LEXINGTON, Ky. — A noticeable shift in Kentucky’s spring practice Saturday was wide receiver Zy’Aire Hughes, wearing No. 89, lining up at cornerback.
The Paducah, Ky., native was recruited as a wide receiver but also played quarterback, running back and defensive back at McCracken County High School. He was the fifth-highest scorer in the state as a senior, but coach Mark Stoops and his staff are experimenting with him on defense. It was just the second practice for Hughes at corner.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” Stoops said. “We lose a bunch of wide receivers after this year, and he’s doing a good job at wideout. But we’re getting thin in the secondary, and he’s just so quick. He has such great change of direction. He can run, so I just wanted to look at him a bit.”
Chris Westry, one of Kentucky’s starters at cornerback along with Derrick Baity, said Hughes has made a quick transition to the position.
“He came out here and he’s just looking natural,” Westry said. “There’s no telling what he can do. His potential is up there.”
Linebacker Denzil Ware and safety Mike Edwards were notable absences from practice Saturday. Edwards was attending a wedding and Ware was gone for a funeral. Neither safety Lonnie Johnson nor tight end C.J. Conrad practiced. Injured players Kendall Randolph, Bryant Koback and Walker Wood all watched practice.
Quarterback Drew Barker, who led a touchdown drive in last week’s scrimmage, looked to be throwing the ball with no limitations.
Drew Barker is getting some good zip on the ball. pic.twitter.com/OpJ4wRuPtH
— Joe Mussatto (@joe_mussatto) April 8, 2017
The defense got the better of the offense which led to frustration for offensive coordinator Eddie Gran: “I think they’re drinking some Kool-Aid and it’s bad Kool-Aid and I’ve got to get them to quit drinking,” Gran said of his offense. “We’ll get that fixed. It was an absolute joke.”
Redshirt freshman defensive back Tobias Gilliam snagged an interception off quarterback Gunnar Hoak and returned it for a score. Defensive coordinator Matt House singled out Jordan Jones, Josh Allen and Adrian Middleton as players who impressed him. Quarterback Stephen Johnson was impressed by sophomore defensive back Jordan Griffin, who’s trying to learn the nickel position.
Offensive line coach John Schlarman used several rotations up front, but junior Bunchy Stallings appeared to take more first-team snaps at center than redshirt freshman Drake Jackson.
Two future Wildcats were in attendance: Tyrell Ajian, a 4-star 2017 signee, and Alex Reigelsperger, a 3-star linebacker commit in the 2018 class.
Stephen Johnson blamed the offensive struggles on himself after practice: “It’s all on me. This is my offense, this is my team,” Johnson said. “I have to be able to bring our guys up when we’re in a little lull like that. That’s really all on me for me not being able to pick those guys up.”
Kentucky went from seven to six quarterbacks on its roster. Sophomore Davis Mattingly is no longer on the team, a UK spokesperson confirmed.