Kentucky football a mystery under new offensive coordinator

This is the time of year when the various reports from Kentucky football’s fall camp consist of newcomers to watch and specific players to see when the curtain lifts on Sept. 3.

Me, I want to see Rich Scangarello’s entire offense.

“One of our great advantages is nobody knows really what we’re going to look like,” said Scangarello after Tuesday’s practice. “Are we the 49ers? Are we my offense? What are we?”

Yes, I want to see what UK’s new offensive coordinator does with Will Levis, who enters his second year as the Cats’ starting quarterback with a legitimate shot of being a first-round NFL Draft pick come next April.

And yes, I want to see who replaces the irreplaceable Wan’Dale Robinson, whether it’s one go-to-guy, or a cadre of wide receivers called upon to collectively match the production of a standout who caught 104 passes last season and who is now first on the depth chart with the NFL’s New York Giants.

Truth be told, however, as a football nerd, I want to see how Scangarello, former quarterbacks coach with Kyle Shanahan’s San Francisco 49ers, tweaks and builds upon the pro-style attack installed last year by Liam Coen, former assistant coach and now offensive coordinator under Sean McVay with the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams.

I want to see what Scangarello does with UK’s tight ends, a position group that the OC said could have “three or four” players eventually playing on Sunday, and which has received an early-camp boost from emerging freshman Josh Kattus. “I love him,” said Scangarello on Tuesday.

I want to see what Scangarello does with the running backs, specifically what he does with the UK backs in the passing game. After much anticipation that the group would become dual threats and accumulate more receptions last year, that didn’t really happen. I want to see if it does this year.

I want to see if Scangarello makes use of an honest-to-goodness fullback, a lost art in modern offenses that Shanahan and Kyle Juszczyk revived with the 49ers, and which UK’s new play-caller experimented with during spring drills.

I want to see how Scangarello uses players in different sets and at different positions, much like the 49ers used the incomparable wide receiver/running back Deebo Samuel during their playoff run. (Note: There is only one Deebo Samuel.)

“We’re looking for chess pieces,” Scangarello said Tuesday. “We want as many interchangeable parts to run our offense, to create this illusion of a lot but puts you in a world we want to play in with these different types of players who do a lot of things.”

I want to see how Scangarello made use of what he said Tuesday was the biggest surprise in his return to college football after the pros.

“In college football, you have more time to spend with your players than you do in the NFL,” he said. “It’s a great feeling. And running a pro offense, I feel like you can get this stuff done faster.”

Rich Scangarello took over for Liam Coen as offensive coordinator after last season. We’ll get our first look at his offense on Sept. 3 when UK opens its season against Miami (Ohio). Silas Walker

Mainly, I want to see a Rich Scangarello that I’m sure feels like he has something to prove. After all, he was let go after one year as the offensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos, despite little to work with and a situation in which Scangarello had to start four different quarterbacks because of injuries.

That was 2019, the last time the now 50-year-old California native called plays. And while the SEC may not be the NFL, it is the closest thing to professional football, with Kentucky’s new OC formulating game plans against defenses overflowing not just with future draft picks, but future All-Pro selections, even future Hall of Fame selections.

“You’re going to laugh when I say this,” recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach Vince Marrow said. “Liam was kind of like the cool, young gym teacher, and Rich is like the social studies veteran teacher. . . . I think Rich is more experienced because he’s been doing it a long time. He came right in and (picked up) where Liam (left off).”

I can’t wait to see what a Rich Scangarello offense can do.

John Clay is a sports columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader. A native of Central Kentucky, he covered UK football from 1987 until being named sports columnist in 2000. He has covered 20 Final Fours and 37 consecutive Kentucky Derbys.
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