University of Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips is scheduled to address the media during pre-spring practice on Tuesday, and the Wildcats will hit the practice field for their first workout. Here's a look at some of the issues that must be addressed this spring:
■ Stabilize the quarterback situation. Morgan Newton, Mike Hartline and Ryan Mossakowski are all in the mix, and it's highly unlikely that Phillips will name a starter by the end of spring. At the very least, though, Phillips would like to get a clearer picture of who the top competitors are and go from there.
■ Establish the receiving corps. UK has to be more effective passing the ball, and while a lot would be solved with better quarterback play, the receivers have to show consistency as well. Randall Cobb is the go-to-guy, but Phillips would like to find stability at the No. 2 and 3 spots. Chris Matthews and LaRod King are the leading candidates.
■ Piece together the offensive line. Although Kentucky lost four starters up front, Phillips says there won't be a significant drop-off. Brad Durham split time with Justin Jeffries at right tackle last year. Matt Smith and Marcus Davis got playing time behind Jorge Gonzalez at center, and the coaching staff is high on sophomore-to-be Larry Warford. The biggest concern will be figuring out who fits best at which spot.
■ Evaluate the linebackers. This was another area hit hard by graduation. Danny Trevathan returns at the weak side, but Micah Johnson (middle) and Sam Maxwell (strong) must be replaced. Qua Huzzie will be given every opportunity to win the middle linebacker spot, and converted safety Matt Lentz will get a look on the strong side. Jacob Dufrene, Will Johnson and Ridge Wilson are also auditioning for playing time.
UK is still in the process of determining if practices will be open to the public.
Cats target high-profile offensive linemen
One of Phillips' primary goals upon taking the reins was to upgrade recruiting, and that objective is becoming clear when you look at UK's offensive line targets for 2011.
Recruiting rankings have yet to be released, but UK has extended scholarship offers to several offensive linemen who already have offers from traditional powers, including:
Joel Hale, 6-foot-4, 290 pounds, Greenwood (Ind.), has offers from Cincinnati, Georgia Tech, Michigan State, Purdue and Wisconsin;
Brandon Shell, 6-7, 290, Charleston, S.C., has offers from Clemson, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee;
Antonio Richardson, 6-6, 310, Nashville, has offers from Alabama, Oklahoma, LSU, Georgia and Clemson;
Mitch Smothers, 6-4, 280, Springdale, Ark., has offers from Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma State and Arkansas;
Kiaro Holts, 6-5, 270, Indianapolis, has offers from Southern Cal, Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Michigan State;
Nick Martin, 6-5, 260, Indianapolis, has offers from Boston College, Michigan State and South Carolina. Martin's father, Keith, played with Phillips and recruiting coordinator Chuck Smith at UK from 1981-83, and his older brother Zach was recruited by Kentucky before signing with Notre Dame.
One O-line prospect on UK's board, Ohio's Brad Carrico, committed to Notre Dame last week.
A player who might currently be caught in the numbers game is Lexington Christian offensive lineman Zack West. The Wildcats already have a commitment from Bryan Station offensive lineman Darrian Miller. The 6-5, 305-pound West told Catspause.com that he's a lifelong Wildcat fan and has offers from Penn State, Louisville and Arkansas but has yet to get an offer from Kentucky. West is scheduled to attend camp at UK at the end of May.
"I've always been a big fan of Kentucky because they are my hometown team, so it's always been huge to me," West told Catspause.com. "I wouldn't say so much that I'm getting impatient (with them) as I just don't know what they think about me. I haven't gotten much feedback."
The NFL Draft is less than a month away, and it looks as though UK could have at least four players hear their names called.
Fullback Jon Conner has meetings and workouts scheduled with the Lions, Cowboys and Bengals and could go as high as the fourth round. Defensive tackle Corey Peters will meet with the Browns, Patriots, Titans and Jets. Representative Greg Linton said Peters is projected as a sixth-round pick but said some teams have Peters as high as the third round on their boards. Peters was listed No. 95 on the National Football Post's list of top 100 draft prospects.
Trevard Lindley is also expected to go in the middle rounds. Lindley had a rough week at the Senior Bowl and didn't run a blazing 40 time (4.5) at the Combine or at Pro Day. But his game film and productivity should persuade teams to take a flier on him in the fourth round.
Micah Johnson's draft status is hard to project, as he's listed anywhere from a third- to sixth-rounder. Johnson improved his 40-time from a 4.99 at the Combine to a high-4.7-low 4.8 at Pro Day, and a lot of the other prospects at middle linebacker have seen their stock drop as the result of slow times. Florida's Brandon Spikes ran a 4.94 at Florida's Pro Day.
Tailback Alfonso Smith could possibly get picked in the later rounds because of his speed (4.3 40) and potential as a return man and gunner on special teams. At worst Smith figures to be signed as a priority free agent. Offensive lineman Zipp Duncan has also drawn some intrigue from scouts because of his ability to play guard as well as tackle.
Linebacker Sam Maxwell and offensive linemen Christian Johnson and Justin Jeffries will all have a shot at free-agent deals.
Former UK quarterback Andre Woodson was at UK's Pro Day and worked out for scouts along with former receiver Dicky Lyons Jr. Woodson, who's not currently on an NFL roster after being released by the Redskins, hopes to get an invite to an NFL camp sometime this summer. If that doesn't happen, Woodson could eventually sign a deal with the United Football League, an independent league.
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.