Midpoint Musings

With Kentucky at the midpoint of its second spring under head coach Mark Stoops, it's time to take a closer look at some of the main talking points coming out of Wildcat camp.

With Kentucky at the midpoint of its second spring under head coach Mark Stoops, it's time to take a closer look at some of the main talking points coming out of Wildcat camp.

Here are three quick-hitters:

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Bolstered Roster Breeds Optimism – I know what you're thinking. "C'mon, JDrum, every coach is optimistic during spring." And you would be right, to an extent. But one thing we learned quickly about the new UK staff last year is that few – if any – of the coaches were prone to sugar-coating. Players were seldom singled out for subpar play, but careful observers could often connect the dots if a player was being omitted from conversation. Likewise, if a position or position group was not performing well, one could reasonably trace the root of the issue. To wit: we were repeatedly told last spring that wide receiver and defensive back were not up to SEC standards, and both were issues into the fall. Coming off another strong recruiting class that has bolstered the roster with guys like A.J. Stamps and T.V. Williams, there has been a notable absence of concern on both the part of Stoops and his coordinators concerning any one position on the field. The staff is feeling much better about its personnel and depth in 2014.

Quarterback Questions – What to make of the Cats' quarterback situation? Two weeks into spring, the staff insists that there is still a legitimate four-man competition between Jalen Whitlow, Reese Phillips, Patrick Towles and Drew Barker. (Maxwell Smith could make it five by the time his shoulder heals for fall camp.) According to a few of our sources who have been able to watch multiple practices, the coaches are shooting straight when they say all the quarterbacks are showing improvement over last season, but it's also telling that none of them have jumped into the pole position. Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown both want somebody to step forward and take ownership of the position before they're willing to make the call on the No. 1 and No. 2 guys. Those who watched Saturday's second scrimmage say that Barker, a freshman who otherwise would still be at Conner High School right now if not for early enrollment, tore it up. Among his highlights on the day was a 45-yard touchdown strike. Phillips was reportedly second in the scrimmage, but Whitlow had been the leader most of the previous seven workouts. Towles has reportedly made great strides, but may still need to make up ground before he's a serious contender. It will be interesting to see if the staff starts giving two guys the majority of the reps moving forward.

Who's Mike? – The Cats have monumentally big shows to fill at the middle linebacker position, commonly referred to as the ‘Mike' in coach lingo, with the departure of Avery Williamson and his 102 tackles made last season. Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot has been trying a little bit of everything this spring to see if a suitable replacement is already on the roster. Latley, it appears like that could be junior Josh Forrest, an intriguing choice who has bounced around as a receiver, safety and outside linebacker during his time at UK. The staff likes how the unit gets much more athletic when he's on the field, but can he hold up in the run game and be a player who makes the all the necessary checks and calls for the rest of the defense? Remains to be seen. Tyler Brause is a senior with a wealth of experience, but doesn't feature the agility the Cats would like there. Khalid Henderson and Miles Simpson have also cross-trained in the middle, and early enrollee Dorian Hendrix is in the mix. This position battle may have to wait until summer when junior college transfer Ryan Flannigan makes his way from Blinn College to Lexington.

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