Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops met with the media on Monday to preview spring football practice, which began on Sunday and will feature 15 workouts that culminate with the Blue-White Spring Game on April 14.
Here are some takeaways from what Stoops had to say as he enters his fifth season at the helm of UK football:
- Drew Barker's Health Status... The junior quarterback is "getting better, but not full strength yet" after having back surgery in November, Stoops said. He has yet to participate in drills. The plan is to work him back slowly after spring break if he does not experience any setbacks, but the staff does not expect him to be "full go." Stoops indicated he may return for 7-on-7 or 1-on-1 passing drills. Barker was UK's starter entering the 2016 season, but injured his back on the first series of the New Mexico State game and never returned.
- Injury Update for Other Players... Stoops said wide receiver Kayaune Ross, tight end Justin
Riggand safety Darius West have all recovered from their injuries at the end of last season and have returned to the practice field. Others, including tight end C.J. Conrad, defensive lineman Alvonte Bell, running back Bryant Koback and quarterback Walker Wood, are not participating at this time.
- Good Start for Stephen Johnson... Kentucky's returning starter at the quarterback position has impressed the staff with the way he's throwing the ball early in spring practice. "I know for yesterday's practice Day 1, we were a lot more efficient throwing the football than I thought we would be," said Stoops, adding that he likes the "continuity" that having Johnson back as the starter brings to the offense. Ball security will be a major point of emphasis for Johnson this spring. He was plagued by a number of fumbles last season.
- Defense Seeks More Negative-Yardage Plays... Stoops said one of his top priorities this spring is developing a defense that can put the opponent in more long-yardage situations. The Cats ranked near the bottom of the FBS rankings last season in defensive plays for zero or minus yardage. "We had way too many third-and-shorts last year," Stoops said. "Too many third-and-mediums, too many third-and-shorts and too many first downs (surrendered)." He's hoping the promotion of Matt House to defensive coordinator and the addition of Dean Hood as linebackers coach will help create some additional tackles for losses. Stoops noted that Hood has a strong background in creating pressure.
- Newcomers Adjusting Well... The Cats had seven early enrollees this winter, and early feedback on them has been positive. "I've been very pleased with those guys," Stoops said. "The first thing you look for is their maturity level and all the issues off the field... I think what stands out with that group, I'd say, is leadership. There's some really special guys, some special leaders in that group." The newcomers include two quarterbacks, Danny Davis and Walker Wood, running back Bryant Koback, wide receiver Clevan Thomas, linebacker Jamin Davis, and defensive backs Cedrick Dort Jr. and Lonnie Johnson.