Kentucky football wraps up spring practice

Published 3:28 pm Friday, April 14, 2023

BY ALEX MORGAN

Contributing writer

The Wildcats’ 2023 spring practices have come to an end. There are some new faces around the program and some familiar ones. This offseason, the Wildcats re-hired Liam Coen as the offensive coordinator, whom players are hoping will bring the offensive spark back to the team this year.

Although there has been change with player personnel and coaching staff, there is one constant goal within the team – win the SEC east and SEC championship, along with the College Football Playoff National Championship. There are many factors that will play into the team achieving those goals. One of which is the star-filled defense that will be run by defensive coordinator Brad White.

Several players said they were eager for the upcoming season and to improve on UK’s 7-6 record last year that ended with a 21-0 Music City Bowl loss to Iowa.

Senior defensive back Jalen Geiger is recovering from a torn ACL suffered in a Week 2 win at Florida that sidelined him for the remainder of the season. Geiger says he feels better than ever.

“I feel really good,” Geiger said. “I’ve put in a lot of hard work, I’m in a good spot right now, I feel like I’m stronger and faster than I was before my injury. So, I’m really excited for the season and to get back out there with my guys.”

Defense has been a staple of coach Mark Stoops’ teams at UK, and this year should be no different, Geiger said.

“As a defense we don’t really look for recognition. We just go out there and put our head down and work. And the results are the results,” he said. “Everybody knows deep down how good of a defense we are and how good of a defense we can be. So, we shut out the outside noise and come to work every day, and put our hard hats on.”

Andru Phillips, a junior defensive back, is also excited about the upcoming season. He now has a full season under his belt, and it’s given him confidence in his play.

“Now I have under my belt multiple SEC opponents. I have a little bit of experience where I can feel it and I know what it’s going to be like and just knowledge of the game,” Phillips said. “After the spring, I feel more comfortable, more confident and I can play a lot faster now. Playing last year gave me a better understanding of the playbook, especially in the corner and nickel position.”

Bringing a renewed excitement to the practices this spring was the return of Coen as offensive coordinator. Coen’s style will allow the offense to have more players involved across the gridiron, opening up more unexpected playmakers. Also, new to the UK offense this spring is senior quarterback Devin Leary. A transfer from North Carolina State, Leary brings a high level of precision to the passing game and an astute football IQ, according to head coach Mark Stoops. Throughout the spring, Leary has been working closely with teammates to strengthen their relationship and build trust. That group includes running back Ray Davis, an offseason transfer from Vanderbilt.

Davis discussed his expectations for Coen’s style of offense and what he is looking forward to with his new team.

“I can learn a lot from Coach Coen, his offensive mind and what he brings to the table as an offensive coordinator, a coach and a mentor,” Davis said. “It’s been great being around him and picking his brain, and him picking mine. As time goes on, we’ll really be able to gel. We are in a learning process. Once we feel really comfortable with each other we’ll be able to make those connections that we need to make.”

UK fans might remember Davis from last season when he ran for 129 yards and a touchdown in Vanderbilt’s 24-21 win in Lexington. The expectations at Kentucky are a little different than what he experienced in Nashville.

“Coming here has been totally different from my time at Vandy,” he said. “Guys already have the mindset of what they want to do and how they want to do it. I’m coming on a team that has already been solidified as a top tier program. I need to come in and give my athletic ability to a good, well casted team. I’m just playing my role and I enjoy that.”

Tight end Izayah Cummings is also looking forward to having Coen lead the offense again.

“It’s been nice having him coach us up again, it’s like bringing back old times,” Cummings said. “He brings the energy to the 1s, 2s, and 3s in making sure that they do their jobs correctly. He’ll get on you, no matter the position you play or if you’re a 1 or 2, he’ll make sure everything is right.”

This spring has been different from past years in that the intensity level is higher than ever.

“Practicing against a good defense has given us a taste of what it will be like playing an intense SEC schedule this fall,” Cummings said.

Senior offensive lineman Eli Cox is very confident in the depth of the O-line after spring practice.

“I think our depth has increased for next season,” Cox said. “We’ve brought in some solid transfers and have a deeper group that can contribute.”

The depth of talent on offense and the return of Coen have contributed to that intensity in practice every day and have helped solidify the bond between players on the other side of the line, Phillips said.

“I’m very confident in the defense, who we have and after we’ve bonded together,  I feel like it’s a brotherhood,” Phillips said. “We all work together very well, and there’s no odd man out. It’s all of us and we’re a tight pack. I’ve enjoyed going against the offense this Spring. Since Coen’s back, it adds a lot of different pieces to our offense and it makes practice more competitive, especially guarding  (wide receivers) Dane (Key) and Barion (Brown) every day.”

Kentucky opens its season Sept. 2 against Ball State at Kroger Field.