It will be a spring practice of anticipation and looking for players to plug in numerous spots for the University of Kentucky football team.

Spring practice began in Lexington last week, but it will be off for more than a week because of UK is on spring break this week. UK's spring Blue-White game is April 12.

UK is coming off its best season in decades, complete with a New Year's Day win over Penn State in the Citrus Bowl.

But there are a lot of holes to fill from the top-tier players who graduated or left UK early for a shot in the NFL Draft. Former linebacker Josh Allen is considered one of the top prospects in this year's draft. He is one of eight defensive starters that has to be replaced from a 10-3 UK squad.

Of course on the other side of the ball the focus will be finding yards that all-time leading rusher Benny Snell produced at running back.

UK head coach Mark Stoops doesn't think his next team will think it will be spoiled by last year's success, because there will be so many new faces in key roles.

"It's pretty easy for us to want more," Stoops said. "We lose so many defensive players and offensively we know we want to improve. I think defensively, the hunger is there because these players have a lot to prove. Many of them haven't done much to this point. They've contributed, but not to the point that we're going to count on them this year."

UK's offense returns quarterback Terry Wilson for a second season, and Wilson should be a much larger factor for the Wildcats. He threw for 1,889 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. UK wants Wilson to be more efficient this season, and for a larger group of wide receivers to step up as dependable targets in 2019.

Lynn Bowden, Jr., returns as one of Wilson's primary targets at wide receiver, and UK will want to utilize his unique talent set more.

"We would like to get (Bowden) the ball more and I believe we will, but you also need other guys to step up," Stoops said. "You have heard me talk about that and the outside wide receiver position, we have to improve. We have quite a few guys there. They have some experience. At least they were here a year and I think all those guys need to step up. You see some of it. You see Josh Ali. You see Isaiah Epps. Bryce Oliver has a chance, Marvin Alexander. DeMarcus Harris is here early. I mentioned Clevan (Thomas Jr.), Allen Dailey, Jr. What I have seen so far is, I have seen some improvement."

There are more unknowns in the ground game, although UK will have three running backs to look at in the spring.

AJ Rose, who ran 71 times for 442 yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore last season, came to UK with Snell in 2016. He told media in Lexington that he was glad to be working into a lead role at running back.

"It feels good to come in as the starter," Rose said. "You don't have to worry about getting in or playing."

It could be a situation for UK where it uses Rose as the primary back, but also gives the ball to Chris Rodriguez and Kavosiey Smoke.

UK offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said the trio will be working to earn their carries.

"We've got to find those yards, Benny was such a hard-nosed yards after contact guy," Gran said last week. "You've got some explosiveness from AJ where you can get the long ball, you've got Smoke and Chris Rodriguez who are a little like Benny, Chris is the yards after contact guy, Smoke is a little bit between them both, he is a slasher."

"Those three are going to be competing like crazy. I love the room. Benny left it in great shape. They know what it takes to be a great running back and the physicality you have to have in this league.

"We'll see how we compete. … It could be a running back by committee. I don't know. We'll see how it goes. I'm not afraid of AJ being in there -- whoever that guy is, whoever wins that spot -- being that guy who has the most reps."

UK has a new defensive coordinator in Brad White, who was already on the staff as outside linebackers coach.

Filling Allen's spot will take a multi-player effort simply because of how good he was. Allen won National Defensive Player of the Year honors and was a unanimous first-team All-American after leading the team with 88 tackles and pacing the SEC in sacks (17.0), tackles for loss (21.5) and forced fumbles (5).

An overlooked facet of the UK defense was the development of Boogie Watson at the other outside linebacker. Watson ranked second in sacks behind Allen with five. He also had three pass breakups, two quarterback hurries and one forced fumble.

"Boogie, we're expecting him to up his game," White said. "It's open competition, At any position, I'm not pulling for one guy, I just want to see the competition. We're going to find a way to get the best 11 on the field in the proper situations."

All of the new faces will make for a busy spring for the Wildcats.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.