UK Football

10 questions facing the Cats in 2009

1. Barring injury, can Mike Hartline remain Kentucky's quarterback for the entire season?

It's hard to imagine anybody but Mike Hartline taking the first snap against Miami (Ohio) in the season opener on Sept. 5. But how long that remains the case depends on Hartline. There's significant buzz surrounding freshmen Morgan Newton and Ryan Mossakowski. And don't forget about Randall Cobb, who showed last season he has what it takes to be a SEC quarterback and will be used occasionally in the "Wildcat" package.

If Hartline plays reasonably well and the team is performing at or above expectations early, UK Coach Rich Brooks likely will stick with Hartline while working in one of the freshmen and Cobb on occasion. But if Hartline struggles and the Cats have four or five losses in mid-October, the fans and media likely will clamor for a change.

2. How much will we see the two freshman quarterbacks this fall?

Morgan Newton likely will play; it's just a matter of how much and how soon. He is considered a dual-threat quarterback, while Ryan Mossakowski is known as a rocket-armed pocket passer.

Whether Mossakowski plays at all depends on how he throws in camp following off-season shoulder surgery. There has been speculation that he will redshirt.

Rich Brooks said this summer that he won't redshirt someone just for the sake of redshirting him, but one has to think that the coaching staff has at least considered creating some separation between the two highly regarded quarterbacks.

3. Who will be the hardest player to replace from last year's team?

If you took a poll, the top three likely would include defensive linemen Jeremy Jarmon and Myron Pryor and left tackle Garry Williams. But a strong case could be made for kicker/punter Tim Masthay.

Rich Brooks is a big believer in field position, and Masthay single-handedly turned games with his booming kickoffs out of the end zone and punts that pinned teams deep inside their own territory. While sophomore Ryan Tydlacka should step into the punter's job, there's nobody on campus who could provide the touchback-producing missiles that Masthay did on kickoffs.

4. What is the key to an improved Kentucky offense?

Yes, the quarterback play has to improve. Certainly, the other skill positions need to be more productive. But the key to both of those stems from the running game and the offensive line.

Senior Alfonso Smith has waited for his chance to be the feature tailback, and he's added off-season bulk to go with his impressive speed. Derrick Locke will provide a dual run-catch threat out of the backfield if he's healthy, and Moncell Allen is the power back.

Thanks to Mike Hartline's ability to get rid of the ball and avoid sacks, UK allowed the fewest sacks in the league in 2008. But the line struggled to create holes in the running game, something that must change if the offense expects to make strides.

The Cats averaged only 3.7 yards per game on the ground last year. If they can get closer to 4.5 or better, that will open things up significantly for Hartline and the rest of the offense.

The line has the size, depth and experience to get the job done. Having its biggest body (left guard Christian Johnson) back after missing last season won't hurt, either.

5. What can be expected of Randall Cobb?

Regardless of where Randall Cobb lines up, count on him to be good. He's expected to develop into the offense's go-to receiver. He'll be a change-of-pace threat at quarterback in "Wildcat" packages. And he also might be UK's most dangerous return man.

Cobb has the talent, work ethic and personality to serve as the face of the program for the next three seasons. Provided he doesn't break down the way he did at the end of last season, expect him to have a big 2009, which could set the table for a monster 2010.

6. Which newcomer(s) are most likely to see significant time in the season opener?

How many times have you heard the phrase 'junior-college players are signed to make an immediate impact'? And when you consider there's a serious need at both of their positions, the answer would have to be a pair of junior-college signees who were teammates at Los Angeles Harbor College: receiver Chris Matthews and defensive end DeQuin Evans.

Matthews is expected to provide much-needed size, speed and stability to the receiving corps. He'll be given every opportunity to win the starting spot opposite Cobb.

The coaching staff would love to see the 6-foot-3, 260-pound Evans fill one of the holes at end and provide a much-needed pass-rush threat.

One caveat: Historically it takes junior-college prospects almost a full year to get acclimated to BCS-caliber football. Evans and Matthews didn't arrive in Lexington until mid-summer.

7. Does the secondary have enough talent around cornerback Trevard Lindley to keep teams from totally avoiding his side of the field?

Teams didn't test Trevard Lindley much last season, and that was with a solid cornerback like David Jones on the other side.

With Jones gone, does that mean Lindley will be spending most of his Saturdays bored? Maybe, but the Cats appear to have their deepest and most talented secondary of the Brooks era.

Sophomore Randall Burden had a breakout Liberty Bowl at corner, and junior Paul Warford returns after redshirting in 2008. Sophomore Winston Guy looks like a future star at safety, and three other players (Matt Lentz, Ashton Cobb, Calvin Harrison) have starting experience.

8. Trevard Lindley, Micah Johnson and left tackle Zipp Duncan were named to the pre-season All-SEC team. Are there any other darkhorse candidates?

Senior tackle Corey Peters has quietly put together a solid career in the shadows of Jeremy Jarmon, Myron Pryor and Ventrell Jenkins. As the anchor of this year's line, he should have the production and exposure to garner All-SEC recognition. Randall Cobb figures to be in the mix as a receiver and all-purpose threat.

9. Middle linebacker appears set with Micah Johnson. But what about the other two spots?

Losing experienced veterans such as Braxton Kelley and Johnny Williams is a blow, but the situation isn't necessarily dire. Senior Sam Maxwell has four career starts and consistently battled with Williams on the depth chart at strong side linebacker. Kelley will be missed on the weak side, but the coaches are excited about the potential of sophomore Danny Trevathan. The 6-foot-1, 220-pounder's speed is such that he was used as a kickoff returner in the Blue/White Spring Game.

10. Will this be Rich Brooks' last season?

The coach created a story at SEC Media Days when he said he wouldn't meet his original goal of becoming the longest-tenured coach in UK history. Now everybody's playing the guessing game as to when he'll turn the reins over to coach-in-waiting Joker Phillips.

Last week Brooks shot down rumors that he's decided to retire in 2009 and said he wouldn't address his future again until the end of the season. The guess here is that Brooks hasn't made up his mind.

One has to think he'd like to go out having his best season at UK. That's what he did at Oregon before turning the program over to Mike Bellotti. But if this year's Kentucky team can't reach those heights, would Brooks want to give it another try in 2010?

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