Off-season full of uncertainty for Cats

First of all, who will be the coach?

ccosby@herald-leader.comDecember 29, 2009 

Kentucky just wrapped up its fourth consecutive winning season and fourth straight bowl appearance, but the Wildcats enter the off-season with more questions than answers.

The biggest question concerns who will be on the UK sideline for the season opener at Louisville on Sept. 4. Coach Rich Brooks said after Kentucky's 21-13 loss to Clemson in the Music City Bowl on Sunday night he was 80 percent sure he won't be back next season. But Brooks has left the door open for a potential return and will spend the next few days mulling over his decision with family and friends.

The Cats did get some good news after the game when junior tailback Derrick Locke announced he would be returning for his senior year. He should team with sophomore Randall Cobb to give the Cats one of the Southeastern Conference's most potent offensive combos.

But beyond that, there are plenty of questions surrounding the offense.

The No. 1 issue on the field is the quarterback position, an area where the Wildcats need to find stability if they are to make significant improvement in 2010.

Three candidates will fight it out in the spring, and the battle could continue into summer and fall camp. Freshman Morgan Newton showed potential in his eight starts this season but was largely inconsistent in the passing game. Junior Mike Hartline's stint was interrupted by a knee injury in the South Carolina game, and while he recovered enough to be available for the bowl game, Brooks went with Newton the entire way against Clemson.

The wild card is redshirt freshman Ryan Mossakowski. The coaching staff has lauded Mossakowski's decision-making in the pocket, and if he can regain the throwing velocity he lost after shoulder surgery, he could be a factor.

For Kentucky's passing game to improve, it will also require more plays from the receiving corps. Cobb must continue to develop into a No. 1 receiver, while junior Chris Matthews and freshman La'Rod King also need to make significant strides. With four senior starters departing, the offensive line must also be rebuilt.

The UK coaching staff also might need to do some fence-mending to get everyone on the same page offensively, as Newton and Locke both expressed concerns with the direction of the offense after the Music City Bowl.

Defensively, the Cats might be in somewhat of a rebuilding mode after losing three senior cornerstones: defensive tackle Corey Peters, middle linebacker Micah Johnson, cornerback Trevard Lindley. But UK does have some pieces in place. Ricky Lumpkin will be expected to step up and be an anchor at tackle in his senior year, and the top four defensive ends all return.

Weakside linebacker Danny Trevathan figures to be even better in his second year as a starter, but replacements must be found for Johnson and Sam Maxwell. The coaches are high on Qua Huzzie, who would have played as a true freshman if not for a shoulder injury suffered in fall camp, and another true freshman, Ridge Wilson, should also be in the mix. Junior Jacob Dufrene gave a decent account of himself replacing Maxwell in the bowl game.

The secondary appears to be in decent shape. Lindley was hurt and ineffective most of the season, but that allowed Randall Burden, Paul Warford, Taiedo Smith and Martavious Neloms to get meaningful snaps and gives the Cats a deep secondary going into next season. Sophomore safety Winston Guy needs to realize his All-SEC potential, and a replacement must be found for his sidekick, Calvin Harrison.

UK's return game will again be dangerous with Locke and Cobb, and punter Ryan Tydlacka returns for his junior year. Joseph Mansour, a four-star recruit from LaGrange, Ga., who committed to the Cats last summer, should compete for the place-kicking job vacated by Lones Seiber. Walk-on Craig McIntosh gradually improved on kickoffs as the season progressed.

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