If you’ve been paying attention since last year, you might be surprised to see a name popping up on the 2023 NFL Draft board so early: Kentucky quarterback Will Levis.
He’s not churning out his QB classmates CJ Stroud or Bryce Young, but either way, the hype grew during the offseason. To find out the main source of that hype, first, the draft-eligible former Wildcats announced on his Kentucky pro day in March that he worked for an NFL scout in preparation for the 2022 draft. Must go back. Thanks to a rule change that allowed undeclared players to also exercise for scouts (Young and Stroud did the same during their professional days at school), Levis got a last-minute throwing session with his teammates. rice field.
“I was talking to [new offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello]and he added, “I know what they want to see. I’ll put together a script of 16 different throws they’re looking for. [DeMarcus Harris] Catch it there for you, that’s great. I threw the ball well and spun it. It was cool to be in that environment and have all eyes on you. I felt comfortable there and it was cool. ”
One NFL scout said sports illustrated He hadn’t seen Levis at all to that point, but returned the tape this offseason after being told by another scout how Levis had seen his professional days. But working out isn’t the only thing to consider when considering how Kentucky is looking to steer its program.
Kentucky may not be the first team you think of when you list college football’s most interesting offensive shifts, but they’re looking to build on something that’s all the rage at the NFL level. “Pro-style offense” has been defined differently over the years, but for now it’s a ground game based on an out-zone run scheme that uses bootlegs and play actions to set up a vertical passing game.Kentucky doesn’t. I’ve had a lot in the past few seasons.
Zone blocking in college football is not a completely new concept. It’s the partial name of the trend that has dominated the sport over the past decade: zone leads. The offensive lineman has an area of responsibility on the defensive front and will block anyone in the zone. If they are “uncovered,” they will double-team with the lineman next door and try to reach the second level to fight the linebackers.In the late 1990s, coach Mike Shanahan of the Denver Broncos and his The offensive his line coach Alex Gibbs popularized the blocking scheme. It’s the foundation that allows full-on non-professional quarterbacks like Jared Goff of the Lions and Ryan Tannehill of the Titans to make playoff runs. Stable lashing foundation.
Right now, the NFL coaches at the forefront of continuing the trend are Shanahan’s son Kyle and Rams coach Sean McVay in San Francisco. (Both worked for Mike in Washington. Return to Kentucky.
Liam Cohen was brought into Lexington as offensive coordinator and quarterback coach for the 2021 season to develop Levi’s and begin implementing the brand’s offense. In his game, the Cats dabbled in his zone on the outside in his 21st year, but preferred to run outside tackles rather than between tackles, so he weighed it for manpower. did not. Previously, Cohen spent three seasons on McVay’s staff in Los Angeles as an assistant receiver coach and then as an assistant quarterback coach. , will continue under Scangarello, who brought in offensive line coach Zach Jenser from San Francisco. .
“I was one of the first people to know Liam was leaving,” says Levis. “I sat with coach Coen and coach Stoops for a few hours and we talked about it. And from that moment [Stoops] I made it clear that I would play a major role in the process of selecting a new Offensive Coordinator. I was there for interviews with all the coaches we spoke to. We had really good candidates. I interviewed the Scangs coach and immediately recognized this person.We were kind of lucky that he fell into our lap. [Stoops] Having me involved in that process was really special. ”
Stoops says he basically had no opinion about hiring Coen, but this time it was different. Kentucky takes a pro-style approach, not just what’s on the field. Professional veteran quarterbacks can consult with the coordinator on who they want to be paired with in the QB tandem.
“I think this was important for a guy like Will, because individuality matters,” says Stoops. “Liam was an engaging personality, but he was very knowledgeable and the system was a perfect fit for us. I just wanted him to give his opinion, I thought it was really important, I think he’s the franchise quarterback in the NFL, and he’s certainly our franchise quarterback in Kentucky right now. .”
If Scangarello (the fifth offensive coordinator Levi has ever played at Penn State and Kentucky) can pull Levis through the system, it would be a hoot for a program that can develop next-level quarterbacks. For Levi, he would join the NFL after two years of experience in the popular offensive system.
Levi’s has passed a measurable vision test. At his 6ft 3in he has plenty of arm strength. In 2021, he finished 5th in total passing yards, 6th in passing touchdowns, and 2nd in rushing touchdowns. Do the Rams’ passing concept that Cohen has implemented. Veteran center Luke Fortner is now in the NFL. Stoops admits this is an area Kentucky needs to improve on.
Most mock drafts in early 2023 will see Levis going to the first round, but he’s certainly not the finished product as a passer. I have NFL tools, not NFL tape.”
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Levis is hoping for a young receiver combination to replace Wandale Robinson, who was targeted for 40% of the QB’s throws last year. , forwarding Tayvion Robinson. Robinson in particular shined in the season opener, where he recorded six catches and gained 136 yards on his team-high eight targets. But the Cats need to fix their drop problem.
In front of Levis, pass protection issues hampered Kentucky in the season opener against Miami, Ohio. Levi’s he was sacked four times, three of which he was third down. Stoops says his coaching staff has a “good idea” of where these issues are coming from, but they need to improve quickly before Week 2’s game against Florida. Kentucky used his five first-time starters in the season opener, and the depth chart for Week 2 shows there’s change again as that new unit tries to gel. His O-line problems and receiver problems early in the season relate to one more problem Kentucky has to improve. That’s an explosive vertical pass that was also lacking against the Redhawks.
Jenser says he’s looking to develop an eight-man O-line rotation, so depth is a concern as well as confirming the ability of the starters. It could pave the way for one of the running backs, Chris Rodriguez Jr. However, Rodriguez pleaded guilty to a DUI charge in July and received a suspension, whose return remains unknown. Overall, his RB depth for his Wildcats behind Kavosiey Smoke is very thin.
Despite all the pieces moving around him, Levi’s in Week 1 showed a few things that put him on the radar of NFL decision makers. For example, how to read a concept or use arm strength to throw a ball. Hit exactly in the middle of the field. If he can continue to direct this attack at this level, he will soon be in charge at the next level.
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