LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops opened up practice to the media for the first time this spring. Saturday’s scrimmage was also the last one prior to the Wildcats’ spring game on April 14. Kentucky will practice full-go on Tuesday and then practice in helmets on Thursday.
Here are a few observations from Saturday’s practice.
GRAN DISAPPOINTED IN OFFENSE
Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran was pleased with the first hour and a half of the practice by his offense. The final 20 minutes weren’t so good.
“I told them that I was very disappointed and that they were awful,” Gran said. “They practiced for an hour and a half unbelievably. They competed, they got after them for one hour and 30 minutes, but the last 20, they decided not to compete and they got their tail whipped.”
Gran suggested that perhaps the offense has been “drinking some Kool-Aid.”
“It’s bad Kool-Aid and I’ve got to get them to quit drinking,” Gran said. “We’ll get that fixed. It was an absolute joke. Non competitive. They just didn’t recover, thought they were going to keep going out there and doing what they were doing, but people are going to change. (The defense) recovered and we didn’t.”
The offense went three-and-out on the first drive of the scrimmage. Freshman redshirt linebacker Jamar Watson recorded a “sack” when he got to quarterback Stephen Johnson before he released the ball.
The second team offense and defense went in on the next possession. On the first play, quarterback Gunnar Hoak’s pass was intercepted and returned for a touchdown by Tobias Gilliam.
A little later, running back Benny Snell fumbled out of the Wildcat package and it was recovered by the defense.
“There was nobody good,” Gran said. “There was nobody good. For the first hour and 30 minutes, to be honest with you, I thought everybody was good. Quarterbacks threw, our receivers caught. We protected. I thought we were really good. We ran the ball physical. Big plays. But the last 20, zero.”
Quarterback Stephen Johnson put a lot of the blame for the offense’s struggles on his shoulders.
“It’s all on me,” Johnson said. “Like I said, this is my offense, this is my team. I have to be able to encourage those guys and pick them up when we’re on a lull, like I said. So that’s really all on me, and I have to go and deal with that for the next two days and try to pick it up on Tuesday.”
It was just a short scrimmage, but it was nonetheless encouraging for the defense considering two of its best players were out for personal reasons. Stoops said after practice that linebacker Denzil Ware was back home for a funeral and safety Mike Edwards was at his sister’s wedding.
Defensive coordinator Matt House said he thought the defense progressed on Saturday.
“Earlier in practice I thought the offense had the advantage over us, too,” House said. “It was good to see we took the ball away a little more, which was good to see, and I thought the kids played hard. I think (the defense) were looking forward the whole practice to getting to the end, scrimmage. At the end of the day, I think coaches getting off to the side and them playing on the field, really that's what you want to do as a football player. There's no question the energy changed.”
Zy'Aire Hughes seeing time in secondary
Hughes spent his redshirt season in 2016 playing wide receiver. With a thin secondary this spring, Stoops has moved him to cornerback for the past two practices to see what he can do.
“We’re exploring,” Stoops said. “We wanted to get a good look at him. It’s a double-edged sword. 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.”
House said Hughes has been spending a lot of time with defensive backs coach Steve Clinkscale.
“He's a quick twitch guy, now,” House said. “I'm excited to see him improve. He's hungry to learn, which is huge.”
GRIFFIN IMPRESSING WITH MOVE TO NICKEL
Another young defensive back who was talked about after practice was sophomore Jordan Griffin. Griffin has been splitting reps between cornerback and nickel this spring.
“We’re overloading him right now,” Stoops said. “To his credit he handles it very well. Playing that nickel position, you’ve heard me talk about it through the years, there’s a lot to it. He’s playing corner. But I have a lot of confidence in him. He’s a guy that has an unbelievable work ethic. Just a quality kid and he’s very talented. But things that happen in there, it is experience. It’s trial and error at that position. He needs a lot of reps and he’s been getting it.”
Stephen Johnson was asked after practice who has surprised him to this point. Griffin was the player he said is sticking out.
“He’s really come into his role defensively,” Johnson said. “It’s really cool to see him get a lot better as he’s done.”