Dyshawn Mobley got lost in the shuffle last season.
On three separate occasions, former Kentucky coach Joker Phillips lamented not getting enough carries for the true freshman touted for his ability to "move the pile."
Phillips even talked about scripting a plan to get Mobley, a 5-foot-11 running back, into games because UK's coaches would "forget" to play him.
For his part, Mobley said he didn't feel like the Cats' forgotten running man.
"I knew they were trying to get wins and they wanted the upperclassmen that had more ability than I had, more reps," he said. "I just felt like I needed to wait my turn and that's what I did."
The running back, who set a Tennessee high school single-season rushing record with 3,068 yards and 48 touchdowns as a senior at Powell, thought his turn could come this season. He led all rushers in the Blue-White Spring Game with 15 carries for 79 yards.
But then he felt a familiar discomfort in his lower abdomen, one he had felt as a sophomore in high school.
Mobley told coaches about it in the summer and within a few days, he was having surgery to repair two hernias.
On Monday, the running back was cleared for full contact again, and he hopes to find his way into a rotation that includes seniors Raymond Sanders and Jonathan George, as well as true freshman Jojo Kemp.
Running backs coach Chad Scott said Mobley missing some practice early in camp doesn't mean he'll be forgotten this season.
"Physically, he has the tools," Scott said. "He really does have the tools. He just has to get it from a mental standpoint. So, actually, being out this week helps him a lot from a mental aspect because that's the area of his game he needs to improve the most."
Coaches like the toughness Mobley brings to the position, too.
"He's talented," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "He runs the ball mad. He runs the ball angry."
He has an edge, Scott agreed.
"That kid's a tough kid," Mobley's position coach said. "He's that kind of kid."
Brown said Mobley, who ran 41 times for 184 yards last season, is a bit of a "wild card" in his assortment of running backs.
"He's a guy that could be a really good player for us and a big factor for us," the offensive coordinator said.
Part of Mobley's "wild card" status is that he's never been in an offense where he also needs to catch the ball and make plays, but the back said he's getting used to the expanded role.
He's getting in 100 catches or more every day on the JUGS machine to prepare, said Mobley, who caught one pass last season for one yard.
Mobley also is quite familiar with the spread offense. His high school team ran it, and he averaged 12.2 yards a carry as a senior.
"Love it," Mobley said of the Air Raid style. "It definitely fits back to my high school days. Spread 'em out and gash them with the run. Once you get to the second level, if you can make one guy miss, it's you and the safety."
Taking center stage
So much attention is focused on the quarterback competition, but offensive coaches on Monday emphasized the battle for center.
"One and 1A; it's up there," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said of the import of the position, which he called the quarterback of the offensive line.
"We do try to alleviate some pressure off our quarterbacks with the center, as far as cadence, calling protection, those types of things," Brown said. "All the guys we're rotating there have a good understanding of those. Now they can get better; they have a good understanding."
The battle has come down to sophomore Zach West and redshirt freshman Zach Myers, offensive line coach John Schlarman said. Max Godby is rotating mostly with the No. 2 offense.
"We're just seeing how it progresses and hoping one of those guys will take the reins and be the guy," Schlarman said, noting he'd like to have a decision by the end of the week.
If West wins the center spot, junior Teven Eatmon-Nared will move to West's left guard spot, where he started every game last season. Eatmon-Nared played in eight games last season at guard and on special teams.
West said last week he has no preference where he plays.
"I want to play and whether it's at center or guard, it doesn't matter to me," said West, who missed most of spring having his right labrum surgically repaired. "As long as I'm playing, it doesn't matter."
Redshirt freshman Jon Toth, who was initially competing for the starting center spot, will be in the rotation at left tackle.
Za'Darius Smith still out
Defensive end Za'Darius Smith is still wearing a protective boot and has not practiced after rolling his ankle in practice on Thursday. The junior college transfer is considered day to day.
"He's got an ankle injury, and you know how those are," Coach Mark Stoops said. "The first 48 hours, they tell me, of those ankle injuries you can tell whether it's a high ankle sprain or a low ankle sprain and the severity of it and all those things. We don't think it's major, but it will take a little time."
■ The good news for the defensive line is that seniors Donte Rumph (shoulder) and Mister Cobble (undisclosed) are practicing again.
"They were back out there," Stoops said of his injured linemen. "They're good. They were going through reps and getting reps."
Call me, maybe
A couple of weeks ago, one high-priority Kentucky target tweeted out a copy of his official scholarship offer sent by Stoops. The letter included the head coach's personal cell phone number on it.
The player, Matt Elam of John Hardin High School, took it down fairly quickly, but in a world of screen grabs, Stoops' number remained in cyberspace.
When asked about that on Monday and whether he had to change his digits, the coach smiled broadly.
"Let's just say I'm completely a Kentuckian now," Stoops said. "I have a nice 859 number now."
Season opener: vs. Western Kentucky at Nashville
Home opener: vs. Miami (Ohio)
Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.