Kentucky coaches and players know they have a lot to prove next fall.
But in comments after spring practice both this week and last, they made it clear they are confident good things await UK, which finished last season 5-7.
"We're going to be a surprise team," sophomore Alvin "Bud" Dupree promised on Wednesday, the last full day of workouts for UK before Saturday's Blue-White game.
"People don't really expect Kentucky to have a good football team, but we're going to work hard this spring and in the off-season. We're going to get bigger, faster, stronger. ... We're going to be a good team and shock the world, shock the fans."
The team still has a long way to go, especially losing key playmakers on the defensive end like Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy, but Coach Joker Phillips said late last week there are lots of reasons for optimism.
"Don't give up on this football team," Phillips said when asked what he would tell the fans. "We'll battle; we'll fight; we'll scratch; we'll claw. Just don't give up on this football team."
The coach said he's encouraged by the young faces he sees making plays. On the offensive side of the ball, he mentioned Demarco Robinson, Maxwell Smith, Larry Warford, Daryl Collins and Ronnie Shields on Wednesday after practice.
Defensively, he talked about Dupree, Avery Williamson, Martavius Neloms, Mister Cobble, Donte Rumph and Marcus Caffey.
"We're not even close to where we need to be," Phillips acknowledged. "We're better than we were in practice one. ... We've still got a lot of work to do."
Cats fans will have a chance to see the improvement in person at the Blue-White Game on Saturday night at Commonwealth Stadium.
On Wednesday, Phillips announced that the format would be the traditional one with the first-team offense and defense taking on the rest of the team.
The non first-teamers will be spotted 14 points on the stadium scoreboard to start the game.
The team is looking forward to showing the fans what it can do both Saturday and in the fall, Dupree said.
"Everybody's expecting Kentucky to be a basketball school," he said. "They just come off a national championship, so we've got to do something in response, to at least get our names out there."
Struggles at punter
Kentucky is still looking for its punter and he's likely still in high school in Tennessee.
Phillips said possible punters Joe Mansour and Jay Wilmott haven't shown themselves to be viable options this spring.
"Our punter probably isn't on campus," Phillips said. "There might be somebody out in the fraternities or the dorms, but he has not been out here. I'm really disappointed in the way we've kicked the ball this spring.
"I'm not talking about field goals. (Craig McIntosh) has been outstanding, but our punting situation is not up to standards."
Both Phillips and special teams coach Greg Nord acknowledged that they've been spoiled by having high-quality punters the past few seasons in Tim Masthay and Ryan Tydlacka.
"Joe and Jay both have good legs, they just have to bring the consistency," Nord said last week.
He said UK anticipated this and signed highly touted kicker Landon Foster out of Tennessee in response.
Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241.Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.comJennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog:ukfootball.bloginky.com.