1. Cats May Have Best Ground Attack in Years
There may be a segment of the Kentucky fan base that doesn't want to hear it, but if the opening of fall camp is any indication, expect the Cats to run the ball a lot in 2016. We already suspected this, to a certain extent, after UK head coach Mark Stoops brought in veteran offensive coordinator Eddie Gran to replace Shannon Dawson, and there's been nothing said during the first portion of fall camp to doubt it. The Cats, who haven't had a 1,000-yard rusher since Rafael Little in 2007, may end that drought this season if they can keep All-SEC candidate Stanley "Boom" Williams healthy. Even if Williams doesn't top the 1,000-yard plateau, UK could still have a strong rushing-by-committee attack thanks to an experienced O-Line and a talented stable of backs that also includes Jojo Kemp and Mikel Horton (three 100-yard games between them) and Sihiem King (91 yards last season vs. Charlotte). That depth may have gotten even better with the 2016 signing class, which included Benny Snell. The 5-foot-11, 220-pound freshman from Ohio has been opening eyes early in camp and reportedly had a great scrimmage on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium. Being able to run the ball consistently should take pressure off sophomore quarterback Drew Barker and allow UK to camouflage some potential concerns with pass protection on the edges.
2. Defensive Front Seven Concerns?
Kentucky's secondary is starting to receive some recognition as potentially the best in the SEC entering 2016, but the biggest question surrounding the defense is whether the front seven will be good enough to force opponents to challenge the Cats' strength. By all indications, Saturday's scrimmage did little to ease those concerns. Both Stoops and defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot indicated that the UK offense ran the ball well and that tackling was at times suspect. As we noted above, the Cats could have a formidable rushing attack this season, so there's no reason to panic just yet. But UK lost its most experienced defensive lineman, Regie Meant, early in camp and will be relying on several players (Adrian Middleton, Tymere Dubose, Courtney Miggins, Alvonte Bell, Kengera Daniel) who simply don't have many career snaps under their belts. It's a similar story at linebacker, where Nebraska transfer Courtney Love and Minnesota transfer De'Niro Laster haven't played a real game in a year, and young players like Jordan Jones, Eli Brown, Josh Allen and Kobie Walker haven't had many reps. Denzil Ware is the lone "veteran" with significant game experience at UK, and he's just a sophomore. This group is going to have to prove that they can slow down the run or opposing offensive coordinators may never have a reason to call a forward pass.
3. Strong O-Line Competition
Offensive line coach John Schlarman has consistently stated that he wants a minimum rotation of eight players in his unit, but he admitted earlier this week that he may have more options than that. If the season started today, UK would open with All-SEC candidate Jon Toth at center, juniors Ramsey Meyers and Nick Haynes at guard and juniors Cole Mosier and Kyle Meadows at tackle. The next three in the mix would be sophomore Jervontius "Bunchy" Stallings (pictured above with ball) at center/guard, sophomore George Asafo-Adjei at guard/tackle and redshirt freshman Logan Stenberg at guard/tackle. That means that Tate Leavitt, one of the nation's top-rated juco signees on the O-Line, and Army All-American Landon Young, may not be forced into action prematurely at tackle. The Cats may also be able to keep a redshirt on another Army All-American, Drake Jackson, since Stallings has been impressive behind Toth. This is the kind of depth every coach in the SEC hopes to develop along the O-Line. Even though UK is still striving to catch up with some of its league rivals, there was a time when the Cats would have been forced to play guys as talented as Young and Jackson from Day 1.
4. More Than One Star at Tight End?
UK fans are excited to see how sophomore tight end C.J. Conrad is utilized this season in Gran's offense, which is almost a lock to surpass the weak numbers posted by the position ever since Jacob Tamme graduated and took his talents to the NFL. But based on everything we've heard since camp began, tight end will be far from a one-man show. Although Gran does not typically utilize two-tight end sets in his offense, expect to see Greg Hart on the field quite a bit. The Nebraska transfer has been pushing Conrad extremely hard in the early days of camp, and the staff loves the physical element he's brought to the table. His play was a big factor in one-time highly regarded signee Darryl Long opting to transfer.