Mark Stoops spent much of his first spring camp with Kentucky delicately balancing being honest about the state of the program's roster without creating a contentious relationship with the players he inherited when he took over.
Mark Stoops said the Cats need the most help at receiver and cornerback
This much was clear though: Stoops repeatedly acknowledged the Cats need a major influx of talented to become competitive in the Southeastern Conference, particularly at the skill positions. The rookie head coach didn't back off that assessment during his time on the league's post-spring teleconference either.
“Obviously we need help at every position,” Stoops said. “We need to improve across the board, but what stands out to me right now is the skill positions, both on offense and defense. We need to get a lot better in the secondary and we need to get better at wide receiver.”
It was readily apparent during the spring the Cats' roster did not have enough difference-making wideouts to fit new offensive coordinator Neal Brown's 'Air Raid' scheme. Much like the past two seasons, drops, route running and overall inconsistency plagued the unit. The struggles further highlighted the sales pitch UK gave the four high-level recruits signed in February: their will be an abundance of playing time to be had at those positions.
The challenge at cornerback is related as much to experience as talent. The coaching staff sounded cautiously optimistic about young corners Fred Tiller, Cody Quinn and J.D. Harmon but depth is a major concern in the secondary.
“We really need a lot of help in area, so I feel like we need help across the board,” Stoops said about recruiting. “it’s hard to say because like I said we need help everywhere, but we certainly need some help in the skill positions, like I mentioned. I think at defensive back and wide receiver we really need help there.”
STABLE OF BACKS
One area the UK staff feels good about is the running game, where the Cats have a deep and talented stable of backs that mostly made strong impressions during spring camp.
Senior Raymond Sanders will likely lead the charge when the team officially reconvenes in fall camp, as his 669 yards and five touchdowns last season led the Cats. Sanders is also a versatile threat out of the backfield, having caught 39 passes in his career while also handling kick return duties.
Josh Clemons was impressing as a freshman before injuring his knee
“Dyshawn, he was a good back,” Stoops said. “He really did some good things. I was impressed. I feel like he’s a physical guy, up over about 215 pounds. He gives a little physical punch, and he’s also got some good speed. So I was impressed with him.”
The major move was made by Clemons, who finally looked healthy after a 18 months of struggles returning from a knee injury suffered in the sixth game of his freshman season.
“Josh was, again, a pleasant surprise,” Stoops said. “I think with coming back off a knee injury, I really just was impressed with him. He also had a good spring game.
“We did not practice him back-to-back. If we did have a back-to-back practice, we just practiced him one or the other to try to let that knee heal up a little bit in between practices and all that. But again, a big physical guy that’s got some good vision.”
Rumors had recently popped up about the future of redshirt freshman Justin Taylor, whop at one time had been committed to Alabama before a knee injury and the Tide's request for him to grayshirt re-opened his recruitment. He redshirted last season and was mostly anonymous throughout the spring as other backs made strong impressions on the staff. A UK spokesperson told CatsPause.com last week Taylor was still on team but Stoops acknowledged the young back has some things to address in the offseason.
“He’s got a lot of work to do, so we’ll see,” Stoops said.
Even in the aftermath of the spring, Stoops did not want to provide much insight into the Cats' quarterback derby:
“I think it’s very fair to say that Jalen (Whitlow) had the best spring game,” Stoops said. “He did some awfully good things, so I think I’ve got to say Jalen had the best spring game and did lots of good things. With that being said, it’s still an open competition there.”