Three up, three down: Who helped or hurt their cause in the spring game?

Justin Rowland, Publisher
Cats Illustrated

Which Kentucky players put on the best show in the spring game? And which players left the most to be desired?

CatsIllustrated.com takes a closer look at those questions in this post-spring stock report.

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THREE UP

Quarterback Gunnar Hoak (RS-Fr.)

The Dublin Coffman (Ohio) product had his second consecutive impressive spring game performance, only last night's outing was much better than last year's quality showing. Hoak saw plenty of time against a lot of first string Kentucky defensive players and he made the most of the opportunity to showcase himself.

Hoak finished 12/18 for 92 yards and two touchdowns for the White team. There weren't a lot of big plays in the passing game, but Hoak was efficient and crafty when he was behind center, demonstrating an uncanny ability to get outside the pocket and throw accurately on the run. He has good field vision and a quality release. He hit Clevan Thomas for points in the second quarter and connected with Kayaune Ross on a beautiful fade in the endzone.

Hoak doesn't have a cannon and he's still the clear No. 2 to Stephen Johnson with Drew Barker less than 100-percent, but Darin Hinshaw and Mark Stoops have to feel a lot better about the position after that showing.

RELATED: Gunnar Hoak stars in Kentucky's spring game

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Linebacker Boogie Watson (RS-Fr.)

Watson made three stops and they were all sacks during the spring game. He demonstrated the kind of explosive playmaking ability that will make it hard for the coaches to keep him off the field.

The performance was eerily reminiscent of the one turned in by Denzil Ware last season.

Watson is a humble, grounded kid and probably realizes that it's going to be tough to pass Ware on the depth chart, but the coaches have to feel good about their pass-rushing potential after what Watson did.

RELATED: Young linebackers Watson, Davis stand out

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Linebacker Jamin Davis (Fr.)

As was true of Watson in the 2016 class, Davis was not one of Kentucky's more heralded recruits from the 2017 class, but the early enrollee looked like a star in the making during the spring game.

Davis finished the game with eight tackles (five solo) and a stop behind the line of scrimmage. He showed a knack for finding himself around the ball and played very fast. Because of Watson and Davis, the linebacker position looks even deeper.

Because of Kentucky's improving depth across the board (and even at linebacker, where there were several early 2017 departures)

RELATED: Visiting Florida receiver says UK's team is on the rise

Honorable mention: Kordell Looney (Fr., DL), Sihiem King (Jr., RB), Clevan Thomas (Fr., WR), Logan Stenberg (So., OL), Adrian Middleton (Jr., DL),

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THREE DOWN

Quarterback Stephen Johnson (Sr.)

This is not a crisis. Repeat: This is not a crisis. In fact, on the whole it seems like Johnson made solid improvements during the spring, according to the coaches. But the spring game was a regression.

Johnson brought a lot of good to the table last year. He would go through stretches of play with plenty of quality drives and points. But he would also go through extended periods of game action with inconsistency. He had down halves, without question.

Johnson started the spring game well enough but in the second half his accuracy and even decision making left him. He's still the starter and the unquestioned starter at that, regardless of what the coaches have or haven't said, but the spring game was a better showcase for Hoak. He finished 8/18 for 106 yards and an interception.

RELATED: Four-star linebacker surprised by Kentucky's facilities

Nose guard Matt Elam (Sr.)

Every year there are more questions about Matt Elam preseason than almost any other player on the roster, and the questions are still coming in spring of 2017. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like Elam has transformed his body and the same issues that faced him two or three years ago face him today.

Elam didn't make any tackles and he didn't look good in the Blue-White Spring Game. It's not at all clear that he'll be much of a contributor in 2017 unless some things change dramatically between now and the start of the season.

RELATED: DB Worship says 'they've moved up my list'

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Punter Grant McKinniss (So.)

Last year had to be tough for McKinniss. As a true freshman he was thrust into a starting position, and at a high-pressure position at that. With every poor punt he came more and more scrutinized, and surely the stress increased.

From all reports McKinniss worked hard in the offseason but we didn't see many fruits of that in the spring game. He did eventually boot a punt 50 yards in the spring game, but for the most part his punts were less than 40 yards and many of those were in the middle of the field.

Incoming graduate transfer Matthew Panton from Columbia will have every opportunity to unseat McKinniss if he doesn't get things straightened out between now and the end of fall camp.

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