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2009 Kentucky Preview - Offense
Kentucky WR Randall Cobb
Kentucky WR Randall Cobb
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jul 7, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Kentucky Wildcat Offense

Kentucky Wildcats

Preview 2009 - Offense

- 2009 CFN Kentucky Preview | 2009 Kentucky Offense
- 2009 Kentucky Defense
| 2009 Kentucky Depth Chart
- 2008 Kentucky Preview | 2007 Kentucky Preview
| 2006 Kentucky Preview

What you need to know: Everyone needed to be replaced from the big-time UK offense of 2007, and it showed finishing 106th in the nation in offense and averaging just 22.6 points per game. There should be a big improvement this season with most of the key starters returning. It'll all start up front with a potentially strong line with four senior starters leading the way, but there has to be more of a push for the ground game. There's speed to burn in the backfield, and if everyone is healthy, there should be plenty of fireworks when the athletic backs get the ball in their hands. The receiving corps can fly, but there needs to be more from the tight ends and a No. 2 target has to step up and shine next to Randall Cobb. QB Mike Hartline was fine at times last year, but nothing special, and now he'll try to become more of a leader and a playmaker for the offense. He has the arm, the receivers have the speed, and the line will provide the time. There's no reason UK should have the nation's 105th most efficient passing game again.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Mike Hartline
172-311, 1,666 yds, 9 TD, 8 INT
Rushing: Randall Cobb
79 carries, 316 yds, 7 TD
Receiving: Derrick Locke
23 catches, 195 yds, 1 TD

Star of the offense: Sophomore WR Randall Cobb
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior TE T.C. Drake
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore OG Stuart Hines
Best pro prospect: Cobb
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Cobb, 2) RB Alfonso Smith, 3) RB Derrick Locke
Strength of the offense: Speed, Line Experience
Weakness of the offense: Running Game, No. 2 Receiver

Quarterbacks

Projected Starter: The idea is for junior Mike Hartline to become more of a playmaker and not just be along for the ride. He held the starting job for most of last year and did a decent job, completing 55% of his passes for 1,666 yards and nine touchdowns with eight interceptions, but he was hardly special. The 6-6, 204-pounder has a big arm and good all-around tools, but the pure drop-back passer isn't a runner and he needs to be more efficient while coming up with more big plays. While he might not have been special, he had his moments, highlighted by earning the Most Outstanding Offensive Player honor in the Liberty Bowl throwing for 204 yards and a score against East Carolina. 

Projected Top Reserves: Junior Will Fidler was the No. 3 man last year and got a little bit of mop-up time completing 3-of-4 passes for 26 yards. The 6-4, 225-pounder is a bomber who has gotten better and better in practices and is being given every opportunity to show what he can do. Over the shoulder injury that caused him to miss most of 2007, he's expected to be the second man in the mix and could even see a start or two if Hartline struggles.

6-4, 208-pound sophomore Tyler Sargent is a walk-on with the smarts and the arm to step in if there's an absolute emergency. While the coaching staff would likely turn to Randall Cobb if it's down to the No. 3 quarterback, Sargent is getting his chances in practice to show he could play if needed.

Ryan Mossakowski was one of the team's top recruits getting offers by several other big-time schools. He could've gone almost anywhere, but the 6-4, 201-pound Texan will push for the starting job right away with a great arm and tremendous quickness. Not only did the 6-4, 201-pounder throw for 6,834 yards and 49 scores in three years, but he ran for 787 yards and 19 scores.

Morgan Newton was Indiana's Mr. Football after throwing for 22 scores and rushing for 26 more. The 6-4, 220-pounder led his team to three straight state titles and will be given every shot to show what he can do right away. While not considered the prospect that Mossakowki is, he's not far off.

Watch Out For ... Hartline to be the unquestioned No. 1. There might be some talk about an open competition for the job, it's Hartline's gig. Fidler has showed enough to see action, but he's not going to be the starter unless Hartline falls flat on his face.  
Strength
:
Passers. The coaching staff has gone after pro-style, big passers, and it has them. There are several big arms to go around. Pushing the ball down the field shouldn't be a problem. 
Weakness
:
Mobility. With Randall Cobb firmly entrenched at wide receiver, there's no rushing element whatsoever coming out of the backfield.
Outlook:
The Wildcats have a nice twosome in Hartline and Fidler who have improved, and there's always Cobb to throw on the field if there's a big problem. Hartline isn't going to earn any all-SEC honors, but he should be a better-than-serviceable. He'll win a few games for the team this year by being more effective than the quarterback on the other side.
Rating: 7

Running Backs


Projected Starters: 6-1, 204-pound senior Alfonso Smith is a big, tough runner with track speed and the ability to use it when he gets into the open. However, he has made his biggest plays as a receiver, catching 16 passes for 204 yards and a score highlighted by a 71-yard play against Arkansas. Very smart and very promising, it's time for him to be more than a strong special teamer. He averaged 4.2 yards per carry last season rushing for 313 yards and two scores, and he can do far more. 92 of his rushing yards came against Mississippi State, and he has been fine when he's been given the workload to handle.

5-11, 240-pound senior John Conner has done a nice job of paving the way for the running game over the last few years and has been a strong special teamer. He ran for 47 yards and caught 11 passes for 89 yards, but his role is mostly to be a blocker and to be a jack-of-all-trades. After bulking up he could end up doing more in short yardage situations.

Projected Top Reserves: Junior Moncell Allen is quick enough to be used as a tailback, and at 5-7 and 225 pounds, sturdy enough to be a blocking fullback. Academics have been an issue, but when everything is right, he should be a key part of the rushing attack after going for just 202 yards with a score last season and catching five passes for 39 yards and a touchdown. Great in practices, he has to show he can produce on the field.

Junior Derrick Locke has phenomenal athleticism and next-level speed, but he has to get past a blown out knee suffered halfway through the season. Originally, his knee was considered so bad that he wasn't expected to play again. While he'll need more time to get back, and he might not be the same athlete he was when he was an All-America-caliber long-jumper. He ran for 303 yards with a score, highlighted by a 96-yard day against Norfolk State, but he was tremendous as a receiver catching 23 passes for 195 yards and a score. He was also an elite kickoff returner averaging 28.5 yards per try with a 100-yard return for a score against Western Kentucky. When he's right, he'll be used in a variety of ways.

Adding more bulk to the mix is A.J. Nance, a 5-11, 250-pound junior who moved over from linebacker to the backfield. He only ran three times, but he was a strong special teamer and wasn't bad when he had to block for the running game. It'll be a shock if he ever handles the ball, but he knows what he's doing now and should be used more on offense while continuing to be great in kickoff coverage.

Watch Out For ... more creativity. The running game struggled throughout last year and needed Randall Cobb to get the ball in a variety of ways. The quarterbacks aren't going to do any running and the backs will have to do more when they get the chance. The coaching staff will have to get the ball to the receivers more on end-arounds and will have to design more for Cobb.
Strength
:
Speed. Smith and Locke are as fast as any backs in the SEC. They didn't break off enough big plays last year, but they have too much speed to not be given the ball time and again to hope for the home run. There's no reason the ground game should average 3.7 yards per carry. 
Weakness
:
Health. Smith has had ankle issues, Allen, while healthy, has had other problems, and Locke has to get his knee right. The production has been way too mediocre with the team's leading rusher, Tony Dixon, only running for 430 yards. He's gone, and now it'll be up to Smith, Allen, and Locke to come through.
Outlook:
The running backs have to do more than just be along for the ride. They can all catch and there's enough speed to hope for far more pop and much more production now that Randall Cobb will do more as a receiver.
Rating: 6

Receivers


Projected Starters: With leading receiver Dicky Lyons gone, the hope is for Randall Cobb to provide more pop and more explosion. As a true freshman, the 5-11, 188-pounder did a little of everything rushing for 316 yards and seven scores, catching 21 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns, and completing 53% of his passes for 542 yards with two touchdowns and five interceptions. He also returned punts averaging 8.4 yards per try. The lefty won't be doing too much as a quarterback, if anything, but he'll still get the ball as a runner. All of his production came in the second half of the year and the team wouldn't have gotten to a bowl game without him. Now he needs to be even more of a star as the team's most dangerous offensive weapon.

6-0, 182-pound sophomore Gene McCaskill ended up starting four games as a true freshman and made 15 grabs for 181 yards. A South Carolina high school state-championship level sprinter, he has 4.5 speed and the ability to use it to stretch the field. He's great when he gets the ball in his hands and should be able to take more short grabs for big gains. He has tremendous upside.

Junior Kyrus Lanxter turned in a nice season with 23 catches for 195 yards and a score highlighted by a five grab, 46-yard day with a score against East Carolina. At 6-2 and 205 pounds he has good size and next-level speed with tremendous big-play potential. He's way too fast and way too explosive to only average 8.5 yards per catch as a key reserve. He should flourish in a starting role.

6-6, 242-pound senior T.C. Drake returns after starting in eight games and making 12 catches for 204 yards. While he wasn't a huge part of the passing game, he averaged 17 yards per grab and showed the potential to be a matchup problem at tight end. He's more of a tall, big wideout than a true tight end, and while he's not the greatest blocker, he's physical and he's willing to hit.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-0, 170-pound sophomore Eric Adeyemi saw a little time as a true freshman, getting three starts, making 13 catches for 108 yards. Lightning fast, the former Florida high school track star is one of the SEC's speedier players with sub-4.4 wheels. He'll start out behind McCaskill, but he should be a dangerous No. 4 option as a field stretcher.

JUCO transfer Chris Matthews was the team's top recruit and considered by everyone as one of the nation's top five JUCO transfers. The 6-5, 210-pounder made 80 catches for 1,235 yards and 11 scores in nine games for Los Angeles Harbor College. He has it all with speed and hands to go along with his size.

Sophomore Matt Roark originally wanted to be a quarterback but was quickly moved to wide receiver. He's not polished by any stretch, but the 6-5, 202-pounder has the basic skills and good tools to become a dangerous target. With great leaping ability, he plays even bigger than his size and will once again be a key part of the special teams as a kick blocker. He caught one pass for 16 yards in his limited time.

E.J. Fields was supposed to see action right away as a true freshman before suffering a hamstring injury. At 6-1 and 195 pounds, the redshirt freshman has decent size and is extremely quick with track speed. He was a Kentucky high school champion sprinter who has the potential to be one of the team's breakout players.

Senior Maurice Grinter will be a bigger, tough tight end option playing behind T.C. Drake. A starter for half of last year, the former fullback ended up making 12 catches for 162 yards and two scores while also serving as a solid blocker. The 6-3, 253-pounder is athletic for his size and should be dangerous in two tight end sets.

Watch Out For ... more from the tight ends. The offense has missed having a dangerous target at tight end, usually the staple of the UK offense. Drake and Grinter are veterans who have nice hands and the upside to become strong receivers, but they each need to do more. That should happen with improved quarterback play.
Strength
:
Speed. If nothing else, UK has a lighting fast corps that should be able to blow past any secondary. There's 4.4 speed across the board, and warp wheels whenever Adeyemi is in. However ...  
Weakness
:
Big plays. The speed and athleticism has to translate into more production. The UK passing game averaged a mere 9.8 yards per completion with just 11 touchdowns. There's way too much upside and athleticism for this to not be a more dangerous corps.
Outlook:
There's a world of speed and a boatload of upside, but the production has to come. Cobb is a great one who should be the top target, and Lanxter is coming off a good season, but there needs to be stronger second and third options and the tight ends need to do more. This could be a great group of receivers, but there's more work to do.
Rating: 6.5

Offensive Linemen

Projected Starters
:
After starting the last two years at guard, Zipp Duncan will move over to left tackle to replace Garry Williams. The 6-5, 285-pound senior has seen a little time at right guard but has spent most of his career at left guard after moving over from defensive end by way of tight end. Athletic for a guard, he has the ability to make a seamless transition outside.

With Duncan moving spots, 6-4, 330-pound senior Christian Johnson will step in at left guard. Expected to start last year at left guard after starting 12 times in 2006, he was suspended for parts of 2007 and ended up starting three times and serving as a key backup. He suffered a back injury and missed all of last year, but now he's back bringing a nice combination of size and strength, along with plenty of experience, to the positon.

Senior Jorge Gonzalez was one of the biggest question marks going into last year after suffering a knee injury and turned in a solid campaign starting every game at center. The 6-3, 300-pounder has great size and turned out to be extremely reliable. Now, the team's most improved player has to be better for the running game.

Filling in the hole at right guard, where Jess Beets started most of last year, will be Stuart Hines, a 6-4, 295-pound sophomore who'll push for time at left guard as well. While he's not huge, he's a lot bigger after bulking up over the last two years and he could end up seeing time at tackle if absolutely needed. He'll be an athletic guard who'll be a mainstay on the line for the next three years.

If he can get past a shoulder problem, senior Justin Jeffries should be an anchor at right tackle. The 6-6, 320-pounder has been the starter over the last two years at the position and has grown into an excellent pass blocker. One of the team's most reliable players, he has a great frame and long arms to keep pass rushers at bay. 

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Jake Lanefski started the last four games last year at right guard after starting out last year as a reserve center. The 6-4, 286-pounder wasn't bad, but he's not the prospect that Hines is even though he has all the tools. Not polished, he should be a key reserve and could still be in the hunt for the starting gig.

6-4, 310-pound junior Brad Durham has been a nice backup over the last two years and a good special teamer. He'll once again work as a backup right tackle with three starts under his belt, and while he's not a top pass blocker, he's good enough to step in for stretches without much of a problem.

Sophomore Billy Joe Murphy can do a little of everything for the line and will be a main backup at both tackle spots. The 6-6, 298-pounder has even seen practice time at guard. He got two starts early in the year at left tackle and will start out behind Duncan, but he'll move around where needed.

Watch Out For ... Hines. While the left side of the line has the tough veterans in Duncan and Johnson, the right side could turn out to be better if Hines becomes as good as expected. He's like an extra tackle at guard and should be able to move well.
Strength
:
Pass protection. A nightmare of a problem two years ago allowing 38 sacks, the athletic, veteran line gave up just 13 sacks. This year's line should equal the production. 
Weakness
: Run blocking. This isn't the most physical group. While it'll be good on the move, the line isn't going to plow over anyone's defensive front. Calling this a finesse line is a bit unfair, but the tag might fit if the ground game averages under four yards a carry again.
Outlook:
The line has size, depth, and plenty of options to play around with. While this won't be the team's strength, and there aren't any sure-thing all-stars, there are good veterans to rely on with four senior starters forming a tight wall against even the best of the SEC pass rushing fronts.
Rating: 7.5