UK football notebook: Cats address special teams in recruiting

Return units suffered after losing Locke, Cobb

Herald-Leader Staff WriterFebruary 12, 2012 

UKFBC

UK's wide receivers coach Tee Martin

MATT GOINS

If there's one part of the Kentucky football team that benefited most on signing day, it might be its special teams.

Of course, if there was one part of the Kentucky football team that needed the most help on signing day, it probably was the special teams unit.

Specifically the Cats' return game, which took the biggest hit between the 2010 season and the 2011 season.

"We've got to improve that part of the game," said UK assistant coach for wide receivers Tee Martin on signing day last week.

The losses of top returners Derrick Locke and Randall Cobb was difficult on the Cats.

That was easy to see Saturday after Saturday.

UK didn't get a single touchdown out of its return game last season, and times when the struggling offense could have used a boost, field position was never on its side.

On punt returns last season, Kentucky was dead last in the Southeastern Conference at 1.8 yards per return, that was a full four yards behind the next-worst team, Florida.

In SEC play, the Cats' 11 punt returns went for a total of 20 total yards with a long of six yards.

Just as a point of comparison, two seasons ago, Cobb returned 28 punts for 219 yards (7.8 average per return) for one touchdown. The current Green Bay Packer had one return go for 30 more yards than UK had the entire conference season.

On kickoff returns, Kentucky was 11th of 12 in the league averaging just 20.3 yards.

Cobb and Locke both averaged more yards per kickoff return in the 2010-11 season than UK did as a team all of last season.

Cobb had 31 returns for 736 yards (23.7 average per return) and Locke had 395 total yards on 15 carries (26.3 yards per return).

"We never got that right fit, that perfect fit," Martin said of the various players subbed in and out to jumpstart UK's return game. "This year with these Cats coming in here ... they'll get the opportunity to show what they can do."

Defensive coordinator Rick Minter said many of the 25 players UK signed last week will be immediate contributors for special teams coach Greg Nord, hopefully leading to better numbers next season.

"Nord got better today with special teams," Minter said. "A lot of these intermediate athletes — both on offense and defense — will enhance our special teams."

Two such players mentioned by head coach Joker Phillips were defensive backs Cody Quinn and Jonathan Reed. Quinn returned two kickoffs for touchdowns his junior season at Middletown (Ohio). Reed, out of Indianapolis Pike, was timed as 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

Not only will they likely help on special teams, they're also special players, Phillips said.

"When they walk into the room, they light it up, they are guys that people want to be around," Phillips said. "We always talk about, 'This is a guy that I would hang out with in college,' and both of those guys are it."

Some kick to it?

There also was some discussion about the Kentucky kicking game at signing day, including the signing of kicker Landon Foster out of Thompson Station, Tenn. Foster is listed as both a kicker and a punter.

UK will be looking at all options next season with the graduation of long-time punter Ryan Tydlacka, who made the Cats one of the best punting units in the SEC.

Phillips said the Kentucky coaches knew Foster was a good kicker, not from the moment they saw his 6-foot-1, 198-pound frame, but from the moment they heard him meet the ball.

"You know an SEC punter when you hear him," Phillips said of Foster, who averaged 41.3 yards per punt last season for Independence. "You know an SEC kicker when you — you don't have to see it, you can close your eyes and walk past and it's going to sound different than a pee– wee punter. This guy is an SEC punter, high character kid, intelligent, right look in his eyes."

Foster also had 50 of his 56 kickoffs last season go for touchbacks. Four of the others were on-side kicks.

'Eats me alive'

There was a fascinating article in the Knoxville News Sentinel last week about how Tennessee's loss at Kentucky will lead to a resurrection of sorts for the Volunteers.

It also was sort of life altering for Vols Coach Derek Dooley, who saw the 26-game win streak over the Cats come to an end on his watch.

"That game will bother me for the rest of my life," Dooley told staff writer Austin Ward. "It eats me alive. I didn't sleep for a week after that game. I'm not sure how long I will go in time without thinking about that game at some point in the day."

Dooley goes on to discuss how that loss to UK has refocused his team (and helped lead to some serious turnover on the Vols' coaching staff, to the tune of six coaches parting ways with Tennessee).

The Kentucky game "allowed us to not live in an illusion that everything is great, which it wasn't," Dooley said.

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Email: jsmith3@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com, ukwomen.bloginky.com

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