The UK football team opens spring practice on Wednesday. Coach Rich Brooks is scheduled to address the media on Tuesday to discuss his team, which will be trying to build on the momentum of a Liberty Bowl win over East Carolina. Here are 10 questions Brooks is facing regarding his squad:
1. Will Mike Hartline seize control of the quarterback position?
Hartline had his ups and downs last season. At times, he was a solid game-manager, and he quarterbacked the Cats to six of their seven wins. But his inconsistencies also led the coaching staff to start freshman Randall Cobb the final four games of the regular season.
Cobb missed the Liberty Bowl with a knee injury, and Hartline played well enough to go into spring as the No. 1 guy. But he needs to come out of the spring on solid footing, particularly with freshmen Morgan Newton and Ryan Mossakowski set to arrive in the fall.2. Will a No. 1 running back emerge, or will the Cats continue to use a tailback-by-committee?
No position is in a state of flux more than tailback. Derrick Locke is coming off knee surgery and won't have contact. Moncell Allen has had academic problems but is expected to practice. Senior-to-be Alfonso Smith wants to earn the coaches' trust as the go-to back. A freshman could also crack the rotation in the fall. It will be awhile before everything is sorted out here.
3. How will the revamped offensive line end up shaping up?
This figures to be a spot where the coaches might have to do some mixing and matching until the right combination is found. The UK O-line won't have the dependable Garry Williams anchoring at left tackle for the first time in three seasons. Senior-to-be Zipp Duncan, who possesses similar athleticism to Williams, will move from left guard to try to fill the void. Christian Johnson will try to win back his old spot at left guard after redshirting last year, but he'll face competition from several youngsters, including Stuart Hines. Right tackle Justin Jeffries will be limited after shoulder surgery so Brad Durham and Billy Joe Murphy are among several who will get looks. Jake Lan efski, Matt Smith and Dave Ulinski are young players who have shown the ability to play multiple positions.
4. Have the young receivers grown up any?
The coaches sure hope so. The Cats were forced to play five true freshman receivers last year, and it showed. This will be a big spring as far as the development for this still young group. Randall Cobb was the best receiver after Dicky Lyons got hurt, but he had to spend time at quarterback. Look for him to get plenty of reps at wideout this fall. E.J. Adams and Kyrus Lanxter are two veterans who will need to step up.
5. Can the Wildcats find a way to replace the contributions of Tim Masthay?
You could have made a legitimate case for Masthay as the team MVP last season, after his booming punts and kickoffs helped the Wildcats' struggling offense with field position. Ryan Tydlacka is the heir apparent punter, but the Cats will need to find a kickoff guy.
6. Can a reliable corner be found to complement Trevard Lindley?
The Wildcats will miss David Jones, who was capable of making teams pay for staying away from All-Southeastern Conference cornerback Trevard Lindley. The good news is junior Paul Warford, who's started 14 career games, is back after sitting out last year for academics. Warford can use the spring to try to shake off any rust. Redshirt freshman Randall Burden had a breakout game in the Liberty Bowl, but the Cats will need to establish depth for its nickel and dime packages.
7. Are there any defensive ends ready to play opposite Jeremy Jarmon?
Four-star recruit DeQuin Evans will be given every opportunity to win the open defensive end slot on the other side of Jarmon, who should be motivated to improve his NFL Draft stock. But Evans won't arrive until the fall so that means redshirts Collins Ukwu and Taylor Wyndham will get plenty of snaps in the spring. Chandler Burden saw spot duty as a true freshman and can play tackle or end.
8. Who wins the strong safety battle?
This could be the most up-in-the-air position going into spring because Kentucky never could establish a regular starter last year. Matt Lentz had the typical ups and downs of a redshirt freshman making a position change. Ashton Cobb was in and out of the lineup because of inconsistency and off-the-field problems. Calvin Harrison filled in occasionally but couldn't win the job full-time. Redshirt freshmen Greg Wilson and Taeido Smith could also get a look.
9. Is this the year Corey Peters breaks out?
Peters has been overshadowed by Jarmon and Myron Pryor the past couple of seasons, but Brooks says the Louisville Central product is a legitimate NFL prospect. Peters has 15 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks in 26 career starts. His production could skyrocket in 2009 if juco transfer Mark Crawford can get fully adjusted in the spring and give him a reliable sidekick.
10. Can UK find any consistency in the place-kicking?
It seems as if Lones Seiber has been around forever. The Cats would benefit greatly from Seiber going out with a bang his senior year, but if he struggles Brooks will probably once again turn to Tydlacka, who went 3-for-6 as the backup last year. The Cats didn't sign a kicker in February, so it will be a two-horse race again.