Posts from Friday, Aug. 7
First practice in the books
Posted at 7:10 p.m. EDT - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations
Sometimes no news is good news, as seemed to be the case Friday evening as the UK football team wrapped up the first practice of the season at the Nutter Training Facility.
The Wildcats split into two squads for the afternoon practice in shorts only, per NCAA rules.
"It was like practice usually is in shorts," Brooks quipped. "We just need to push ourselves through this and get to real football pretty soon."
"Real football," as Brooks alluded to, is when the players will be able to suit in full pads and gear. UK can put shoulder pads on, on the third day of practice and can suit up in full gear the fifth day of practice. Until then, Brooks said he's looking at how his team adjusts to getting back out on the field.
"You look at athletic ability, you look for focus, concentration, how their handling things, running, and just the process of the mind and the body and which is winning," Brooks said. "You're just looking for athletic ability and playmaking ability. In a couple of days we'll get shoulder pads on and we'll be able to tell a little bit more, but a lot of people can play football in shorts."
Brooks said the teaching process has already begun though, especially for the freshmen.
"We're teaching them now," Brooks said. "If they fall behind now, they're really going to be lost when we get into full gear because some of them, I think, are a little taken aback by the speed of which people are moving around out here. When the pads go on, it'll ratchet it up even more, so they'll have to make that adjustment."
While the first days of practice are largely uneventful, Brooks said he enjoys just getting back out on the field.
"This is the fun part of the job," Brooks said. "This is what I enjoy the most is getting out here, watching players move, see if they're learning and see if they're getting better."
Of course, the first day wasn't without its moments. Men's basketball head coach John Calipari stopped by practice for a few minutes before his trip to China, and Brooks was in his usual form with his typical humor. Asked if he scared anybody on the first day, Brooks joked, "I jumped on a couple of them.
Media day observations
Posted at 5:51 p.m. EDT - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations
I'm headed over to the Nutter Training Facility to see how the first practice went. I'll have a short write-up later this evening.
Before that, though, wanted to give share a couple of personal observations from media day.
Leadership easy to find with Cats
Posted at 5:17 p.m. EDT - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations
Rich Brooks had reason to be concerned last year when he lost Keenan Burton, Jacob Tamme and Wesley Woodyard to the NFL.
Along with losing talented veterans on the field, Brooks lost several cornerstones in the locker room.
"A year ago, I was really concerned about leadership on this team because we lost some guys that had assumed that role for a two- or three-year period," Brooks said.
Brooks doesn't have to worry anymore.
"I don't see any major worry that I have about leadership in this football team," he said. "We have plenty of guys who have assumed that role that can continue to develop and bring it along."
Brooks said several players stepped into leadership roles last season, which has created an influx of returning leaders as UK heads into the 2009 season.
The seventh-year head coach rattled off player after player when he was asked who the leaders were on his team this year. He said Micah Johnson is one of the more vocal leaders on the team. While Corey Peters and Trevard Lindley don't talk as much, they've become role models on and off the field.
Mike Hartline, Zipp Duncan, Jorge Gonzalez, Alfonso Smith and Derrick Locke were some of the other names Brooks named at UK football media day.
"Leadership changes from year to year as we all know," Brooks said. "The real critical test of leadership isn't when things are going well; it's when things aren't going well."
Brooks isn't all that surprised with the wealth of leaders he has on this year's team. He said it's a byproduct of winning bowl games.
"We've had good example of players that these players have grown up with," Brooks said. "They see how the marquee players have conducted themselves. I think it's starting to spill over from class to class to class. I think one of the benefits of having won three straight bowl games is some of these guys are starting to figure out that there is a right way to do things and a wrong way to do things."
Reasons for concern and confidence at defensive end
Posted at 4:26 p.m. EDT - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations
Excuse Rick Petri if he was in a little bit of a rush to get out of Commonwealth Stadium as quickly as possible. He has some work to do on the defensive line.
The fifth-year defensive line coach is faced with a particularly tough situation heading into fall camp. His experience on the defensive end position was already thin when the Cats had Jeremy Jarmon on the left side. With Jarmon gone to the NFL, experience is basically non-existent.
"At defensive end we have virtually no experience," Petri said. "We have one guy (Chandler Burden) that's played a few snaps in the SEC. So what do you have to do?"
That's the million dollar question heading into fall camp for not only Petri, but the entire UK football team. As many storylines as one can pull from Friday's media frenzy, no storyline is arguably more important than the youth and inexperience at the defensive end position.
Without a consistent pass rush, UK's rock-solid secondary will be chipped away.
"We're all hoping that the defensive end position creates a pash rush because no matter how good you are, you can't cover people all day long, so we need to shrink the pocket," head coach Rich Brooks said.
The pressure will fall squarely on a group of ends that have never registered a tackle much less a sack. The situation looks bleak, but it's not nearly as bad as it appears. In fact, Brooks is confident in the depth and numbers he has to fill in for Jarmon and the departed Ventrell Jenkins.
The primary candidates to take over on the outside are Chandler Burden, Collins Ukwu, Taylor Wyndham and the highly regarded junior-college transfer DeQuin Evans.
Brooks said Burden looks to be the starter at left end, Jarmon's old position, heading into fall camp. Burden has the talent, size and tools to succeed, Brooks said, and is the only guy with any - albeit limited - experience in a UK uniform.
The left end will be decided between Ukwu, Wyndham and Evans. Ukwu recorded four tackles and a sack in the Blue/White Spring Game, and Wyndham, a converted linebacker, has explosive speed from the outside. Wyndham lost some weight in the offseason, though, when he had his tonsils removed and will need to regain his strength (he's currently at 230, which is undersized for a DE).
Evans remains the mystery and the possible key to the entire unit. After recording 63 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks at Los Angeles Harbor College, he comes in highly touted and much needed.
Petri is hoping Evans will be able to step in right away and relieve some of the pressure on the defensive line, but he was quick to caution the expectations of a guy that has never played at the Division I level.
"Everyone learns at a different tempo," Petri said. "Even as much as you want someone to learn something in a hurry, they may not. We obviously do a lot more than they do at junior college, but he has more experience at the position. He's seen some of the things and he's had to react to some of the things (that the younger guys haven't experienced yet). It won't be the first time he'll see it."
All four of the aforementioned ends - Evans, Ukwu, Wyndham and Burden - have speed and versatility. Brooks said Evans, Ukwu and Wyndham can all run under a 4.8 40-yard dash, and Burden, whose game is more of a power rusher, is just a hair second slower at 4.9.
The strength of the defensive line could lie with its flexibility. All four guys have the ability to play either side.
"We've got some freedom to move them around," Petri said. "All those guys have played on both sides, so who knows how it's going to fall out or how it's going to happen."
The versatility of being able to move multiple players to either side gives the Cats more options than they've had in the past and more depth at a position that, quite frankly, will likely be hit with at least an injury or two as the season progresses.
Petri isn't sure how his line will cope with the loss of Jarmon and even Jenkins until they get on the field, but he's anxious to see.
"You have to give them a lot of reps in practice," Petri said. "They're going to see a lot of things in practice and they're going to be learning as they go because you can't expose them to everything that's going to happen to them. What you hope is that their enthusiasm makes up for some of those mistakes.
"They have to be motivated and they have to be hungry to try to make a point."
Petri said one of the biggest factors will be avoiding the mental mistakes. Although his line is a bit undersized, they can overcome any physical mistakes and weaknesses with their speed and athleticism. But with youth comes mental mistakes, something the Cats will have to limit if they hope to establish a consistent pass rush.
The learning curve will clearly have to be accelerated as UK hits fall practice, but the green defensive ends are confident they can fill the void.
"There is definitely some pressure on us," Wyndham said. "I've never played on this level; none of us really have. They're big shoes to fill, but I think we can do it."
Strieby's best path to big leagues in the outfield?
Posted at 4:14 p.m. EDT - Brent Ingram, UK Media Relations
All it took was one year at Kentucky for baseball slugger Ryan Strieby to win Southeastern Conference Player of the Year honors and lead UK to its first SEC Championship in school history. Now as the top prospect in the Detroit Tigers system, Strieby has performed well enough to earn a big-league call up.
The Tigers' reigning minor league player of the year, Strieby has done nothing but hit since arriving in Lexington before the 2006 season. Now a member of the double-A Eastern League Erie SeaWolves, Strieby appears ready for a big-league promotion, as his .305 average, 17 home runs and 53 RBI in 78 games attests.
Just one problem, the Tigers already have a good offensive first baseman, Miguel Cabrera, therefore leaving nowhere for Strieby to play upon a big league call up. The lack of a path to the majors is forcing the 6-foot-6, 235-pound slugger to find a different route - the outfield.
"He is going to be a major league hitter, it's just a matter of when that takes place," Glenn Ezell, the Tigers' director of player development said. "His fastest way to the big leagues in our organization is in the outfield. He's just a big guy that's a pretty good athlete."
An everyday first baseman his entire baseball career, Strieby is getting acclimated to the spacious grounds of the outfield in an effort to fast track his path to Comerica Park in Detroit.
"I had no second thoughts (about playing the outfield)," Strieby said in an interview with Baseball America's Matt Forman. "My goal is to play in the big leagues, and I'm going to do whatever it takes to get there."
Strieby made his outfield debut on May 7 but has been shagging fly balls in batting practice throughout the season, in an effort to learn footwork, jumps and routes to the ball. Since May ended, Strieby has started half of his games in left field and hasn't allowed the pressure of a defensive switch to effect his effortless hitting ability.
"It's a matter of getting experience so (defensive) situations don't catch him by surprise," Ezell said. "He's used to being close to the bat and now he's away from the bat. Before, the hitter kind of made him stay in the game because you never know when you'll get one off the shin bone."
While Strieby's offensive production comes as no surprise to UK head coach Gary Henderson, who recruited Strieby out of Washington just before the 2006 season, his bout with injuries the last two seasons has come as a surprise. Strieby missed the final 19 games of the 2008 season after breaking a hamate bone in his left hand - the same season-ending injury that forced former All-American outfielder Collin Cowgill to miss the 2007 UK season. This season, Strieby has been battling a related bone spur injury that has forced him to go on the seven-day disabled list after a 13-game homerless drought in late June. An Eastern League All-Star, Strieby chose not to play in the midsummer classic to help his hand heal.
While at UK in 2006, Strieby rewrote UK's record books while helping lead UK to its first conference championship in the 75-year history of the league. The Brier, Wash., native led UK in doubles (22), home runs (20), RBI (77), on-base percentage (.473), total bases (164) and slugging (.704) during the historic 2006 campaign, before becoming the Tigers' fourth-round MLB Draft choice in June of 2006. Strieby is not the only former UK star on the SeaWolves, as former UK third baseman, Michael Bertram, was recently promoted to double-A, marking the fourth consecutive season the two have played on the same team.
Adams recovering from blood clot, will not play this season
Posted at 12:28 p.m. EDT - Eric Lindsey, UK Media Relations
UK football media day didn't provide the breaking news of last year - the dismissal of former quarterback Curtis Pulley - but there was certainly some scary news regarding redshirt freshman Brian Adams.
Head coach Rich Brooks informed the media that Adams, a wide receiver, suffered a blood clot over the Fourth of July weekend. Brooks also said Adams' first rib was removed.
"It went into his lungs," Brooks said. "We almost lost him."
Because of the severity of the condition, Adams will not be able to have any contact of any sort until next spring, Brooks said. Adams was forced to withdraw from summer school and will not be included on UK's roster.
The good news is Adams is OK and attended Friday's media day. Brooks said he's taking Coumadin for the blood clot.
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to catch up with Adams amid the media frenzy, but it sounds like Adams is doing significantly better. Let's hope Adams can make a full recovery and get back on the football field next year.
Other than Adams' admittedly scary injury, the Cats are in good health heading into the first fall practice, which will take place later this afternoon.
"We're good to go," Brooks said. "Everyone is healthy and ready to go."
Also, make sure to check out the photo gallery link above.