We've hit the annual six-week lull between national signing day and the start of spring football practice. The Wildcats are participating in winter conditioning drills, with spring practice set to begin March 31.
The Blue-White Spring Game will be held April 24 at Commonwealth Stadium. More details will be released at a later date.
UK will have some of its top recruiting targets in the 2011 class on campus for Junior Day on March 7, which is also Senior Day for the men's basketball team in its regular-season home finale against Florida.
Joker Phillips' first spring practice as the UK head coach figures to have plenty of story lines, none more prevalent than the three-way quarterback battle among junior Mike Hartline and freshmen Morgan Newton and Ryan Mossakowski.
While the QBs figure to grab most of the headlines, there will be other talking points, and in the Sunday notebook we'll address a different category in the weeks leading up to the start of spring ball. Here's a look at five fresh faces for fans to keep an eye on in the spring:
Qua Huzzie, freshman linebacker. Huzzie would have seen the field as a true freshman last fall if a shoulder injury hadn't sidelined him in pre-season camp. The coaching staff has raved about the potential of the LaGrange product and he'll be given every opportunity to replace the departed Micah Johnson at middle linebacker.
Josh Gibbs, junior safety. Coaches don't recruit junior-college products to sit on the bench, and since Gibbs was able to enroll early, he'll get a chance to compete for the open safety spot opposite Winston Guy.
Ryan Wallace, sophomore tight end. With four-star signee Alex Smith not arriving until the summer and Minnesota transfer Terrell Combs not eligible until 2011 (transfer), Wallace, a University of Colorado transfer, can use the spring to stake an early claim to the vacant tight end position, which has been an area of weakness for UK since the departure of Jacob Tamme.
Will Johnson, redshirt freshman linebacker. Johnson has been playing catch-up since arriving in Lexington as a skinny 190-pounder, but now he's 15 pounds heavier and hopes to be close to 220 by the fall. If that holds up, he could go from special teams player to a key contributor in UK's depleted linebacker corps.
Whoever lines up at fullback. Of the four departing seniors who figure to get looks from the NFL, fullback John Conner and his contributions as a blocker and short-yardage runner will probably be the most difficult to replace. The only returning fullbacks who were on the Music City Bowl roster were walk-ons: junior Stephen Ball and sophomore Brian Murphy. The coaching staff still is trying to figure out what to do at this position and expect plenty of experimenting in the spring.
Next week: Five players under the microscope.
Oliver to have big role in recruiting
Ray "Rock" Oliver was hired by Joker Phillips to oversee UK's strength and conditioning program, but that won't be his only role, as Phillips said he plans on taking advantage of Oliver's recruiting prowess. Oliver also had an active role in recruiting during his stint as strength coach for ex-Kentucky basketball coach Rick Pitino in the 1990s.
"Rock is a great recruiter, a great salesman for the programs," Phillips said. "He's one of those guys, when the Bengals had free agents coming in, he was one of the guys they put in front of them. So he will be a guy we have to put in front of our recruits."
Oliver, a Cincinnati native, wants to see Kentucky get more involved in the southwest Ohio area, and Phillips and the staff seem to be obliging.
The Wildcats signed three Ohio products in their 2010 class: Cincinnati tight end Alex Smith and Wynford teammates Tyler Brause and Teven Eatmon. And UK has offered scholarships to five prospects from Ohio for 2011: quarterback Braxton Miller (Huber Heights), tight end Nick Vannett (Westerville), defensive ends Brad Carrico (Dublin) and Jesse Hayes (Cincinnati Moeller), and linebacker Jarrett Grace (Cincinnati Colerain).
"There are a lot of players up there that we can really tap into," Oliver said. "We should make a living there. Everybody wants to recruit the South, and you can still recruit the South, but there are a lot of players up there in southwest Ohio.
Cats ranked No. 48 in CFN pre-season poll
Kentucky was ranked 48th by Collegefootballnews.com in its pre-season poll of Football Bowl Subdivision teams. The Web site predicted a 10th-place finish for UK in the Southeastern Conference. The Wildcats were rated 55th by CFN in its final 2009 poll after finishing 7-6. Here are the rankings for the 12 opponents on UK's 2010 schedule: Louisville (80), Western Kentucky (118), Akron (112), Florida (2), Mississippi (28), Auburn (19), South Carolina (41) Georgia (20), Mississippi State (55), Charleston Southern (not ranked, Football Championship Subdivision school), Vanderbilt (88), Tennessee (34).
Chip Cosby covers UK football for the Herald-Leader. This article includes his opinions and observations. Reach him at email@example.com.