March 18, 2013
If you're in Lexington, it's hard to say that spring is in the air today. It's cold, rainy, and gray.
But no matter what it looks like outside, it's still the first day of spring football practice. Over the next month, Mark Stoops and his staff have a lot to get sorted out. As with any new staff, there's a new offense and defense to be installed and evaluations to be had of the current roster. But beyond that, here's my top five storylines to watch during spring practice.
1. Quarterbacks back at it: No Kentucky quarterback has started an entire season since Andre Woodson in 2007. In the time since, Woodson has left (for the NFL), come back (as a GA), and left again (for a coaching job at Morehead State). Maxwell Smith, Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow will try to win the job this spring, but it's a battle that could continue into fall camp. True freshman Reese Phillips, who enrolled early, is also on campus and could play a factor somewhere on the depth chart.
2. Pegging them right: New systems mean new roles for old players, and that's especially true with some of UK's defensive cogs last year. Many of them held hybrid roles, but in a traditional 4-3 will be asked to learn different responsibilities. Bud Dupree, who played the LB/DE spot and WLB last year, could end up as a linebacker or as a pass rusher. Miles Simpson, who played near the line of scrimmage as a linebacker but had significant coverage responsibilities as a LB/S, has to find a spot. The same goes for UK's defensive linemen, who will have very different assignments in the new system.
3. New faces: I'm not talking about the coaching staff. There are some new players to get acquainted with, most notably JUCO additions Steven Borden and Za'Darius Smith. They figure to make an early impact at tight end and defensive end, respectively. There are also players coming off a redshirt who will have their chance to move off the scout team, like RB Justin Taylor.
4. Brand new: More than just the playbook changes when a new staff arrives. Mark Stoops will bring an entirely new way of doing things to the program, and players will have to adjust. There have been only minor shifts and changes in the way practice and the day-to-day operations of the football program were run in the last 10 years, as Joker Phillips mostly operated similarly to Rich Brooks. There will certainly be a new way about the program, and this spring will be the first look at that.
5. Moving on: UK has a small surplus of players, which means they're a bit short of full scholarships for next season. To be blunt: There will be some roster changes. If guys don't prove themselves now, they'll have to take a long look at their situation over the summer and decide what they want to do. There are 24 new players that will arrive soon, and they're all going to be gunning for playing time.