2011 Kentucky Preview – Offense
Kentucky OG Larry Warford
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Kentucky Wildcat Offense
Preview 2011 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders had problems cranking out production on a consistent basis, and the points weren't exactly flowing over the second half of the season against the better teams, scoring a total of 24 points in the final two games against Tennessee and Pitt, and now there's some major work to be done. On the plus side, the line should be among the best in the SEC with four (really five) starters back from a group that was excellent throughout last season. The very big, very fast receiving corps loses key targets Randall Cobb and Chris Matthews, but welcomes back a slew of interesting, talented prospects. The backfield is the biggest issue with QB Morgan Newton needing to shine in place of the quietly productive Mike Hartline, and with a running back-by-committee approach in place to take over for the multi-talented Derrick Locke.
Star of the offense: Junior OG Larry Warford
Passing: Morgan Newton
25-43, 265 yds, 0 TD, 0 INT
Rushing: Raymond Sanders
68 carries, 254 yds, 3 TD
Receiving: La'Rod King
36 catches, 478 yds, 5 TD
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior QB Morgan Newton
Unsung star on the rise: Junior WR La'Rod King
Best pro prospect: Warford
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Warford, 2) OG Stuart Hines, 3) OT Chandler Burden
Strength of the offense: Line, Receiver Size & Speed
Weakness of the offense: Backfield Experience, Consistency
State of the Unit: The passing game that was so efficient and so effective with Mike Hartline chucking it around for 3,178 yards and 23 touchdowns with just nine interceptions as an ultra-productive bomber who spread the ball all over the field. As good as he was, he was helped by a great supporting cast and a strong year from the offensive line in pass protection. There's talent returning, but it will be hard to match what Hartline brought the attack.
Junior Morgan Newton was thrown to the wolves as a freshman when injuries and other issues struck the other options, and he did what he could throwing for 706 passing yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions. Indiana's Mr. Football in 2008 has the 6-4, 235-pound size and excellent skills with a live arm and good mobility, and now it's his team to take over for the next few seasons. He saw a little bit of time last year completing 58% of his throws for 265 yards and ran for 50 more yards. Maturing into the job, he's a far different player than he was in 2009, but he still has to fight to secure the starting gig and can't make a slew of big mistakes early on.
6-4, 225-pound true freshman Maxwell Smith signed on two years ago but enrolled in January after agreeing to grayshirt. With a big arm, smarts, and good athleticism, he's a tall, promising option who'll get every chance to see time and push Newton for the starting job, but he's a good No. 2 option. 6-2, 198-pound redshirt freshman Michael Burchett and 5-11, 179-pound sophomore Ryan Phillippi are walk-ons who'll only see the light of day in an extreme emergency. They're both mobile passers with accurate short-to-midrange arms, but they'll only see the field in an extreme emergency.
Watch Out For … Newton to struggle early on. He has the talent and the maturity now to be ready to shine, but he doesn't have three of the top four receivers from last year, including Randall Cobb.
Strength: Newton's upside. He might not have the season Hartline did in 2010, but he's a better overall talent. He might need a little more time and he might need more help around him, but the upside is far, far greater. He could be the type of quarterback who carries the Cats to big things and is a top-shelf playmaker to worry about.
Weakness: Depth. The transfer of former hot-shot prospect Ryan Mossakowski is a killer to the backup situation. Smith is a decent talent, but he's nothing special, and Burchett and Phillippi have walk-on skills. In theory there's a battle for the starting quarterback gig, but it's Morgan Newton and a lot of prayers.
Outlook: The quarterback situation goes from being a major strength last year with too much talent for one position, to hoping for Newton to shine and stay healthy. The backup situation isn't a total disaster, Smith is going to be good, but there's nothing to count on if Newton isn't great. The pressure is on for Newton to carry the offense from Day One.
Unit Rating: 6.5
State of the Unit: Gone is do-it-all star Derrick Locke, who led the team with 887 yards and ten scores and finished fourth on the team in receiving. Also gone is WR Randall Cobb, who finished second on the team with 424 yards, and Donald Russell, who finished third with 293 yards and two scores. There are plenty of smallish, quick options returning and lots of upside, but it might require more of a running back-by-committee approach than in past years.
5-8, 198-pound sophomore Raymond Sanders is a good all-around back with excellent speed and quickness and good hands. While he's not big, he's a good blocker who worked his way into the mix as a freshman to finish fourth on the team with 254 yards and three scores while catching 16 passes for 114 yards and a score. He played a bigger and bigger role as the year went on and was the main man against Mississippi State with 24 carries and the loss to Georgia running 16 times for 79 yards with seven catches, but he got dinged up. He's not going to have to be a workhorse, but he has to stay on the field.
Sophomore Jonathan George was mostly a special teamer last year and got a few carries, running nine times for 25 yards, but he has the potential to break off a big play every time he touches the ball. Smart, strong, and quick, the 5-8, 198-pounder worked his way into the No. 2 job and will be a physical option in the rotation. A do-it-all high school star who played receiver, safety, and defensive end as well as running back, he was also an Alabama state champion sprinter in the 200, 400, and relay. If that wasn't enough, he was also a state champion wrestler. He'll combine with 5-9, 182-pound junior CoShik Williams , a strong runner who has the ability to pound away inside and the quickness to make things happen outside. He ran for 136 yards and four scores, averaging 5.7 yards per carry, with most of his work coming in a 13-carry, 95-yard, three score day against Charleston Southern.
Looking to make an impact at fullback is sophomore Cody Jones, a 5-11, 208-pound transfer from Morehead who isn't big, but can hit. Adding more thump is 5-10, 231-pound sophomore Andrew Joseph , who started out in mix to be a part of the Navy, going to the prep school in Rhode Island, before moving over to UK. He's not all that experienced, but he's very, very physical.
Watch Out For … Sanders. He was great when he got his chances last year, and while he might not be a 25-carry guy, and he's certainly not Derrick Locke, he's a quick, do-it-all back who should be good with a little bit of time.
Strength: Quickness. By design, the Wildcats have a slew of smallish, fast backs who are all receivers and all can make things happen in space on the outside. Even with their lack of size, they're not afraid to battle for yards between the tackles.
Weakness: Experience. 1,601 of the team's 2,061 rushing yards, and 17 of the 26 touchdowns, came from the top three rushers. They're all gone, and while there's promise and potential, the running game is basically starting from scratch.
Outlook: The running backs, particularly Locke, were fine last year, but it was a receiver, Randall Cobb, who provided the most pop. Now it'll be up to a rotation of relatively untested backs to get the solid ground game of last year moving, but it'll be a work in progress.
Unit Rating: 6.5
State of the Unit: Gone is star receiver Randall Cobb a year early, after catching 84 passes for 1,017 yards and seven scores, and Chris Matthews is done playing hardball after making 61 grabs for 925 yards and nine scores, and averaging 15.2 yards per catch. RB Derrick Locke finished fourth on the team in receptions, and with running back Raymond Sanders and tight ends getting involved, only one of the top seven pass catchers from last year is a returning wide receiver.
The team's leading returning receiver is a good one, and now he should shine in a bigger role. Junior La'Rod King is a 6-4, 204-pound junior who caught 36 passes for 478 yards and five scores, with four of his touchdowns in back-to-back games against South Carolina and Auburn. Steady, he's been good for a few catches a game, but now he'll have to use his size and speed to be a No. 1 target. Fluid for a player of his size, he moves extremely well and should be terrific.
Also playing a bigger role is senior Matt Roark , a 6-5, 215-pound senior who got into the mix making 12 catches for 170 yards. With terrific size, phenomenal leaping ability, and good quickness, he has all the tools to be a matchup problem, and after doing a great job early in his career as a kick blocker, he needs to show off his skills as a secondary target on the other side of King.
Part outfielder, part receiver, sophomore Brian Adams is back in the football mix after making three catches for 23 yards. Expected to be a factor as a true freshman, he suffered a scary blood clot that almost cost him his life. While he was good enough to be drafted by the Cincinnati Reds, he's committed to playing for UK and will use his size and 4.4 speed to become a dangerous factor for the passing game.
There will be a rotation at tight end with four different players all seeing time. Sophomore Jordan Aumiller led the group with 18 catches for 193 yards and a touchdown. The 6-4, 228-pounder is a nice route runner who can stretch the field, and he'll be more like a big receiver and an H-Back than a true tight end. 6-3, 254-pound sophomore Tyler Robinson is a thumper of a blocker who saw time as a true freshman catching 11 passes for 80 yards and a score. A top lineman out of Tennessee, he has the physical ability to be big for the ground game. Senior Nick Melillo is built like a fullback, but the 6-2, 228-pounder is a willing blocker who made one catch. A former transfer from the NAIA's Lindenwood, he's a try-hard type who always brings the A effort. 6-3, 261-pound sophomore Anthony Kendrick is a huge wide receiver who bulked up over the last two years and now can do a little bit of everything. The former linebacker caught three passes for 23 yards, and he can hit.
Working in the wide receiver rotation will be junior Gene McCaskill was supposed to make a big impact last year but suffered a knee injury in August and was out for the year. The 6-0, 192-pounder caught 17 passes for 163 yards two years ago, and now he's back, healthy, and ready to use his South Carolina high school state-championship level sprinting ability backing up Roark. Also bringing the wheels is junior E.J. Fields, who has mostly been a special teamer after struggling to stay healthy. He has 6-1, 195-pound size and was a high school track superstar in the 400-meter dash and won the Kentucky state title in the 200-meter dash.
Watch Out For … King. There are plenty of big, fast targets ready to break out, and King should be the star of the bunch. He's a big, talented veteran who gets to show what he can do as the main man, and he should come through.
Strength: Size and speed. The Wildcats were able to get a slew of track stars with 4.4 wheels all across the board. King is 6-4, Roark is 6-5, Adams is 6-4, and the "smallish" backups are almost all over six feet tall.
Weakness: Experience. It's not like the UK receiving corps is starting from scratch, but three of the top for targets are gone and several players need to go from promising to terrific in an offseason. The pressure will be on.
Outlook: The receiving corps looks the part. The tools are fantastic with so many big, fast targets to play around with, and with four tight ends ready to play a bigger role, but the pressure is on. Losing Cobb and Matthews isn't a positive in any way, but there will be times when this year's corps provides major matchup problems. This should be a good group this year, and it should be phenomenal next season.
Unit Rating: 7
State of the Unit: The line ended up being a positive for the offense as the season went on. With a standstill quarterback in Mike Hartline to protect, the Cats finished second in the SEC in sacks allowed and did a decent job for a running game that averaged 159 yards per game. Four starters return to a group that had to do a little bit of shuffling last year, but now all the pieces appear to be in place.
The strength is at guard with two good veterans ready to dominate. The biggest lineman on the lot is 6-3, 340-pound junior Larry Warford , who ended up earning Second Team All-SEC honors after leading the team in knockdown blocks and serving as the team's most impressive run blocker. While it might not seem like a big deal to have a killer of a blocker at right guard, he became a key providing the bulk to an athletic front five. He's a huge hitter with surprising quickness, but he's not the athlete that backup Jake Lanefski is. The 6-4, 283-pound senior started four times in 2008 and has been a key backup ever since. One of the team's most versatile linemen, he can step in at guard or center, and was a rising performer at right guard before suffering a bad knee injury in 2009.
Working again on the other side is two-year starter Stuart Hines , who was the only returning starter up front last year and stepped up his game in a big way. Very smart and very steady, the 6-4, 296-pound left guard earned Third Team All-SEC honors and should be an all-star once again. He's not the blaster that Warford is, but he's a rock-solid veteran. Bringing more bulk to the position is 6-6, 310-pound sophomore Kevin Mitchell, a big, athletic blocker who moved to guard after starting out his career at tackle. He'll be a key starter somewhere on the left side next year.
Along with Warford, 6-4, 297-pound junior Matt Smith was the only UK lineman to start every game last season. Originally a defensive tackle, he proved to be ready and able to handle the position in the middle with the smarts and the steadiness to grow into a good center to work the line around. 6-4, 284-pound sophomore Sam Simpson will be the prime backup, but Lanefski would likely be the main option if there was a long term issue with Smith.
Back at left tackle is senior Chandler Burden, who started out his career at defensive end before moving over to the offensive side. He was a natural using his 6-4, 300-pound size and tremendous strength to be an anchor on the outside in place of Zipp Duncan. He started the first 11 games of the year before suffering a shoulder injury. Out this offseason, he'll be a key anchor starting the season. At the ready is massive 6-7, 325-pound redshirt freshman Teven Eatmon-Nared, who came to UK as a big tight end, bulked up, and now is ready to step on at left tackle if Burden's shoulder isn't right.
6-6, 306-pound senior Billy Joe Murphy is technically the only new starter to the mix, but he got the call to start last year at right tackle and started against South Carolina. Versatile, he also started two games at left guard. He'll take over for Brad Durham and should be more than fine with nine games of experience, smarts and the toughness to handle himself in any spot.
Watch Out For … Burden to take his game to another level. He was excellent when making the conversion to tackle last year, and now he knows what he's doing. He has all-star potential on the left side.
Strength: Experience. For all intents and purposes, five starters are back on the line that held together relatively well last season. Considering experience was supposed to be a major problem last year, everything turned out fine. If everyone stays healthy, this should be a rock of a front wall.
Weakness: Veteran reserves. There's a whole bunch of size and talent among the twos, but there isn't a lot of time logged in outside of Lanefski. Finding a rotation early on would be a plus to hit the ground running next year.
Outlook: Kentucky has quietly put together really, really good, really, really productive lines over the last several years. Last season was supposed to be a rebuilding campaign, but the line came together in a big hurry and turned out to be terrific. Now this could be the SEC's most consistent line, even if it's not the most talented. It's not going to obliterate anyone off the ball, but it'll get the job done and will be terrific in pass protection.
Unit Rating: 8.5
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