By GUY RAMSEY, UK Athletics
The first full-padded practice of fall camp is full of unknowns, no matter how players perform up to that point.
The game changes when it gets physical, but Kentucky’s offense had issue responding to that on Tuesday.
“Thought they handled it really well,” offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said. “I thought they came out with energy after five days of practice and executed really, really well today. I was excited about it.”
Excited, but not surprised.
After a productive spring and a summer in which players took it upon themselves to run mock practices on their own, this is exactly what Gran was asking of his group.
“The first meeting we talked to them about we’ve got high expectations for this offense,” Gran said. “With high expectations, you’ve got to pay a price and we believe they can do it, but now it’s about coming out here. And like Coach talked about the fine strokes and you have the fine strokes. Then with the fine strokes, that’s the detail. What I saw today was the detail.”
At quarterback, detail came in the form of a completion rate approaching 70 percent in live portions of practice for sophomore starter Drew Barker. Those situations aren’t cakewalks either.
“I’m constantly putting pressure on him,” quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw said. “I’m constantly heating up the kitchen, trying to cook some eggs and different things in his kitchen, trying to get him to be uncomfortable so that he’s more comfortable when the actual game comes around.”
Barker, meanwhile, is thinking more about the play of those around him than his own. He’s seeing a large group step up.
“Across the board, pretty much everybody’s making plays,” Barker said. “There’s not really one person who’s lagging behind. So it’s good to have that competition, especially in the wide receiver room. We got a ton of talent there.”
Barker went on to say that even third-string receivers are doing good things, which is exactly what the coaching staff is looking for.
“You’ve got to play the best ones, the ones who are producing and that’s what we’re finding out right now,” Gran said. “The one thing we have right now that’s a great thing at the wide receiver position is we’ve got guys who are competing.”
Wide receiver isn’t the only spot where that’s happening. It’s also the case at running back. True freshman Justin Rigg is pushing C.J. Conrad and Greg Hart at wide receiver. Another true freshman, Landon Young, is pressing for playing time in his first college season.
“When you have competition, then that’s what is going to make a better football team,” Gran said. “And I think they’ve done a great job here of recruiting to make it so you do have competition.”
The idea is for that competition to lead to consistency.
“If we can be consistent and do it, we’ve got a chance,” Gran said. “We can’t be up and down as an offense throughout the year or you’ve got no chance. There’s going to be some highs and lows in the game, but you’ve got to be consistent when you’re doing it and recover in that short-term memory.”