Kentucky will start preseason football practice with some questions, but not nearly as many as in the past five years under coach Mark Stoops.
Even with the graduation of quarterback Stephen Johnson and the somewhat unexpected transfer of linebacker Denzil Ware after spring practice ended, Kentucky has returning players at almost every position. Not only does UK have better overall talent, but it has more depth than Stoops had the first five years, including the two bowl seasons the last two years.
The quarterback battle obviously is the major focus going into preseason camp. Will redshirt sophomore Gunnar Hoak or junior college transfer Terry Wilson emerge as the starter.
“I got to see Terry and Gunnar compete every day in the spring. I’ve seen a lot of forward steps coming out of the offense,” all-SEC running back Benny Snell said.
“Gunnar and Terry compete every day. They make little mistakes sometimes if there’s a line call or they are looking at the wrong receiver, but they’re doing a great job getting that corrected.”
Stoops challenged both quarterbacks to spend time studying more film this summer so they could read defenses before the snap, something Johnson did extremely well the last two years.
On defense, senior linebacker Josh Allen — already being projected as a first-round pick in the 2019 NFL draft — returns but he knows improvement in the defensive front is what can impact UK this season more than anything else on defense.
“You can see the difference from us last year in the run game and pass game compared to this year. Stopping the run and getting a pass rush really helps us out,” Allen said. “It opens up the middle for us to get sacks and keep the edge. They really have made a big change up front and the better they are, the better we will be.
“My teammates know that my main goal is to become a better leader on this team and this defense because I really believe we can have a special year.”
Stoops was glad the team did not suffer any significant injuries in spring practice and said the team’s attitude pleased him more than anything else.
“If we continue to grind every day and get better and honestly control the things that we can control, then I like where we’re headed,” the UK coach said. “We have some experience and we have some leadership, and we have some guys that have been around for a while.” Junior offensive tackle Landon Young says the players believe a better year is coming.
“We are confident in what we can do. We know we are still not getting a lot of respect, but we truly believe we can play with anybody in the SEC and we plan to prove that,” Young said.