might better fit the SEC quarterback mold come September.