Kentucky football: What we learned from Wildcats’ first preseason scrimmage
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky scrimmaged Saturday for the first time in preseason camp, and the collective mood from coaches afterward was far from overjoyed but not quite angry.
“In my eyes it was just an OK scrimmage,” coach Mark Stoops said. “I feel like we have a lot of work to do. Good thing we still have three weeks. Two weeks would be pushing it, three weeks there’s a lot of time to get some things ironed out.”
It sounded like the offense may have gotten the best of the defense. The offense fumbled at the 1-yard line on the first drive, but quarterback Stephen Johnson, without disclosing who the fumbler was, said the offense scored touchdowns on three of four drives in the second half.
“But overall just an OK scrimmage,” Johnson said. “I think we can do a lot better the next time we scrimmage.”
Here’s what we learned from coaches and players after the scrimmage.
Lynn Bowden already impressing
The much-talked-about freshman has only been with the team for a week, but Lynn Bowden was a scrimmage standout.
“I thought he was one of the guys that showed up and made some plays,” offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said. “It’s hard because he hasn’t been here that long, but he went out there and he’s a competitor.”
Stoops also spoke glowingly about Kentucky’s No. 1 signee.
“Lynn is really coming on,” Stoops said. “He’s just a good football player. It’s hard to force-feed them. There’s so much learning involved. He just got here. The other day he had a really good practice. He showed up today with a couple nice catches. I believe he’s got a really good future. I love his attitude. The kid comes in and he’s what I expected in that he’s a great kid, he’s a competitor, doesn’t want anything handed to him. He wants to earn his way. The players like him. He works extremely hard. He’s a competitive kid. He’s got a bright future.”
Other freshmen who garnered praise Saturday were receivers Josh Ali and Isaiah Epps as well as outside linebacker Jordan Wright.
Only a handful of players spoke to reporters after practice, but both quarterbacks were available. Johnson, who seems all but certain to start Week 1, said he played “OK” but could’ve done better.
Drew Barker’s health looks like a non-issue at this point. He missed the final 10 games of 2016 with a back injury.
“If there was any rust at all, it was probably knocked off in the first couple of practices,” Barker said. “I felt 100 percent comfortable out there. It was a good day.”
Barker, who hasn’t taken a hit since Week 3 of last season, said he’s looking forward to taking that first tackle — something quarterbacks don’t often say.
Here’s how the coaches summed up the quarterback play in the scrimmage.
“I thought at times we were really good and at times, we were poor,” Gran said. “I think for a first scrimmage, they protected the ball well.”
Stoops seemed to be all-around pleased with Johnson and Barker.
“I saw both guys really do a good job of protecting the football, first and foremost,” Stoops said. “I thought both guys really showed up at times with some impressive throws and threw it in some really tight windows. I liked seeing that. I liked seeing the competitive plays when it’s good defense, good offense and somebody making a play, and you saw that at times today.”
Jaylin Bannerman switching it up
The redshirt freshman is trying out at a new position: tight end. The former outside linebacker scrimmaged with the offense Saturday.
“We’re just trying to find the right position for him,” Stoops said. “He was standing up there at jack. We feel like we have a lot of depth there at jack, sam and jack. He’s a big body we’re trying to move him around, possibly inside on the defensive line. Give him an opportunity maybe at tight end as well.”
Bannerman’s position is still in flux, but the emergence of young outside linebackers like Josh Paschal are giving the Cats depth and the chance to experiment with Bannerman.
“Yeah, I think we definitely have some guys to work with,” Stoops said of the outside linebackers. “There’s no doubt. We feel good at that position.”
Another linebacker switching things up is fellow redshirt freshman Boogie Watson. He’s getting reps at inside linebacker in addition to his natural role as an outside linebacker.
Saturday sounded like an injury-free scrimmage outside of one player.
“I think we came out of it, for the most part, unscathed,” Stoops said of the scrimmage. “I’m slightly concerned with Cole Mosier. Got injured out there so we’ll give you an update on Monday and see where he’s at. But other than that we came out relatively healthy.”
Mosier is Kentucky’s starting left tackle. Former 5-star tackle Landon Young, now a sophomore, would step in at left tackle if Mosier’s injury is severe.
Freshman running back Bryant Koback wasn’t in full pads. Gran said he’s not full go but will be ready next week.
Freshman outside linebacker Josh Paschal didn’t participate in the scrimmage, but Stoops said he’ll practice Monday.
Other players who weren’t in full pads: Denzil Ware, Kei Beckham, Tobias Gilliam, Tyrell Ajian and Chris Whittaker. Whittaker was walking with a boot on one of his feet.