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Returning Offensive Starters: 4 (LT, LG, RG, QB)
Returning Defensive Starters: 6 (RDE, RDT, LDT, MLB, SLB, FS)
Returning Specialists: 1 (P)
Projected Overall Record: 4-8 (UA, MSU, UF, UGA, UL, USC, UM, VU)
Projected SEC Record: 1-7 (UA, MSU, UF, UGA, USC, UM, VU)
Projected SEC East Record: 1-5 (UF, UGA, USC, UM, VU)
Ratings (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr)
Quarterbacks: Pr Defensive Line: Vg
Running Backs: Pr Linebackers: Av
Wide Receivers: Pr Defensive Backs: Pr
Offensive Line: Fr Special Teams: Fr
Kentucky is breaking in a new head coach in 2013, Mark Stoops. The high-energy Stoops has never been a head coach before, but if he gets early results on the field like he has in recruiting, he’ll endear himself to the Wildcat faithful quickly. Kentucky has almost no offensive talent at the moment, and the defense has problems the further away from the line of scrimmage one moves. This won’t be a quick turnaround in Lexington, but Stoops has to start somewhere.
Kentucky is going to try to replicate a combination of the same flexible, Ace-based pro-set offense that Alabama and most other non-spread teams are running – and combine it with what offensive coordinator Neal Brown learned at go-go Texas Tech. The Wildcats will try to be varied in their personnel groupings, but this will be a work in progress until Stoops can upgrade the overall talent level. Just 4 starters return, and a mediocre offensive line is arguably the best unit. Whatever Kentucky can put on the board is likely to eclipse last year’s disaster.
Sophomores Jalen Whitlow and Maxwell Smith are both likely to play quite a bit in 2013, with Whitlow probably beginning the year as the starter. Smith played well last year before succumbing to an injury late in the season, while Whitlow is a dual-threat talent who could help out Kentucky’s overall lack of playmaking ability by using his wheels. Sophomore Patrick Towles has plenty of recruiting hype behind him, but fell behind Whitlow and Smith last year and there’s a significant gap still there. Statistically, Whitlow and Smith both put up decent numbers, combining for a 61% completion percentage, 11 touchdowns and 6 picks. But neither were playmakers and neither took over a game. If Kentucky is serious about going with a two-quarterback system for the duration of the year, it probably doesn’t mean good things on the horizon.
Kentucky took a hit when Josh Clemons was lost for the year with an Achilles injury, which leaves Raymond Sanders III in a must-perform position. Sanders is small by SEC standards, so Kentucky will have to be inventive about his use. He is basically a third-down back in the role of everyday starter. Senior Jonathan George now moves into the backup role. While not a gamebreaker, he did a decent job for Kentucky last year, but must step up his game significantly. Dyshawn Mobley will battle with true freshman Jojo Kemp for the third slot. Kentucky won’t use a full-time fullback, but stout D.J. Warren will be able to give Kentucky a power presence when it’s needed. There is plenty of experience here, but Kentucky doesn’t scare anyone at this position and more production is needed.
Demarco Robinson is the most experienced player returning, and he was an also-ran in Kentucky’s scheme last year, averaging just 10 yards per catch and generating no touchdowns. He’ll combine with A.J. Legree and Daryl Collins to form the starting threesome, although Collins figures to sit when Kentucky brings in two tight ends. Robinson barely tips the 160-pound mark, and none of the other names are more than average-sized. Sophomore Rashad Cunningham, though, is – at 6’4” and 220 pounds, he’s the lone big body on the Cats’ roster. Big things are expected from signee Ryan Timmons, who could play multiple positions. DeMarcus Sweatwas supposed to add depth, but transferred over the summer. Outside of true freshmen, Kentucky has only four scholarshipped players at the position. That opens the door for names like Jeff Badet and Javess Blue, whether they’re ready or not. Kentucky will use two tight ends often, as that’s where most of the experience is. Tyler Robinson, a senior, will start, with either Ronnie Shields, Jordan Aumiller or JUCO transfer Steven Borden going to the other side. Patrick Ligon provides depth there. Kentucky will be happy if it gets even average production from this unit.
Three starters return, but Larry Warford regrettably is not one of them. Warford is in the NFL, and replacing him won’t be easy. Kevin Mitchell will try to do it, sliding over from right tackle. Left guard Zach West returns, as does left tackle Darrian Miller. Kentucky is looking for big things from Miller. The new starters will likely be Zach Myers at center and Jordan Swindle at right tackle. Both are underclassmen. Another freshman, Jon Toth, backs up Myers in the middle, while John Gruenschlaeger and Teven Eatmon-Nared will man the guard slots. Sophomore Shaquille Love will handle the reserve tackle slots, thanks to freshman T.J. Jones getting kicked off the team following an arrest on weapons charges this summer. Tackle depth is a major concern, with little-used Tyler Davenport or Gruenschlaeger the most likely candidates to take Jones’ position. Any injury would be devastating – and Kentucky might have to open the year without Myers in the middle, due to a bum ankle.
Kentucky will change defenses, moving from the 3-4 of last year to a 4-3 base. This is probably a smart move given the Wildcats’ talent distribution in the front seven, but unless the pass defense comes together quickly, it might not matter. Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot is seen as an up-and-comer, and he’ll have his hands more than full with this rebuilding project. Kentucky wasn’t terrible in 2012, but it was thoroughly mediocre on its best day.
This is a legitimate defensive line, with good depth and some nice talent on-hand. The move to a 4-3 gets both Donte Rumph and Mister Cobble onto the field at the same time. Cobble would be more at home as the nose in a 3-4, but Kentucky will take what it can get. Both are seniors, and both are likely to play at the next level. The Wildcats also have an experienced, solid backup in Tristian Johnson available behind them. Junior Christian Coleman and freshman Thomas Chapman round out the first group of reserves. At end, Bud Dupree will return on the weakside, but the men Kentucky fans really want to see are the signees, JUCO transfer Za’Darius Smith and true freshman Jason Hatcher. Both have the look of disruptive forces up front, but Smith might have to wait to make his debut thanks to an ankle injury. Langston Newton and TraVaughn Paschal offer depth.
Avery Williamson is solid in the middle, but Kentucky will need more from strongside backer Miles Simpson, as well as a good starting debut from sophomore Khalid Henderson. Kory Brown and Josh Forrest will push the outside backers for their starting jobs for the entire season, while Malcolm McDuffen might also get in the mix. In the middle, Tyler Brause is the top reserve. As a unit, this is a good-sized and athletically capable bunch, but the proof will be in the results. Outside of Williamson, there are few known quantities.
It’s safety Ashely Lowery and a whole bunch of question marks. Kentucky probably overachieved on pass defense in 2012, but three starters are gone and depth is precarious. Cody Quinn and Fred Tiller are set to start at the corner positions, while Daron Blaylock is the top candidate to play alongside Lowery. True freshman Marcus McWilson may be the best option off the bench at safety, although Zack Blaylock, Glenn Faulkner and Eric Dixon are competing. At corner, J.D. Harmon is the most likely third man, while JUCO transfer Nate Willis and true freshman Jaleel Hytchye are the others with an inside track. This figures to be a problem spot for Kentucky all year.
Punter Landon Foster had a phenomenal freshman year, and he figures to get enough practice at his craft in 2013. Kentucky will need a new kicker, with kickoff specialist Joe Mansour likely stepping up into the role. Accuracy is a big problem, however, and three freshmen, led by signee Austin MacGinnis, could work their way into the mix. The loss of Sweat over the offseason puts the kick return units in jeopardy. Demarco Robinson and a host of others will compete for the work.
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