football Edit

Stars of the Spring: 5 Wildcats who made a statement

It might be hard to believe, but Kentucky's spring football season is already in the books. The Blue-White game capped several weeks of practices.

We've learned a little more than we knew before about UK's football team.

Here are UK football's stars of the spring, based on what coaches have said and what showed up in the spring game.

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Jamar Watson (Chet White/UK Athletics)

Linebacker Boogie Watson

When new Kentucky outside linebackers coach Brad White was speaking about the players who have stepped their game up to another level this spring, he pointed to Kengera Daniel and Boogie Watson, saying that he and the staff feel comfortable with those players in the game. White didn't coach Watson last year but said based on the film he's watched, there have been strides.

Watson has a good deal of eligibility remaining and could be on the verge of a breakout, even with quality, proven veterans in front of him. He registered a sack in the spring game, beating a tackle on the edge and chasing down the quarterback, and it wasn't the first time he's excelled in the spring. Watson also had a hurry in the game.

While his seven tackles in 2017 don't jump off the page, Watson showed flashes, producing sacks against Tennessee and Vanderbilt in the second half of the season after stepping in admirably for Jordan Jones against South Carolina earlier in the year.

Linebacker Kengera Daniel

As mentioned above, Daniel was one of Brad White's spring standouts and he produced at a high level in the spring game with four tackles and 1.5 sacks.

The emergence of Daniel, who could have benefited from a redshirt year early in his career, would be a big boost to Kentucky's depth on the edge, and that could help the Cats' other defensive players become better on a per-snap basis, allowing for more rest.

Linebacker DeAndre Square

Even though former Detroit (Mich.) Cass Tech linebacker DeAndre Square enrolled a semester early, he wasn't exactly an obvious candidate to become a star of spring practice and a potentially big contributor during his true freshman season. He was widely recognized as one of the more athletic, more explosive linebackers in the Midwest from the 2017 class, but the book on Square also said that he needed to gain weight and spend time getting his body prepared for the rigors of the SEC.

After hearing the coaches praise Square for much of the spring, recognizing him as one of the team's surprises, and after he logged six tackles in the spring game - second only to Kash Daniel in that category - its safe to say Square is ahead of schedule. Furthermore, the absence of Jordan Jones and Jamin Davis at the tail end of the spring created more of an opportunity for Square to make an impact. It looks like he's stepped up in a big way.

There is room to improve, however. After the spring game Mark Stoops wondered aloud whether Square might have been out of position on a couple of longer runs. But that's probably to be expected for someone so new.

A.J. Rose (Chet White/UK Athletics)

Running back A.J. Rose

Eddie Gran has usually leaned heavily on two running backs in the past, and with Kentucky returning All-SEC rising junior Benny Snell and experienced, reliable rising senior Sihiem King, he's got some good options. That also serves to underscore just how difficult A.J. Rose's path to a greater role in the offense is leading up to the 2018 season.

But Rose seems to be moving in the right direction and quickly. Gran has challenged Rose to show more physical toughness, while at the same time praising his strides dating back to late last year.

Rose was undoubtedly the star of this year's spring game, racking up 134 yards on just 11 carries with three touchdowns.

The second string offensive line had their way with the twos up front on defense and that was a reason for Rose's success, but he was much more confident and decisive in his cuts and was a disciplined runner. That paired nicely with the athleticism and acceleration we've known Rose has had since he signed with Kentucky.

Stoops noticed.

" It was really important for him to come out tonight and back that up, which he did, and that's really good to see," Stoops said after the game. "A.J., as I mentioned, I have a lot of confidence in his ability and what he's been doing. He's been working hard, and Coach Gran has been working with him, and it was good to see him have a good night."

Receiver/all-purpose threat Lynn Bowden

This wasn't surprising. After all, Lynn Bowden arrived at Kentucky with the type of hype and fanfare that few other recruits since Tim Couch have enjoyed.

Bowden took a big step forward this spring, according to Kentucky's offensive coaches, and both the staff and the quarterbacks made a point to try to involve him more in the offense.

While Bowden surpassed the 1,000-yard mark in terms of all-purpose production as a true freshman, with a younger receiving corps the Wildcats need him to become more of a pass catcher. The Blue-White game was a good sign in that regard. Bowden caught seven passes on 12 pass attempts that went to him.

After the game receiver David Bouvier said that other teams will start to lock in on Bowden, which should create opportunities and better matchups for other players.