Reserve players getting reps as Cats deal with COVID measures


Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops watches his team during the game against Arkansas on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 24-20. Photo by Jordan Prather | Staff

Eric Decker

While most of the college football world kicked off this weekend, Kentucky was back on the practice field, holding its third inter-squad scrimmage earlier this morning.

Most would assume the ability to scrimmage this often is a good thing, but with all the hoops and hurdles necessary for this season, the number of guys available is trimming down.

“We’re getting thin at certain positions,” Mark Stoops said after practice. “I don’t want to get into specifics, but we’re getting thin at a few spots with injury and with Covid. Everything is still manageable at this point in time, but it does get you a touch thin.”

Stoops and his staff have maintained a relatively hands-off approach with regard to monitoring what players do once they leave the facility. Despite troubles now popping up because of the virus, Stoops continued to stand true on his philosophy.

“I don’t think there’s any denying there’s a challenge,” Stoops said. “We’ve been very good percentage wise. We’d like to be perfect but we’re not… I appreciate what [the players] have done to this point.”

The difficulty in maintaining the roster through an extended preseason has given the second and third stringers an opportunity for reps, something Stoops appreciates given the circumstances.

“With this situation… you don’t know how you’re going to get hit,” Stoops said. “You need a lot of bodies ready to play, so we’re working those guys.”

Putting inexperienced players without practice opportunities in game action can tend to lead to sloppiness on the field. With Auburn two weeks away, some of what Stoops has seen from the reserves has him concerned, but he’s confident in their ability to fix the issues.

“You’re looking at pre-snap penalties. There were some things that came up today that I need to address that have been popping up throughout the week,” Stoops said. “Nothing we can’t handle, but there were some great coaching points… you can’t win a football game until you quit beating yourself.”

Lack of experience from backups – especially incoming freshmen – is anticipated, but should have no real crippling effects on the team’s early performance. It’s rare for a squad to function at full potential in week one, as we’ve seen in the college football world so far.

That said, Kentucky needs its offense – and the line specifically – as strong as possible in order to help Terry Wilson ease back into game shape. Wilson hasn’t taken a live hit in over a year, and any type of hindrance could impact his development.

“Is there some rust? I don’t think there’s any doubt.” Stoops said about Wilson. “Bottom line is we’ll continue to be careful with him.”

As their prep continues, the Cats will continue ironing out the kinks and hope to be at their sharpest for the season opener.