Rookie Report: Breaking down the Kentucky Wildcats' offensive freshmen

In this All Wildcats feature, we take a closer look at Kentucky's freshmen on the offensive side of the ball, how they fared in camp, and what their outlook is for this season. Running back Benny Snell (pictured above) may have played himself into contention to see early action.


Players: Gunnar Hoak

Camp Buzz: Hoak enrolled at UK in January, and the head start he received during spring football really helped the Ohio native when the Cats began fall camp. He was a pleasant surprise for the staff, immediately placing himself in a position to compete with the older Luke Wright and Davis Mattingly for the No. 3 job. "From where he came from in the spring to the summer and now the fall, he's looking like a veteran," UK quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw said. "He's doing a lot of good things. Now, he's still making freshman mistakes, and he's got to learn to take care of the football better, but he's got a strong arm, he understands the offense now, I really believe that, and now we just have to get him to master the offense and continue to get better. I'm really proud of him and where he's come."

Outlook: Likely to redshirt, get reps as scout team quarterback and be on standby as an option should Barker and Johnson both succumb to injuries.


Players: Benny Snell, A.J. Rose

Camp Buzz: Snell wasted no time in establishing himself as a player to watch in UK's deep stable of running backs. At 5-foot-11 and 220-pounds, the Ohio native already looks like the type of back the Cats face on a weekly basis in the SEC. He won respect in camp with his aggressive running style and competitiveness, which had to be occasionally reeled in by the staff. “I love him right now," said UK offensive coordinator Eddie Gran, who also serves as running backs coach. "For a freshman and some of the hits, he’s shown that he can have yards after contact. He’s really far ahead for a true freshman,”  Feedback has also been good on Rose, who has shown some nice skills running and catching the ball out of the backfield.

Outlook: Rumor has it that Snell may have moved up to No. 3 on the running back depth chart, which is a mighty accomplishment when you consider the Cats will have Boom Williams, Jojo Kemp, Mikel Horton and Sihiem King all returning with significant accomplishments from last season. He seems like a lock to play this season. Rose will likely redshirt, barring a wave of injuries.


Players: Justin Rigg

Camp Buzz: Many recruiting analysts never believed Rigg would be a tight end at the college level, instead pegging him for a long-term project at offensive tackle. Consider those analysts fooled. Not only did the unheralded Ohio native open his UK career at tight end, his impressive play may have led to former highly-recruited signee Darryl Long opting to transfer early in camp. "He's a very natural guy," UK head coach Mark Stoops said of the 6-foot-6, 251-pound Rigg.

Outlook: Kentucky features a pair of experienced, talented tight ends in the form of C.J. Conrad and Greg Hart, so the Cats should be able to redshirt Rigg if the first two guys stay healthy. The position is rather thin overall, though, so it may require some creative use of fullbacks like Will Tom Collins and Tanner Fink if injuries occur and the staff wishes to keep the redshirt on Rigg.


Players: Zy'Aire Hughes, Dakota Holtzclaw

Camp Buzz: The staff had the luxury of bringing both Huges and Holtzclaw along slowly thanks to a position loaded with experience and potential playmakers. "They had a good camp," UK receivers coach Lamar Thomas said. "They're still learning. I think what happened for them -- especially Dakota, who had a pretty decent spring -- but I think in the fall things started going pretty fast for him. That happens. But he's going to be a helluva player. For Zy'Aire, being inside and learning the offense was a bit of a challenge for him, especially for a guy who played quarterback in high school, so he's learning the position. But I tell you those two guys are going to be good players in time."

Outlook: Both likely to redshirt and give the defense quality scout team looks. They could also be considered for position changes in the future as Hughes was also projected by many as a defensive back coming out of McCracken County High School, and the 6-foot-7 Holtzclaw might make a nice tight end if the Ohio native bulks up from his current 216-pound frame.


Players: Landon Young, Drake Jackson, Luke Fortner

Camp Buzz: The 6-foot-7, 305-pound Young wasted no time in showing why he was a U.S. Army All-American, battling his way to the No. 2 spot at left tackle behind Cole Mosier and ahead of highly regarded juco signee Tate Leavitt. Jackson, a fellow U.S. Army All-American, has more leeway to watch and learn as he's behind All-SEC candidate Jon Toth and emerging backup Bunchy Stallings at center. Fortner has been running No. 3 at guard. "I feel like all of them have had a really good camp," UK offensive line coach John Schlarman said. "They've gotten a lot better from Day 1 until now."

Outlook: The staff would love to be able to redshirt Young, but it appears that the former Lafayette High School star will likely be thrust into action this season. The Cats travel with only the first and second units, so expect Jackson and Fortner to redshirt barring unexpected circumstances.

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