LEXINGTON — After UK’s first practice of fall camp on Monday, Mark Stoops pointed out there were some areas to “clean up” on offense on an otherwise encouraging day.
In another early-morning practice on Tuesday, the Wildcats took a step in the right direction.
Settling in on the second day of fall camp, UK executed much more cleanly, particularly in the passing game, while sustaining the energy displayed the day before.
“I thought we were nervous day one, especially the new guys, the freshmen, and it showed,” offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. “We dropped some passes. But we caught the ball really well today. I don’t anticipate that being an issue at all, like it was at times last year. During team period, we may have had one drop. I don’t anticipate that being a problem going forward.”
Five members of UK’s highly touted incoming class are wide receivers, giving UK much-needed depth at a position that severely lacked it a season ago. So far, Brown has been encouraged by the group.
“Really, really excited about some of the young freshmen wideouts,” Brown said. “They’re catching on quicker. The new rules in the summer obviously helped us.”
Asked for detail on which of the five impressed him, Brown named Dorian Baker and Blake Bone, “the two big kids.”
“We need those guys,” Brown said. “We need length. I talked about it in detail last year: we need some guys with some size. I’ve been impressed with those guys. Dorian probably had a better day one than day two, but excited about both those.”
Big receivers like Baker and Bone, 6-foot-3 and 6-5, respectively, can be safety blankets for a quarterback. Considering UK will play with a first-time full-time starter at quarterback whether Patrick Towles, Reese Phillips, Drew Barker or Maxwell Smith wins the job, that’s a plus.
Speaking of those signal callers, there’s still no word of any separation in the battle between them. Brown, however, did give some insight into how he’s applying the added pressure on the quarterbacks he said he would.
“The defenses kind of installs how they’re going to install, so we’re seeing the pressure packages at kind of a normal rate, but really I’m keeping track of every throw they make,” Brown said. “I’m talking about it, talking about situational football a lot, probably coaching them harder and being more intense with them early in camp than I normally am.”
Those quarterbacks are working in a slightly simplified system this fall, with most calls featuring one word and one syllable. That, along with a full year of experience in Brown’s offense and a summer of film study, is helping ramp up the pace in practice.
“When you’re trying to play fast — and we weren’t capable of playing as fast as we would like last year, because guys were thinking,” Brown said. “They’d have to think about alignments and assignments. Now it’s more natural. They’re used to getting signals. They’re used to getting lined up fast, used to operating fast.”
Even playing at that pace, Brown has liked what he’s seen from the offensive linemen who redshirted a season ago as well as freshman running backs Mikel Horton and Stanley “Boom” Williams. But on Wednesday, they’ll be subjected to another kind of test. That’s when the pads go on.
“So overall, two productive days, but we are playing flag football,” Brown said. “Tomorrow the truth will be shown.”