LEXINGTON, Ky. — Mark Stoops will field questions at SEC Media Days on Wednesday, and he’ll be flanked by Kentucky players Stephen Johnson, Mike Edwards and Courtney Love.
Stoops is entering his fifth year as head coach at Kentucky, and there’s talk the Wildcats could be a sleeper team in the SEC East. But before the season gets started, here are three questions Stoops might have to answer at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala.
1. What will the Wildcats do to fill holes on the defensive line?
Derrick LeBlanc might have the toughest coaching job at Kentucky this season. In his first season with the Wildcats, LeBlanc is tasked with leading the position group with the most questions surrounding it. Kentucky needs a boost on the defensive line, but where will that come from?
Kentucky returns two starters up front in the 3-4 scheme with junior defensive tackle Adrian Middleton and senior nose guard Naquez Pringle. But there’s a hole at defensive end. Courtney Miggins, last year’s starter, graduated and his backup, Alvonte Bell, was dismissed this offseason for violating team rules.
Sophomore T.J. Carter is the presumptive favorite to take over the starting defensive end spot. Junior Kengera Daniel also will be in the mix. Freshmen Josh Paschal, Jordan Wright, Chris Whittaker and Abule Abadi-Fitzgerald might be turned to for depth.
2. What is Lynn Bowden’s status, and have all the 2017 signees arrived?
Lynn Bowden’s enrollment status has been an ongoing saga this summer. Bowden and Michael Nesbitt were the only two 2017 signees who didn’t arrive in Lexington with the rest of the class.
The situation has cleared up a bit in the past week as a UK spokesperson confirmed to SEC Country that Bowden will be in training camp once that starts in late July or early August.
Bowden was the top signee in Kentucky’s class and was ranked the No. 4 athlete in the country by 247Sports. He was a top-200 national recruit and the No. 3 prospect in Ohio.
He has the potential to play as a slot receiver, running back or even as a quarterback in the wildcat formation. Steve Arnold, his high school coach at Warren G. Harding in Youngstown, Ohio, said Bowden is better than other star Harding graduates Maurice Clarett, Mario Manningham and Daniel “Boom” Herron.
“I’ve been around a lot of very talented athletes that’ve played in the NFL, and he’s the best that I’ve coached,” Arnold said of Bowden.
3. Is Stephen Johnson the undisputed starting quarterback?
There’s no quarterback controversy in Lexington this offseason, but coach Mark Stoops surely will be asked about the situation as Stephen Johnson took control of the offense after former starter Drew Barker injured his back in Week 3, ultimately had surgery and missed the rest of the 2016 season.
Johnson quarterbacked Kentucky to a seven-win season and the Wildcats’ first bowl game since 2010. Kentucky again will rely on a run-heavy attack with sophomore Benny Snell set to go after a star freshman campaign, but the Cats surely will be looking for improvement out of Johnson. Accuracy on short to intermediate routes along with better ball security are two areas Johnson will look to shore up.
When talking about his back surgery during spring football, Barker admitted that he questioned whether he could ever return to the way he was. The junior was held out of the spring game, and it’s unclear where he’ll slide on the depth chart if his health is still in question.
The only quarterback battle in Lexington will be between Barker and redshirt freshman Gunnar Hoak for the second-team job.