UK Football

'High-ankle guys' ready to step out on the field

They've become known as "the high-ankle guys" — linebacker Micah Johnson, quarterback/wide receiver Randall Cobb and defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin.

All three Kentucky Wildcats went down with high ankle sprains in the Middle Tennessee game on Sept. 13, and their weekly status has been perhaps the most talked about topic ever since.

Now it looks as if the trio have finally turned the corner.

Lumpkin is probably the healthiest. He played several snaps against Alabama last week and should be ready for full-time backup duty behind starters Myron Pryor and Corey Peters.

Cobb got in for one play at Alabama, but he is ready to resume the hybrid quarterback/receiver role he was playing before the injury.

And Johnson, who missed the Western Kentucky and Alabama games, is expected to start at middle linebacker when the Wildcats host South Carolina on Saturday.

UK Coach Rich Brooks said he doesn't expect any of the players to be 100 percent, but they all made it through practice this week.

Cobb, showing that he is very precise for a true freshman, said he was "96.54 percent."

"I can cut and everything," Cobb said. "You just have to get over the mental block that you might roll it again."

"He looked good," UK offensive coordinator Joker Phillips said of Cobb. "I was really pleased with the way he ran around. He didn't have a limp."

Cobb's return could provide a boost to UK's struggling offense.

Before the injury, he was spending more time at quarterback as a change-of-pace option to Mike Hartline. And while Cobb still will probably see action as Hartline's backup, his first order of business will be to provide some juice to a receiving corps that has lacked a big-play threat.

"One of the things we're missing is someone who can take a 5-yard hitch and turn it into a big play like Keenan (Burton) or Steve (Johnson) used to do," quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders said.

Phillips noted that it would be hard to sit Hartline in favor of Cobb. Hartline has led the team to a 4-1 record and has decent numbers (874 yards passing, 55.8 completion percentage, five touchdowns, two interceptions) despite not getting much help from the running game or his receivers.

"Mike is playing pretty good," Phillips said. "He's taken care of the football for the most part. He's managing the offense. We've just got to get guys around him that can make plays, and we think Randall could be one of those guys."

Cobb said he is ready to embrace whatever role the coaches have for him.

"I'm just going in with the idea that I'm going to be doing both," Cobb said. "All I'm focusing on is coming to practice and working hard."

Sanders has spent time this week addressing Hartline's fumbling issues. The ball has slipped out of his hands three times this year, including one in the Alabama game that led to a Crimson Tide touchdown.

"We're trying to work to identify what's causing it, but it's unusual," Sanders said. "It's a new experience for me, but we're not sticking our heads in the sand saying we hope it doesn't happen again. We're trying to solve the problem."

Sanders said he is trying not to tinker with Hartline too much, though.

"You don't want to change his whole throwing motion," Sanders said. "If you play golf, if you change something in your swing, it affects something else.

"We're trying a few different things, but we're seeing if we can get it solved without overhauling everything because he is throwing the ball very well right now."

Sanders said Cobb's athleticism is an asset at quarterback. But the freshman still has a lot to learn, and that learning curve was slightly impeded by the ankle injury.

"It's easy to understand what you're supposed to do and where everybody is supposed to go when the defense is standing still," Sanders said.

"But when they show you one look and then shift to another and start disguising coverages, that's always one of the biggest challenges for a young quarterback. It's not necessarily learning what to do, but it's learning how to respond to multiple looks you get from defenses."

Johnson had hoped to make his return last week at Alabama, but he had to stand on the sidelines and watch as the Tide rushed for 282 yards that included a 218-yard performance by tailback Glen Coffee.

"It hurt because I felt like I could have made an impact, and the guys around me felt like I could have made an impact," Johnson said. "I probably had Coach Brooks ready to kill me on the sidelines because I asked him to put me in six or seven times."

Johnson's high ankle sprain was the worst of the three. He couldn't go up on his toes for a week, and it took another week or so before he could jump off the leg and begin moving laterally. Unlike regular ankle sprains, high ankle sprains affect the tendon and the tissues in the leg area above the ankle.

"When I played basketball in high school, you come down and roll your ankle and you just tape it up and get back out there," Johnson said. "Maybe miss a day or two. But if you have a high ankle sprain, you definitely know it. It's like no other sprain you could have."