Notebook

Chip Cosby: Where UK's football team stands position-by-position

Where UK stands position by position

Herald-Leader Staff WriterApril 24, 2011 

Jonathan George (25) evaded a tackle attempt by Mikie Benton during the Blue-White Game at Commonwealth Stadium. George rushed nine times for 27 yards and caught three passes for 25 yards.

PABLO ALCALA | STAFF

Now that the Blue-White Spring Game is in the books, here's a position-by-position analysis of the Kentucky football team going into the off-season:

Quarterback: Morgan Newton is finally the man, and while he's still not a finished product, the junior-to-be looked much more polished in the spring. Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders was grateful to get freshman Maxwell Smith in for spring practice or else the backup position would have been a major concern. Theltus "Bookie" Cobbins will arrive this summer.

Running back: Raymond Sanders emerged as the top back for the time being, and Jonathan George also had some nice moments this spring, but Coach Joker Phillips also made no secret that he'll give freshmen Marcus Caffey and Josh Clemons every opportunity to challenge for the job. Phillips said Sanders and George will start bracketed at No. 1 with Caffey and Clemons bracketed at No. 2.

Wide receiver: Saturday's problems with drops highlighted the issues facing this unit going into the off-season. Sure-handed junior Gene McCaskill's return from knee surgery will help, and several freshmen also figure to get a long look in fall camp.

Offensive line: The line is the most stable position on the offense. Four starters return, and you won't find many better guard tandems than Larry Warford and Stuart Hines. The only major concern is depth. Jake Lanefski is expected to be the sixth man and is capable of playing multiple positions, but youngsters Kevin Mitchell and Tevin Eatmon-Nored need to be depended on to fill out the rotation.

Tight end: This is the deepest position on the roster, as six tight ends suited up for the Blue-White Game. Nick Melillo enters the summer at No. 1 with Jordan Aumiller close behind. Phillips likes the upside of redshirt freshman Ronnie Shields.

Defensive line: This area is still a work in progress but showed some signs of life in the spring. Collins Ukwu could be on the verge of a breakout. Redshirt freshman Justin Henderson stepped up and showed he may be ready for a prime-time role.

At tackle, Mister Cobble missed the last part of the spring with a shoulder injury, but Donte Rumph is coming along nicely.

"I think he's a guy that could be a staple inside for us," Phillips said.

A wild card will be Taylor Wyndham, who will line up at end, tackle and outside linebacker.

"We're going to do a lot of things with Taylor, and he's smart enough to handle it, too," Phillips said.

Linebacker: The Cats know what they'll get out of All-America candidate Danny Trevathan, but he'll need more help than he got last season. Winston Guy played well in a hybrid linebacker/safety role in the spring, and Ronnie Sneed will man the middle. Sophomores Avery Williamson and Qua Huzzie will need to step up and provide quality depth.

Secondary: Martavious Neloms moves from corner to safety and figures to be the leader of the unit, and there's experience at corner in Randall Burden, Anthony Mosley and Cartier Rice. The coaches are hoping sophomore corner Jerrell Priester emerges. Projected starting safety Mychal Bailey sat out the spring game because of academics.

Special teams: The kicking game is in good hands. Phillips said punter Ryan Tydlacka and place-kicker Craig McIntosh have been consistent this spring. Sophomore Joe Mansour doesn't appear quite ready to challenge McIntosh on field goals and extra points.

The biggest challenge is finding replacements for Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke in the return game. Burden is in line to be the punt returner, with Priester and Raymond Sanders possibilities as kick return men.

Around the SEC

Here's a look at some of the key issues that the other SEC teams have dealt with this spring.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide are still looking for a replacement at quarterback for the steady Greg McElroy, and sophomore A.J. McCarron and freshman Phillip Sims ended the spring in a dead heat. Trent Richardson will be one of the nation's best backs, and with nine starters returning the Tide figure to be their usual nasty selves on defense.

Arkansas: The biggest loss on paper for the Razorbacks is quarterback Ryan Mallett, but the Hogs shouldn't skip a beat offensively with Bobby Petrino calling plays for experienced junior Tyler Wilson and the SEC's best returning receiving corps. Arkansas should also continue to improve defensively behind defensive end Jake Bequette and linebacker Jerry Franklin, who earned second-team All-SEC honors last season.

Auburn: The million-dollar question on the Plains is who will replace quarterback Cam Newton, and that answer won't come until the fall, as Coach Gene Chizik will keep the competition between Barrett Trotter and Clint Moseley open through the summer. Auburn will have one of the SEC's best running back tandems in Michael Dyer and Onterrio McCalebb. The Tigers are also searching for someone to step in for Nick Fairley at defensive tackle.

Florida: Things will look drastically different in Gainesville this fall. Will Muschamp takes over for Urban Meyer, and Charlie Weis' pro-style offense replaces Meyer's much-ballyhooed spread attack. Senior quarterback John Brantley should be much more comfortable in the new system, although he didn't set the world on fire in the spring game. Meyer still left behind plenty of speed in running backs Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps. Muschamp will try to get the most out of a talented but unproven defense.

Georgia: After two straight subpar seasons, is it time to stop expecting much from the Bulldogs? It's hard to get a read on Mark Richt's club in 2011. Quarterback Aaron Murray is back, but stud receiver A.J. Green is gone and there doesn't appear to be a lot of difference-makers to step into his shoes. The defense will have to be rebuilt after losing three starters at linebacker, including potential first-round pick Justin Houston.

LSU: Offensively, the Tigers need Jordan Jefferson to play like an experienced senior and they also need to find a feature running back. Sophomore corner Tyrann Mathieu, a freshman All-American, will try to fill the large shoes of departed star Patrick Peterson.

Mississippi: The Jeremiah Masoli experiment is over, and now Houston Nutt must choose between junior-college transfer Randall Mackey and West Virginia transfer Barry Brunetti to run his offense. The good news is running back Brandon Bolden is back. The defense also must re-tool after losing six starters.

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs won't sneak up on anybody this year but appear to have the personnel to build on their eight-win season from a year ago. The big concern is the loss of star defensive end Pernell McPhee and three starting linebackers, but the offense should be in good shape with the return of quarterback Chris Relf, running back Vick Ballard and receiver Chad Bumphis.

South Carolina: It's become an annual rite of passage for quarterback Stephen Garcia to get in Steve Spurrier's doghouse, as the troubled senior-to-be was suspended this spring. Spurrier might finally be fed up enough to turn the ball over to sophomore Connor Shaw. Other than the QB issues, the Gamecocks appear loaded, as they boast perhaps the conference's best back (Marcus Lattimore), best receiver (Alshon Jeffery) and best cover corner (Stephon Gilmore).

Tennessee: Derek Dooley should be more comfortable in year two on the sidelines in Knoxville, and he's got an up-and-coming signal caller in sophomore Tyler Bray. Safety Janzen Jackson, defensive tackle Malik Jackson and cornerback Prentiss Waggoner all made second-team All-SEC last year.

Vanderbilt: New coach James Franklin has his work cut out for him. He wants to install more of a passing attack at Vandy but first must find a quarterback who can throw. Larry Smith and Jordan Rogers are the two options as of now. It's likely the Commodores will rely heavily on the legs of SEC Freshman of the Year Warren Norman. Defensively, nine starters return, including senior linebacker Chris Marve.

Chip Cosby covers UK football for the Herald-Leader. This article includes his opinions and observations. He can be reached by e-mail at ccosby@herald-leader.com.

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