The excitement around the Kentucky football program is at an all-time high despite a disappointing 5-6 record in the 2020 season. Mark Stoops and company have done a tremendous job of keeping the morale of the program at a high level following one of the most emotionally draining seasons in program history. COVID, Chris Oats’ health, John Schlarman’s passing, and a losing record on the field all could have contributed to dark future for the program. Instead, the coaching staff took advantage of the extra year of eligibility and automatic transfer rules put in place by the NCAA and have turned this roster into one that will be ready, willing, and able to compete in the SEC this upcoming season. The move that has seemed to draw the most excitement from fans is the hiring of Liam Coen, Kentucky’s new offensive coordinator. Coming from the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams, Coen got to learn under one of the game’s most innovative offensive minds in Sean McVay. With spring practice underway for the Wildcats, I expect this new offensive system to benefit everyone involved. Here is who I think we will be hearing a lot of positive things about throughout spring practice:
Quinton Wilson (C)
Taking over for arguably the greatest center in Kentucky football history is no easy task. With that said, Wilson is very capable of filling that role productively. The 6’1′ junior from Cincinnati, Ohio has patiently waited his turn and has had the benefit of learning from two Kentucky legends in Drake Jackson and John Schlarman. Wilson’s build is nearly identical to Jackson’s, so the transition in that regard should be seamless. What is yet to seen with Wilson is whether he can match the technique that Jackson so often showcased that made him one of the elite centers in the SEC. Given his willingness to wait his turn and learn, I expect his hard work to show dividends this spring.
Josh Ali (WR)
It is no secret that Wan’Dale Robinson will be WR1 in Liam Coen’s offense. The Nebraska transfer and Kentucky native has already proven himself to be one of the elite talents in college football. In 2019, Robinson was a Paul Hourning award finalist which ultimately went to Kentucky’s Lynn Bowden. With Robinson’s arrival, a lot of opportunities will open up for Josh Ali. Ali was undoubtedly Terry Wilson’s only reliable target in the 2020 season. The returning senior led Kentucky’s receiving corps with 54 receptions and 473 yards. While Ali’s production was solid, it was evident that he needed some help. The presence of Robinson alone will free up space for Ali and will allow him to thrive in the new offense.
Justin Rigg/Keaton Upshaw (TE)
Mentioning both of the tight ends is appropriate in this discussion because it is likely will will see both Rigg and Upshaw quite a bit. When you look the Rams’ offense, they always get solid production out of their tight ends with Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett. I expect a similar result with Rigg and Upshaw as both guys already have a great deal of experience and have show the ability to make plays in blocking and receiving. Upshaw compares well to Gerald Everett because he has a big play ability that is rare with tight ends and is especially dangerous in the red-zone. Rigg will be more like Tyler Higbee in this offense as a solid tight end who will not blow you away with athleticism, but will make the right play. Vince Marrow will be very pleased with the increased production for his group in this new system.
Darian Kinnard (OT)
Kinnard is without a doubt the best player on this offense at this point. The senior tackle could have made the jump to the NFL following the 2020 season, but decided to return to Lexington where he will get to play in a NFL style offense. The list of accolades Kinnard received for his 2020 campaign is endless from AP First-Team All-SEC to being an AP Third-Team All-American. Kinnard is already a high-quality pro prospect and I expect him to improve on that throughout the spring.
Barring a drastic injury or multiple injuries, I believe Kentucky is on track to have one of the better offenses the program has had in recent memory. This list may not be the most flashy group of players you would expect to see such as Chris Rodriguez, Wan’Dale Robinson, or one of Joey Gatewood and Beau Allen. I expect those guys to be successful, but I wanted to zero in on guys who I think will breakout or continue their outstanding play this spring based on the implementation of the new offensive scheme. The offense is in good hands with Liam Coen and I am excited to hear more chatter about the players mentioned.