2007 Kentucky Preview - Offense

Posted Jul 30, 2007

Preview 2007 Kentucky Wildcat Offense

Kentucky Wildcats

Preview 2007 - Offense

- 2007 Kentucky Preview | 2007 UK Defense Preview
2007 UK Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Kentucky Preview 

What you need to know:
The Wildcat offense exploded last year thanks to the emergence of Andre Woodson as a superstar quarterback. It'll be bombs away once again, as Woodson chose to come back for his senior year and will have all his weapons at his disposal. Keenan Burton finally stayed healthy, and he became one of the SEC's most lethal receivers. Dicky Lyons, tight end Jacob Tamme, and running back Rafael Little are also back, with Little healthy enough again to be one of the SEC's best all-around offensive weapons. The problem is the line, which is mediocre at best, a liability at worst. It could be what keeps the Wildcats from being special.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Andre Woodson
264-419, 3,515 yds, 31 TD, 7 INT
Rushing: Rafael Little
140 carries, 673 yds, 3 TD
Receiving: Keenan Burton
77 catches, 1,036 yds, 12

Star of the offense: Senior QB Andre Woodson
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior OT James Alexander
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore TE T.C. Drake
Best pro prospect: Woodson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Woodson, 2) WR Keenan Burton, 3) RB Rafael Little
Strength of the offense: Skill positions
Weakness of the offense: Offensive line


Projected Starter: Going into last year, Andre Woodson was in a battle with star recruit Curtis Pulley for the starting job. That quickly changed, and now the senior went from being a possible backup to a possible first round NFL draft pick. He always had the measurables with 6-5, 230-pound size, tremendous strength, a huge arm, and great accuracy, holding the school record for most consecutive throws without an interception. He started making better decisions and was quicker at getting rid of the ball, and the results were tremendous with 3,515 yards, 31 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions while completing 63% of his passes.

Projected Top Reserves: The second best quarterback on the team is Curtis Pulley, but the star recruit of a few years ago has chosen to redshirt so he'll have two years remaining once Woodson leaves. That leaves a gaping hole for the number two job. 6-6, 201-pound redshirt freshman Mike Hartline will be the first option. While he got stronger in the last year, he still has plenty of room to grow into his height. With a terrific arm and good mobility, he's a decent prospect who still needs more developing.

Redshirt freshman Will Fidler is a 6-4, 216-pound bomber who'll battle with Hartline for the number two job. A talented pro-style passer, he has the tools to be another good one in time, but he'll likely have to work and wait a few years before getting an honest shot at the starting job.

Watch Out For ... Woodson against the top teams. He lit up Vanderbilt, UL Monroe, Ole Miss and Mississippi State like a Christmas tree, but struggled was average against Florida, LSU, Georgia and Tennessee. He did have a nearly flawless performance against Clemson.
Passers. Woodson, Hartline and Fidler can all wing it around. They all have NFL-caliber arms and they can all put it anywhere they want to.
Backups. This is a problem, and a potentially big one. With Pulley not around to rely on, it'll be sink or swim with Woodson in the hopes that he can stay healthy. Hartline and Fidler have potential, but they're not ready for the SEC primetime.
Andre Woodson is one of the nation's five most talented quarterbacks, and now he has to be even better and even more consistent to keep the UK offense rolling. He has all the skills and all the size you'd want in a passer, and now he has the experience and the confidence. If he plays the entire year, he'll put up tremendous numbers and the Wildcats will have a great year. If he gets banged up and the backups enter the picture, the season might not go down the tubes, but there will be problems.
Rating: 8

Running Backs

Projected Starters: 5-10, 195-pound senior Rafael Little has been one of the SEC's best all-around players when he's been able to stay healthy. Thanks to a knee problem, he only played in nine games last year, but he led the team with 673 rushing yards and three touchdown, and was fourth on the team with 31 catches for 392 yards and two scores. He's also one of the nation's elite punt returners, averaging 22.6 yards per try. Extremely quick and productive, the coaching staff tries to find every way possible to get him the ball.

Trying to pave the way for Little, and help the cause behind a shaky line, will be 6-3, 250--pound sophomore Maurice Grinter, who only got one carry for a one-yard touchdown and three catches for 18 yards and a score. Fast, big and physical, he needs to get over a tendonitis problem in his knee to be more effective.

Projected Top Reserves: 5-9, 203-pound junior Tony Dixon is a decent, experienced reserve who stepped in when Little was hurt and ran for 303 yards and four touchdowns. He appeared ready to become the starter as a freshman before suffering a broken leg, and then Little emerged as a star. The former cornerback is a stronger runner than he appears with tremendous speed and hands.

Third in the mix will be 6-1, 190-pound Alfonso Smith, a good prospect who hasn't been able to break through and get a whole bunch of playing time. He ran 60 times last year for 250 yards and two touchdowns, and caught six passes for 96 yards, and now the sophomore should get more chances to use his track star speed.

228-pound sophomore John Conner is a former walk-on who's mostly been a special teamer. He started out the year as the starting fullback, but quickly gave way to a third receiver thrown into the rotation, and to Grinter. He won't get the ball his way too much, if at all, but he got a touchdown on one of his two catches.

Watch Out For ... Little to be the Little of 2005. He certainly wasn't bad last year, but he started out with a wrist injury, and was never quite right with his bad knee. After having surgery on his knee, and getting some rest, he should be back and ready to roll. 
Rotation. Little can do a little of everything, and Dixon and Smith showed last year that they're able to run the ball well at times. The backups aren't going to dominate and aren't going to scare anyone, but they can play.
The offensive line. The front five didn't give the backs a whole bunch of room to move, and it likely won't be much better this year. The backs will have to create many of their own plays.
Even if Rafael Little returns 100% healthy, Kentucky, statistically, won't be among the SEC's rushing leaders thanks to an average line and several sacks sure to be taken by Andre Woodson. Even so, Little is one of the league's most explosive backs and should be the key cog in the attack. Tony Dixon and Alfonso Smith are good backup options who could shine if they got some consistent holes.
Rating: 7.5


Projected Starters: 6-2, 195-pound senior Keenan Burton finally stayed healthy for a full season and showed what he could do, blowing up with 77 catches for 1,036 yards and 12 touchdowns. He showed off the speed and moves he displayed early in his career, but had problems with a wrist injury early on and a foot problem as a sophomore. Now he has to show he can rip apart the better teams. Nine of his scores came against Central Michigan, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and UL Monroe, and while he was great against Georgia, he was held in check by Florida, South Carolina, LSU, Tennessee and Clemson.

More than just a sidekick to Burton, 5-11, 190-pound junior Dicky Lyons emerged as a playmaker in his own right with 50 grabs for 822 yards and nine scores. He scored two touchdowns in each of his first three games and came up with just three in his final ten games, but he showed off his flashes of great speed throughout the year to finish with a 16.4-yard-per-catch average.

6-5, 240-pound senior tight end Jacob Tamme emerged as a top target, finishing third on the team with 32 grabs for 386 yards and two scores. He started out his career as a big wide receiver, and now he's a matchup nightmare with enough speed to be used deep and good enough hands to be a reliable third down target. He's not going to block anyone, but that's not what he's there for.

Projected Top Reserves: 5-10, 186-pound junior DeMoreo Ford didn't quite play as well as expected as he was still recovering from a knee injury that cost him most of 2005. He has the speed to be a field-stretcher, evidenced by a 70-yard score in the win over Clemson, and now he should do even more playing behind Lyons.

One of the team's steadier targets is 6-3, 198-pound senior Steve Johnson, one of the better receivers in spring ball. He'll see time in three-wide sets after making 12 catches for 159 yards and a score last season, but he's not going to push Burton for starting time. With his size and athleticism, he'll be too strong to keep off the field for long.

Working as a promising backup option behind Tamme, and in two tight end sets, will be 6-6, 230-pound sophomore T.C. Drake, a great receiver who is yet another tall, big wideout playing tight end. He'll have to battle with 6-5, 240-pound sophomore Ross Bogue, who's a bit more of a blocker, for time, but everyone will get passes their way.

Watch Out For ... the tight ends to get even more work. Tamme is a sure-thing, but it'll be the emergence of Drake and Bogue that'll allow the passing game to be even more efficient. All the tight ends can run good routes and catch, and all will be found by Andre Woodson to keep things moving.
Experience. The top three receivers return, and make it four if you include running back Rafael Little. Burton is an All-SEC star who'll be the focus of everyone's defensive game plan, and that'll open things up for everyone else.
Relying on Burton for a full season. Considering the injury problems of the past, the team had better have a plan B ready in case its star goes down for any stretch of time. Johnson and Ford are good backups, but they're not quite Burton.
There's a vast array of weapons for Andre Woodson to work with and plenty of chances to spread the ball around. With so much experience and so many good hands to make teams pay for keying on Keenan Burton, it'll be another huge year for the passing game. Expect a steady rotation of several players to keep throwing different looks at defenses, but it'll be Burton, Dicky Lyons, and Jacob Tamme who make the machine run.
Rating: 8

Offensive Linemen

Projected Starters
The line is considered a problem area, but the left side should be decent with the return of junior Garry Williams at tackle and junior Christian Johnson at guard.

The 6-3, 290-pound Williams took over the starting job in the second week of the season and never let it go, becoming the team's best lineman. While he struggled at times with his consistency in pass protection, he showed flashes of All-SEC caliber talent and should be the rock of the Wildcat line for the next two seasons.

The 6-4, 325-pound Johnson got better as the season wore on and should be one of the team's best run blocker. With a great combination of size and strength, he's a rock who should flourish next to Williams.

One of the keys to the line will be the expected emergence of 6-5, 275-pound senior Eric Scott at center. While he's not all that big, the former defensive lineman is extremely physical and one of the best athletes on the line. No UK lineman moves as fast or as well as he does.

The right side will be the biggest question mark, with the biggest hole to be filled at tackle with 6-5, 283-pound junior James Alexander taking over for Michael Aitcheson. A veteran reserve who started the opener on the left side, and should be decent as the season goes on in pass protection. Even though he's spent the last few years beefing up, he's still undersized. However, he can move.

Stepping in at guard will be 6-1, 287-pound senior Jason Leger, a former defensive tackle who's still trying to figure out the ins and outs of playing on the offensive side. He got a few starts at guard, but he ended up getting hurt and was out this spring. He needs to emerge as a consistent all-around blocker.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-2, 277-pound JUCO transfer Jess Beets was expected to step in and emerge as a starter at right guard, but he was hurt and underwent knee surgery this spring. If and when he's ready to go this fall, he'll likely be in the starting mix, giving Leger a huge push.

JUCO transfer Josh Winchell will see plenty of playing time at right tackle if he doesn't take over the starting job. At 6-3 and 305 pounds, he's a far bigger prospect than Alexander with the size and the feet to become a key factor. He has to be healthy and he has to show he can be consistent.

The team's top recruit this year is Stuart Hines, a tremendous prospect who needs to add around 15 pounds to his 275-pound frame. Considering the concerns and the question marks along the line, he might see time sooner than later if he doesn't move over to the defensive side.

Watch Out For ... the JUCO transfers. The plan was for Beets and Winchell to step in and shine right away on the right side. It still might happen this fall as long as everyone is healthy. If nothing else, these two have to provide quality, dependable depth.
The left side. Williams and Johnson might be the keys to the offense. If they progress as expected, the Wildcats will have an area to build around and work behind.
Blocking. If you have an offensive line that can't do that, it's a problem, and there wasn't much help this spring with a slew of injuries proving to be a problem in creating some sort of cohesion.
And here's the problem. Kentucky might have skill players to light up anyone in the SEC, but they're not going to have a whole bunch of time to work behind a line that'll need at least a few games before the right fit is found. Write the depth chart in pencil; several things are going to change early on and several players will get chances to start.
Rating: 5.5


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