Previews 2011: Kentucky Wildcats
Kentucky football has been on the cusp of breaking out of mediocrity for several years. Former coach Rich Brooks had the program heading in the right direction, but retirement age caught up to him, and the Wildcats have been perpetually swimming upstream in the recruiting game ever since Paul Bryant left town. This year’s Kentucky team should be solid enough on defense, but the offense is being rebuilt. Making a bowl game would be considered a solid effort.
Returning Offensive Starters: 4 (LT, LG, C, RB)
Returning Defensive Starters: 7 (LDE, WLB, MLB, RCB, LCB, SS, FS)
Returning Specialists: 2 (P, PK)
Projected Overall Record: 6-6 (LSU, MSU, UF, UGA, USC, UT)
Projected SEC Record: 2-6 (LSU, MSU, UF, UGA, USC, UT)
Projected SEC East Record: 1-4 (UF, UGA, USC, UT)
Ratings (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr)
Quarterbacks: Fr Defensive Line: Pr
Running Backs: Pr Linebackers: Av
Wide Receivers: Av Defensive Backs: Ex
Offensive Line: Av Special Teams: Vg
Kentucky runs mostly a pro-set attack, and will continue to transition in that direction now that Randall Cobb is plying his trade in the NFL. But the question is whether the Cats have enough talent to make it stick. Every skill position player on offense is new, and the quarterback situation is unsettled at best.
QUARTERBACKS (rating: Fr, 5th SEC East, 10th overall)
If Morgan Newton can finally put it all together, Kentucky might actually have a weapon here. Newton has good running skills, good size and arm strength. But he’s struggled terribly throwing the ball downfield, appears to get scared easily and doesn’t always make the best decisions. But he’s literally all Kentucky has. Freshman Maxwell Smith is projected to be Newton’s backup, and he was playing high school ball a year ago. Another freshman, Michael Burchett, rounds out the group.
RUNNING BACKS (rating: Pr, 6th SEC East, 12th overall)
Raymond Sanders was set to be the heir apparent to Derrick Locke, but a knee injury has slowed him and he might miss a game or two. If so, sophomore Jonathan George and scatback CoShik Williams will have to hold down the fort. Sanders was a capable backup to Locke in 2010. Williams got limited work. Whoever wins the job will run behind Andrew Joseph, Cody Jones or Toba Omotinugbon at fullback. Counting signees, Kentucky has a lot of options here, but few proven players and outside of Sanders, no one with any real star power.
WIDE RECEIVERS (rating: Av, 4th SEC East, 8th overall)
If nothing else, Kentucky has experience here, not to mention height. Projected starters Matt Roark and La’Rod King are 6’5” and 6’4”, respectively, and top reserve Brian Adams is also 6’4”. E.J. Fields has shown flashes of being a playmaker in the past, as has Eugene McCaskill, but injuries have taken their toll. Aaron Boyd is another tall drink of water. Nik Brazley offers a nice change of pace at 5’9”, 160 pounds. Only King and Roark, however, had significant contributions in 2010. King was the team’s third-leading receiver. Kentucky has had a good run of tight ends lately, and the Wildcats are hoping that Tyler Robinson can continue the trent. Nick Melillo and Jordan Aumiller are also competing for the job, while Anthony Kendrick adds to the depth behind them. This group actually has a good chance to break out in 2011 provided they all stay healthy.
OFFENSIVE LINE (rating: Av, 4th SEC East, 7th overall)
The strength of the offense is undoubtedly the line, where four starters return. Larry Warford is the undisputed leader. He’ll start at right guard and murder people all year. Center Matt Smith, left guard Stuart Hines and left tackle Chandler Burden also are back, although Hines has a knee injury and may yield to Sam Simpson or Jake Lanefski early in the season. Depth is good, with Trevino Woods at tackle and Kevin Mitchell at guard. David Noltemeyer and Teven Eatmon-Nared are also available. The one question mark is right tackle, where Billy Joe Murphy is expected to be the starter. Murphy has plenty of experience but has never been a starter before. If Kentucky can develop better consistency along the line, particularly in run blocking, the offense could do some good things.
Kentucky runs either a 4-3 or 4-2-5 defense depending on the situation, but the same things that have caused the Wildcats problems in the past are present again. Specifically, lack of experience or depth along the defensive line. Still, 10 of the 11 starters are upperclassmen, so this may be Kentucky’s best shot to mount a challenge for the vulnerable SEC East title. Avoiding injuries will be the most important thing.
DEFENSIVE LINE (rating: Pr, 6th SEC East, 12th overall)
Only Collins Ukwu returns to start at weakside defensive end; the other three starters are new. The men in the middle, most specifically Donte Rumph and Mister Cobble, have fans salivating thanks to their potential. But Rumph and Cobble currently back up seniors Mark Crawford and Luke McDermott. McDermott, a former walk-on, is smaller than Alabama’s Nick Gentry but makes the most of his ability. Mike Douglas, a freshman, is competing with Patrick Ligon and Taylor Windham at the other position. Douglas may have had the upper hand coming out of spring, but Ligon and Windham have the experience. There are plenty of bodies in the mix, with Alvin Davis Jr., Antwane Glenn and Jacob Lewellen at end and Tristian Johnson at tackle. The bottom line, Kentucky’s line will have to prove its worth. Too many question marks abound, and one of the starters, Crawford, will miss time at the front end of the season due to a suspension.
LINEBACKERS (rating: Av, 4th SEC East, 7th overall)
Danny Trevathan will probably have a NFL career ahead of him after 2011. He lines up at weakside linebacker and always seems to be around the ball. Ronnie Sneed starts in the middle, but he’s not much more than a placeholder. The new starter to the bunch is Ridge Wilson, whose most noticeable contributions are likely to come when Kentucky aligns in a 4-2-5 and allows Wilson to move down to defensive end. Tyler Brause, Avery Williamson, Malcolm McDuffen and Tim Patterson round out the depth chart, but there is a big dropoff from the starters. Qua Huzzie, a valuable backup, left the team in the spring. Fullback Toba Omotinugbon might have to pull double duty if the Wildcats can’t find a suitable replacement for Huzzie. DeMarius Rancifer, who like Patterson is a true freshman, could end up being the guy.
DEFENSIVE BACKS (rating: Ex, 1st SEC East, 3rd overall)
There are no issues here, where Kentucky not only has all four starters back, but some depth off the bench as well. Randall Burden and Anthony Mosley start at corner, with Winston Guy at strong safety and Mychal Bailey at free. Burden and Guy are all over everyone’s all-star lists, and Mosley and Bailey aren’t bad. Cartier Rice gives UK an experienced corner off the bench. Miles Simpson and Martavius Neloms are a pair of promising safeties. Jerrell Priester and Dale Trimble help Rice bolster the corner positions. Kentucky should be just fine here.
SPECIAL TEAMS (rating: Vg, 3rd SEC East, 4th overall)
Punter Ryan Tydlacka and kicker Craig McIntosh are both capable kickers. But Kentucky’s coverage and return units backslid a bit in 2010 from the highs they enjoyed while Brooks was coach. Replacing Randall Cobb as the primary return man will fall to Jerrell Priester, Randall Burden and several others. Fortunately, Kentucky has acceptable depth across the board here and should be OK as long as coverage improves.
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