With the start of spring practice less than three weeks away, here's a look at what should be the five hottest position battles of the spring.
The candidates: Morgan Newton, Mike Hartline and Ryan Mossakowski
Summary: Plenty has been said already about the three-man QB race and plenty will be written in the spring. Bottom line, the three will duke it out early, and may the best man win. The race figures to be narrowed to two by the end of spring, but it's highly unlikely that a starter will be named before fall. If it's close, coaches usually like to keep the race going through the summer months to keep the contestants motivated. Remember, Curtis Pulley was named the starter over Andre Woodson back in 2006 before slacking off in the summer and handing the job to Woodson by default.
The candidates: Billy Joe Murphy, Dave Ulinski and TBA
Summary: The battle to replace Zipp Duncan as the quarterback's blind-side protector figures to be a captivating one. It's assumed that Brad Durham will start at right tackle, where he split time with Justin Jeffries in 2009. Murphy has starting experience, and the coaches say Ulinski has a high ceiling. The coaches usually do some mixing and matching during the spring and will probably give several other players a look.
The candidates: Matt Lentz, Josh Gibbs and Taiedo Smith
Summary: Winston Guy will start at one safety, but the other spot is wide open. The hard-hitting Lentz has six career starts. Gibbs, a junior-college transfer, will participate in spring drills. The versatile Smith can play corner and both safety positions, and redshirt freshman Jarvis Walker could also compete. Another redshirt, Dakotah Tyler, is moving from running back to safety this spring.
The candidates: Jacob Dufrene, Ridge Wilson and TBA
Summary: Dufrene got the nod after Maxwell was forced to sit out the bowl game, but he will be pushed by Wilson, a talented athlete who was still learning the system last year.Tight end
The candidates: Ryan Wallace, Anthony Kendrick and Nick Melillo
Summary: Wallace, a Colorado transfer, will get his chance after sitting out last fall. Kendrick was redshirted as a freshman. Melillo, a Trinity graduate, was a pleasant surprise after transferring from Lindenwood. Incoming freshman Alex Smith could be the tight end of the future, but he won't arrive until summer.
Pro Day on Wednesday
Five former UK players participated in the NFL Combine last week and will now move on to the next phase of NFL Draft preparations, Pro Day, which will be Wednesday at the Nutter Field House.
As of Friday, eight NFL scouts were confirmed for the Pro Day festivities, with more expected to roll into Lexington by Wednesday.
Micah Johnson, Corey Peters, Trevard Lindley, John Conner and Sam Maxwell all attended the Combine in Indianapolis, although Maxwell was unable to work out as he recovers from surgery to repair a torn labrum.
Peters is ranked as the No. 24 defensive lineman by ESPN.com and is viewed as a late-round selection with the potential to move up to the middle rounds. Peters, who took a while to recover from a partially torn labrum at the end of the season, ran a 5.01 40-yard dash at the Combine and will run the 40 again at Pro Day along with participating in the bench press, cone drills, 20-yard shuttle and broad jump.
Lindley and Conner both appeared to help themselves at the Combine. Lindley, who was viewed as a second-round pick in last year's draft and a possible first-round pick in 2010, saw his stock drop significantly after an injury-plagued senior season. But Lindley may have moved himself back into contention to be a second- or third-round pick after a strong showing in Indy. Lindley's 38.5-inch vertical jump was sixth among cornerbacks. Lindley also did well in the 60-yard shuttle, as his 11.17 time ranked fourth among corners. Lindley's best 40 time was 4.53, not blazing, but decent enough when you consider his timing, anticipation and play-making ability.
Conner ran a faster-than-expected 4.72 40-yard dash, a good time for a fullback. His 24 reps in the bench press ranked third among running backs and his 20-yard shuttle run (4.29) was ninth among running backs, and he could be the first fullback taken in the later rounds.
Johnson probably has the most to prove at Pro Day, as his Combine performance had mixed results. The 6-foot-1, 258-pounder showed off his impressive strength by doing 31 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press, third among linebackers. But he didn't run as well as he would have liked, as his 4.99 40-yard dash time was the slowest among linebackers. Johnson suffered a knee injury in the Music City Bowl and hopes another week to train and rest the knee will result in a better 40-yard dash at Pro Day.
Other UK seniors who will try to impress scouts include running back Alfonso Smith and offensive linemen Zipp Duncan, Christian Johnson, Jorge Gonzalez and Justin Jeffries.
The Wildcat underclassmen will also be timed in the 40-yard dash, and former UK receiver Dicky Lyons Jr. will work out. Lyons, who suffered a major knee injury midway through his senior season, signed briefly with the Atlanta Falcons last preseason before being released. He's now almost 18 months removed from knee surgery and is reportedly running in the 4.5 range.
UK gets 2011 commitment
Kentucky received its third commitment for 2011 this week from Glenn Faulkner, a 6-foot-2, 195-pound defensive back from East St. Louis (Ill.) High. UK was the first school to offer Faulkner, who has not yet been rated by Rivals or Scout. The Cats were also the first to offer Faulkner's teammate, defensive tackle Cliff Tucker, who is listed among Rivals Top 250 prospects to watch for 2011. East St. Louis High also has another player on the Rivals 250 watch list, receiver Keante Minor.
Faulkner joins Eastern athlete Jon Davis and Bryan Station offensive lineman Darrian Miller as UK commitments from the junior class.
Spring practice is already under way at Georgia, which began drills on Thursday. Here's a list of the spring practice start and end dates for all 12 SEC programs:
Alabama (March 12-April 17); Arkansas (March 30-April 24); Auburn (March 24-April 19); Florida (March 17-April 10); Georgia (March 4-April 10); Kentucky (March 31-April 24); Louisiana State (Feb. 26-March 27); Mississippi (March 27-April 17); Mississippi State (March 23-April 17); South Carolina (March 16-April 10); Tennessee (March 18-April 17); Vanderbilt (March 17-April 10).
Chip Cosby covers UK football for the Herald-Leader. This article includes his opinions and observations. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.