LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky’s coaching staff is quick to point out that position battles are always open, even after spring and later during fall camp.
SEC Country listed 2 offensive position battles to watch at the beginning of spring, and here’s an updated look now that spring is over. You’ll notice 1 more battle has been added.
Second-team running back: Sihiem King vs. A.J. Rose
A.J. Rose took quite a lick early in the spring game Friday, and it limited him to 3 carries. Rose was robbed of the chance to fully prove himself, but he was dynamic even with minimal playing time. He notched a 27-yard run during the Blue-White game and would’ve been fed several more carries had he not gotten hurt. Stoops said Rose strained his neck and that it’s nothing serious.
While Rose’s action was limited, King’s workload was not. He had 19 rushing attempts after recording just 11 all of last season. King was the spring-game star in 2016, and his encore performance on Friday was even better. He broke the 100-yard mark and averaged 5.6 yards per carry.
“We’ve got some great running backs now, and a lot of competition,” King said. “I feel like I’m in a great situation, and feel like I put myself in a better situation just by going hard.”
The sample size was too small and it’s hard to put much stock into spring games, but both backs seemed to do well for themselves after listening to offensive coordinator and running backs coach Eddie Gran after the game.
King and Rose will take snaps behind Benny Snell next season, though it’s unclear who will emerge as the second option. King’s shiftiness and speed could give him the advantage as he provides a change-of-pace look compared to the straight-ahead Snell.
Second-team quarterback: Drew Barker vs. Gunnar Hoak
A back injury and subsequent surgery dropped Barker from his starting gig, and Hoak’s spring game performance coupled with the uncertainty of Barker’s health could create quite the battle for the No. 2 job.
Hoak was 16 of 24 for 174 yards and 2 touchdowns in the Blue-White game. He notched the most impressive performance of the night.
And going back to the point of not putting much stock into a spring game, quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw said the defensive look Hoak was getting was realistic.
“He had some guys flying at him and he had to get rid of the football,” Hinshaw said. “And again, I think he played it like a realistic game. I really do. I think there’s gonna be some things he made mistakes on that he can improve on, there’s nobody that’s perfect. But he showed us tonight that he can lead the offense and go score touchdowns.”
Barker said last week that he’ll graduate in August, but plans to remain at Kentucky. The only question will be health. Barker said he’s about 75 to 80 percent healthy. There’s still 5 months until September, but how much rust will Barker have to brush off?
Hinshaw said he wanted at least 3 quarterbacks that could win games in the SEC, and now he believes he has that in Stephen Johnson, Barker and Hoak.
Center: Bunchy Stallings vs. Drake Jackson
Kentucky has entered the post-Jon Toth era. The former center started his last 47 games at Kentucky — a stretch that has spanned Mark Stoops’ entire tenure. One of the first story lines of spring was finding Toth’s replacement, and Bunchy Stallings seems to have quietly secured the role.
Stallings was the No. 2 center behind Toth last season, but more importantly, Stallings took the starting right guard spot from Ramsey Meyers midway through the season. Stallings has starting experience, while Jackson, a redshirt freshman, is still unproven.
But as Toth groomed Stallings for the job, Stallings could do the same for Jackson. In the meantime, Jackson could find his way into the No. 2 center job as well as the guard rotation. Offensive line coach John Schlarman likes positional versatility up front.