CATS ON OFFENSE
Neal Brown, second season at Kentucky, fifth overall as an offensive coordinator.
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Neal Brown, quarterbacks; Tommy Mainord, wide receivers; Vince Marrow, tight ends; John Schlarman, offensive line; Chad Scott, running backs; Josh Pruitt and Max Drisko, graduate assistants.
Updated Air Raid.
Kentucky finished second-to-last in the Southeastern Conference and 109th (out of 125) in the nation in total offense, averaging 341.3 yards a game. The Cats also were the second-worst scoring offense in the SEC, averaging just 20.5 points a game.
Zach West, offensive lineman; Darrian Miller, offensive lineman; Jon Toth, center; Jordan Swindle, offensive lineman; Demarco Robinson, wide receiver; Ryan Timmons, wide receiver; Javess Blue, wide receiver; Jeff Badet, wide receiver.
WHAT TO WATCH
With more talent and depth at running back than Kentucky has seen in years, the Air Raid likely will get a big boost from the ground game as the Cats try to break in a new quarterback with little (or no) experience. A deeper, more experienced offensive line has a year of experience in Brown's offense and should give the new QB more time, plus he has a talented (albeit young) group of wide-outs to distribute passes to.
Will the Cats, who averaged 64 plays a game last year, be able to play at a tempo more palatable to Brown, who prefers to average between 75-80 plays a game? Will the tempo help UK score more points? Will the youth at quarterback be masked by more experience at offensive line and running back? Will the depth hold up when it rarely seems to for UK? Can Kentucky score more points after finishing near last in the nation and SEC at just 20.5 points a game?
Offensive coordinator Neal Brown seems much more optimistic this preseason with more talent and depth at running back, more size and depth at offensive line and a much deeper group of wide receivers (although Brown said the Cats are still a year away from where he wants to be on that front). The talent around the UK quarterback is an upgrade, but will it be enough? Cats' productivity is going to improve, but just how much remains to be seen.
CATS ON DEFENSE
D.J. Eliot, second season at UK and as a coordinator.
D.J. Eliot, linebackers; Derrick Ansley, cornerbacks; Jimmy Brumbaugh, defensive line; Craig Naivar, safeties and special teams; Dan Carrel and Sam Simpson, graduate assistants.
Base 4-3 defense with multiple looks.
Kentucky finished 13th in the Southeastern Conference and 92nd in the nation in total defense, allowing 427.2 yards a game.
Bud Dupree, end; Za'Darius Smith, end; Khalid Henderson, linebacker; Blake McClain, nickel; Nate Willis, cornerback, Ashely Lowery, safety, Eric Dixon, safety.
WHAT TO WATCH
Kentucky found a way to stay in many games late by being versatile and multiple and it will need to be both of those things (think nickel package) this season to be successful. Mark Stoops hopes the Cats will reflect their leader Bud Dupree in work ethic, toughness and production. Stoops expects last year's rugged season for the young UK secondary will provide experience for this one, but the Cats are going to have to answer some questions up the middle as well.
Can Kentucky get better at stopping opponents on third down (last in the league)? Will the Cats find a leader who can stop the run up the middle? Will Bud Dupree be as good as advertised and be able to lead a relatively young defense? Will UK see the sort of statistical improvement that other Stoops defenses have seen after a year of experience? Will UK be able to disrupt opposing offenses and force more turnovers?
The middle of a defense is its most important part and losing two-year tackles leader and team leader Avery Williamson coupled with a somewhat untested interior defensive line will force UK to find leaders and answers early. The Cats have a strong presence in defensive ends Dupree and Smith and they will lean on them heavily to get out of the league basement in scoring defense, rushing defense and passing defense. Kentucky will still have to be multiple and creative, especially once it gets into SEC play.