Flu's spread gives Brooks a headache

6 players out, more expected; Game plan up in the air

ccosby@herald-leader.comNovember 4, 2009 

If a 31-24 loss to Mississippi State on Saturday wasn't enough to make the Kentucky football team sick, now the Wildcats have been hit by the flu bug.

Six players missed Tuesday's practice with flulike symptoms: senior linebacker Micah Johnson, senior offensive lineman Christian Johnson, senior running back Alfonso Smith, redshirt freshman offensive lineman Dave Ulinski, true freshman defensive end Patrick Ligon, and true freshman linebacker Ridge Wilson. Junior linebacker Jacob Dufrene made it through only 30 minutes of practice before he was sent home.

"The illness is finally getting to us," Kentucky Coach Rich Brooks said. "Injuries are one thing, but the sickness bug has really hit us good right now. That usually means there's going to be a lot more to follow. We just have to deal with it the best we can.

"It's as many guys as we've had at one time. We've always had the flu every season. But it's usually one or two guys here, one or two guys there, not this many at once."

Three of the affected players are being counted on to play key roles in Saturday's game against Eastern Kentucky. Micah Johnson, slowed by a strained knee in the Mississippi State game, leads the team in tackles with 66. Christian Johnson has started all eight games at right guard. And with Derrick Locke doubtful because of a knee injury, Smith is expected to team with junior Moncell Allen to get most of the backfield carries.

Brooks said it's hard to develop a game plan under the circumstances.

"We just have to have other people step up and fill those spots, but the question you don't know is, who or when they'll be back, and who else will be down with them," Brooks said. On Tuesday, "We had a decent practice, but it's difficult when you have to put people in spots that they haven't been taking many reps."

Allen and sophomore safety Taiedo Smith were tested two weeks ago for H1N1, and Brooks said some of the players who missed practice probably will be tested.

"If they're sick, they're sick, whether it's (swine flu) or the regular one," Brooks said. "We've had a lot of regular flu so far."

Head coach for offense Joker Phillips said the coaching staff will have to adjust on the fly.

"We've got good medical people so I really don't worry about it," Phillips said. "We've got to play the guys who are able to line up for us. Hopefully, we can get past it and get everybody healthy."

The Cats also had a rough day on the injury front. Locke was unable to practice, and fullback John Conner (shin) did not finish practice. Wide receiver Gene McCaskill left practice early after rolling his ankle.

The one positive was that cornerback Trevard Lindley was able to finish practice Tuesday. He has missed the past four games with a high ankle sprain.

"Obviously he's not 100 percent, but he did participate fully and go through almost every drill," Brooks said. "Now we'll have to see how he responds."

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