LEXINGTON, Ky. – Kentucky football is through its first week of preseason practice and the Wildcats are still feeling quite good about themselves. Senior running back Jojo Kemp said Friday this is the best camp of his career.
“You’re just seeing a lot of guys more dialed-in, more focused, more tuned in to the small details, the little things, and just the blue-collar mentality,” he said, bouncing as he talked. “We’re really trying to get this job done this year.”
The players seem especially amped about new offensive coordinator Eddie Gran’s vision and his detail-oriented approach to achieving it.
“He’s on a mission, and I love it, and we’re right on board with him,” Kemp said. “God put him in our life for a reason. We’re going to get it done.”
We also got an update Friday on the offensive line and some revealing quotes from quarterback coach Darin Hinshaw on starter Drew Barker’s growth as a person. Check it out:
- As we wrote about Barker earlier this week, Hinshaw said the former 4-star QB has made a dramatic transformation in the last several months. But not before a frank conversation when Hinshaw first arrived in January. “I said, ‘Let’s see, when I came in and said the name Drew Barker, what does everybody say?’ And the things that came out of my mouth were not good,” Hinshaw said. “The things that came out of the AD’s mouth were not good. The things that came out of the equipment room was not good. I said, ‘Your brand stinks. Let’s just call it how it is. So we have to change it.’ And the only way you’re going to change it is not with your mouth; it’s going to be with your actions.”
- And? Barker posted a 3.75 grade-point average in the spring and 3.5 this summer and took a leadership role on the team, cleaning up his act off the field and elevating his play on it. “He was very hungry for knowledge and wanting to do the right thing, but I don’t think he knew how,” Hinshaw said. “I laid it out for him. I explained all the details of what it’s like to be a pro quarterback, to be a professional and handle your business the right way. And he’s done that. He’s worked very hard at it, and it’s become a ritual to him, which is No. 1, the most important thing for a quarterback.”
- One nit to pick so far? While Barker is dialed in on short and intermediate passes and good about checking down when no one is open down the field, Hinshaw said, “we were overthrowing every deep ball that we threw.” That includes backup Stephen Johnson III. “We’re just chucking the ball as far as we can throw it, and that’s not how you throw a deep ball. Ninety-five percent of deep balls are not touchdowns, OK? They’re completions or they’re incompletions.” Kentucky’s QBs tried too hard early in camp to throw it perfect, out in front of the receiver and hit them in stride for the long TD. “it doesn’t happen that way. Deep balls are caught down the field for explosive plays,” Hinshaw said. But after some extra work, “we’re getting to the point where we’re throwing the ball where we give the receiver a chance.”
- The Cats return four starters on the offensive line – left guard Nick Haynes, center Jon Toth, right guard Ramsey Meyers and right tackle Kyle Meadows – and so far “that first unit has come out and picked right up, progressed from where we were in the spring,” position coach John Schlarman said. Toth organized meetings and film study all summer “getting them on the same page, and I think that has shown out here. You definitely see the experience in the group.”
- The one uncertain spot entering camp was at left tackle, where former walk-on and converted guard Cole Mosier (6-6, 335) would need to fend off 4-star JUCO transfer Tate Leavitt and 5-star freshman Landon Young. And? “He’s not just holding on, but he is really locking that position down for the ones,” Schlarman said. “He’s been very, very consistent, and he’s getting some good looks off the edge. He’s seeing speed and he’s holding up. I wouldn’t say he’s just holding on. I’d say he’s taking that thing and running with it.”
- Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said the Wildcats were so deep at guard they’d experiment with some of those guys at tackle. Schlarman said the prime candidate is sophomore George Asafo-Adjei, who is the backup at right guard but started three games at right tackle last season. “His body is different than it was last year. He’s a lot leaner – probably down about 10 pounds – so he’s moving really well,” the coach said. “I’ve told him before, if there were six starters, he would be the sixth starter right now. But he’s close, man. I’m telling you, he’s pushing those guys. It’s making us all better.” Redshirt freshman Logan Stenberg (6-6, 318), the No. 2 left guard, is another candidate to work outside some at right tackle, while Haynes could slide to left tackle “in an emergency situation.”
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