2010 Kentucky Preview – Offense
Kentucky RB Derrick Locke
CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Kentucky Wildcat Offense
Preview 2010 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: The speed and athleticism are in place and the playmakers are there, so UK has to show under new offensive coordinator Randy Sanders that there can be some steady production after averaging just 26 pounds and 332 yards per game. The first step is to find a quarterback, and while Mike Hartline is the gritty veteran, Morgan Newton and Ryan Mossakowski could be a better fit for the up-tempo style. The backfield has plenty of speed and should be the strength of the team if Derrick Locke can build on last year's strong season, while Randall Cobb leads a receiving corps that will be fantastic if the quarterback play is better. The biggest concern is on the line where four starters have to be replaced from one of the best front fives in the SEC. It's a big group that should be fine, but it has to be cohesive.
Star of the offense: Junior WR Randall Cobb
Passing: Mike Hartline
79-133, 802 yds, 6 TD, 7 INT
Rushing: Derrick Locke
195 carries, 907 yds, 6 TD
Receiving: Randall Cobb
39 catches, 447 yds, 4 TD
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior OT Chandler Brown
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore OG Larry Warford
Best pro prospect: Cobb
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Cobb, 2) RB Derrick Locke, 3) OG Stuart Hines
Strength of the offense: Running Back, Receiver Size
Weakness of the offense: Quarterback, Veteran Line
Projected Starter: He might not have the biggest upside and he might not be the most talented quarterback on the roster, but senior Mike Hartline has shown his resiliency, coming back from a knee injury to be in the hunt for the starting job again. At 6-6 and 206 pounds, he has good size and enough experience to know what he's doing, throwing for 1,666 yards and nine touchdowns and eight interceptions in 2008, but he has to show he can get the offense moving and he has to prove he isn't a statue. A pure drop-back passer, he looks the part and will have his moments, but he has to cut down on his interceptions after throwing seven in his limited action last year to offset six touchdown passes. The job is his, and he has to be head-and-shoulders better than the other options.
Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Morgan Newton was Indiana's Mr. Football in 2008, and unexpectedly, he became the UK starting quarterback in 2009 after injuries hit the other top options. Expected to redshirt, he ended up stepping in early and struggled with just 706 passing yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions, and he ran for 130 yards and two scores. The 6-4, 235-pounder has excellent size and great mobility, and while he's getting every chance to take back the job.
Morgan Newton got to take over the team as a true freshman, but Ryan Mossakowski was considered the better prospect coming into last season. The 6-4, 221-pound redshirt freshman could've gone almost anywhere, but he didn't push for the job last year after getting over shoulder surgery, and now he's fighting to try to get on the field. Extremely mobile, he ran for 787 yards and 19 touchdowns in high school to go along with 6,834 passing yards and 49 scores. He has the size and the dual-threat tools to do a little of everything once he gets in.
Watch Out For … Hartline to not be that bad. He's not flashy and he's not going to fire up the base, but he's a gritty veteran who won't go away. He has to make the most of his second-life under center, and he should be the solid passer who keeps the offense moving.
Strength: Young playmakers. Hartline might be the experienced option, but Newton has a world of upside and might be worth using more and more until the light goes on, and Mossakowski is too interesting not to be given a long look.
Weakness: Passing yards. The UK quarterbacks got a world of time to work, but they struggled throughout the season making 13 touchdown passes and 11 passes while finishing last in the SEC (and 114th in the nation) in passing. UK also finished 109th in passing efficiency.
Outlook: The quarterback situation might be the most interesting in the SEC. Will the coaching staff use one young prospect and stick with him, or will it really be Hartline who steps up into the leadership void and keeps the offense moving throughout the year? The running game will carry the offense, but if the quarterback play can be better than mediocre, the Cats could turn out to make some noise.
Unit Rating: 6.5
Projected Starters: Senior Derrick Locke was one of the nation's most underappreciated players last year. Coming off a blown out knee, he led the team with 907 rushing yards and six scores with three 100-yard games (including 126 yards against Auburn), he caught 31 passes for 284 yards and two scores, and he was one of the nation's top kickoff returners averaging 27.8 yards per kickoff return. The 5-9, 191-pound speedster is a phenomenal athlete who has persevered from the knee injury that was considered career-threatening, and while he might not be the All-America caliber long jumper he once was, he's a year removed from the injury and he should do even more.
Senior Moncell Allen is quick enough to be a good tailback and tough enough to be a steady blocker. At 5-7 and 225 pounds, he's not all that big, but he gets great leverage and is solid in pass protection. However, he has to get past a knee injury and he has to show more pop when he gets the ball in his hands. He ran for 228 yards with two touchdowns, but only averaged 4.9 yards per carry, and caught eight passes for 23 yards.
Projected Top Reserves:
Stepping in as a true freshman was 5-11, 208-pound Donald Russell , getting 13 carries for 137 yards and a score. A strong runner with excellent balance, he should be great between the tackles and he needs to be a tough complementary back. While he's not a speedster, he has the type of skills and the toughness to potentially handle the ball 20+ times a game while being a factor around the goal line.
The hope is for redshirt freshman Jonathan George to be ready to become a key part of the rotation after looking great on the scout team. 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. At 5-10 and 204 pounds, he's a sturdy, strong back who can play a variety of roles.
Former defensive end Greg Meisner saw a little bit of time last year on defense making four tackles. While the 6-1, 235-pound junior is extremely tough and has the high school experience to play fullback, he has to prove he can hold up and be a steady blocker after missing two years with a shoulder problem. He likely won't ever handle the ball being used purely to open up holes.
Watch Out For … George. He was going to be a part of the running game last year but an ankle injury ended up forcing him to redshirt. While he's not going to be the No. 1 back, he'll be a jack-of-all-trades who does several different things for the attack.
Strength: Speed, speed, speed. Locke is fast, Russell is fast, and George is state championship fast. If they get into the open field, look out. However …
Weakness: Big plays. It's not like the backs cranked out a ton of big plays last year. Locke's biggest run was 31 yards, and while Russell tore off a 79-yarder, he only carried the ball 13 times. The team needs home runs from this group.
Outlook: Helped by Randall Cobb working from under center in a Wildcat formation, along with a good rotation, the UK running game finished 21st in the nation averaging 191 yards per game. Locke, Russell, and George could turn out to be the strength of the team if everything breaks right and if they get decent production from a green line.
Unit Rating: 8
Projected Starters: Junior Randall Cobb has been one of the SEC's most valuable players over the last few years. If he's not on the team, UK doesn't go to two straight bowl games as he has worked as a do-it-all playmaker at both quarterback and receiver. Used in the Wildcat formation, he ran for 573 yards and ten touchdowns, tearing off 109 yards against Auburn and 101 against Tennessee. Also the team's best receiver, he caught 39 passes for 447 yards and four scores. Even though the lefty completed 5-of-13 passes for 89 yards, he'll almost never be used for the passing game with three decent options now under center. If that wasn't enough, he's also an elite returner, averaging 26.5 yards per kickoff and 12.8 yards per punt return. Now he's worn down. A bit banged up at times, he has to be 100% to remain one of the team's top weapons, and while he's slippery and tough, he's only 5-11 and 191 pounds and not built to take a pounding.
6-5, 222-pound senior Chris Matthews stepped in from the JUCO ranks and finished second on the team catching 32 passes for 354 yards and three touchdowns. While he wasn't spectacular, he was steady considering all the problems at quarterback and became an excellent blocker. He didn't make the passers better, but if there's more consistency under center, he should blossom with good size and the deep speed to be a matchup problem.
Junior Gene McCaskill was pushed aside a bit by the emergence of Chris Matthews, but he still managed to catch 17 passes for 163 yards. The 6-0, 191-pounder was a South Carolina high school state-championship level sprinter, but he hasn't shown off much of his 4.5 speed yet. The upside and skills are there to be dangerous with the ball in his hands on the move, and he'll get his chances as the No. 3 target.
Junior Nick Melillo is built more like a fullback than a true tight end, but he's a former wide receiver and he'll have to do at the position as the only one on the team with any experience. He caught five passes for 44 yards and he saw time in every game, and while he's a willing blocker, he's not a great one. A transfer from the NAIA's Lindenwood, he's a try-hard type who's always giving a full effort.
Projected Top Reserves: Part outfielder, part receiver, redshirt freshman Brian Adams was expected to be a factor early on but he suffered a scary blood clot that almost cost him his life. All is fine, and now he should be dangerous with 6-4, 217-pound size and 4.4 speed. While he was good enough to be drafted by the Cincinnati Reds, he's committed to playing for UK.
Stepping in and seeing time as a true freshman, 6-4, 202-pound La'Rod King showed decent promise with ten catches for 142 yards. A great all-around athlete, he's fast and moves fluidly for a player of his size. He'll see time behind Randall Cobb and will see plenty of action in four-wide sets.
Originally a quarterback, 6-5, 206-pound junior Matt Roark is growing into a receiver. With terrific size, phenomenal leaping skills, and good quickness, he provides a matchup problem. Great as a kick blocker on special teams, he's a dangerous player who has yet to show it on offense with just six catches for 65 yards over his first two seasons.
There will be a fight for the No. 2 tight end job with redshirt freshmen Anthony Kendrick and Jordan Aumiller battling it out. Kendrick is a 6-3, 245-pound wide receiver who bulked up to work as a possible H-Back and tough target across the middle. He didn't lose a thing after adding the weight, while started out his career at linebacker and is more of a blocker. A decent receiver, the 6-4, 227-pounder has nice skills and always goes to the whistle.
Watch Out For … the tight end situation. The job is there for the taking with Melillo getting the first long look and Kendrick and Aumiller getting every chance at the job. They're all receivers who'll try to block, and they'll all get a shot to be the main guy.
Strength: Cobb, Matthews, and height. Having a 1-2 punch in Cobb and Matthews gives the UK passing game a shot to produce. Across the board there's plenty of speed, plenty of athleticism, and ton of size with Matthews checking in at 6-5, Adams at 6-4, Roark at 6-5, and King at 6-4.
Weakness: The quarterbacks. The hope is for steadier play, and if Hartline is healthy the passing game could end up being decent. But if Cobb and Matthews played for a team with a sure-thing quarterback, they'd be a nationally known duo.
Outlook: The tight end situation is open and the backup receivers have to prove they can play, but this is a good-looking unit with Cobb a star who can carry the team here and there and Matthews a dangerous No. 2 target. The receiving corps has explosive potential if the quarterback play is consistent.
Unit Rating: 7
Projected Starters: Junior Stuart Hines is the only returning starter up front, but he's a good one. The 6-4, 293-pound junior started every game at right guard and turned into one of the team's steadiest blockers. Now he'll move over to left guard where he should be athletic enough to be a solid pass protector and great at getting down the field to make a big block to spring good running plays. He needs to not only be an anchor, but a star who becomes the steady player everything works around.
One of the biggest problems up front will be the loss of Zipp Duncan at left tackle, and now the pressure is on Chandler Burden to be the same type of pass protector. The 6-4, 296-pound junior started out his career at as a big defensive end making nine tackles and getting the start three times last season including in the bowl loss to Clemson. It's asking a lot for him to be a steady left tackle right away, but he has the size and the toughness to be an interesting prospect.
6-4, 289-pound Matt Smith got a little bit of time in his first season seeing time at center as part of a rotation. Originally a defensive tackle, he's still a bit raw and he'll need time to be the leader in the middle, but he has the size, the athleticism, and the toughness to grow into the job. However, he'll have to fight to keep the starting spot.
Senior Brad Durham isn't taking over the right tackle job cold. He started four times last season and he turned into one of the team's most improved blockers as the season went on. At 6-4 and 310 pounds he has excellent size and is a tough run blocker, but he's not an elite pass blocker and is only a right tackle. Extremely smart, he doesn't make a ton of mistakes.
After a strong year as a backup, sophomore Larry Warford showed as a true freshman that he could handle himself at guard and eventually be a key blocker to work behind. At 6-3 and 335 pounds, he's a huge hitter with surprising quickness who should be a rock at right guard for the next three years. A great recruit for the program two years ago, don't be shocked if he turns out to be an all-star right away.
Projected Top Reserves: Junior Jake Lanefski is one of the team's most versatile linemen with time logged in both at guard and center. He was a key part of the rotation last year before suffering a knee injury in the fifth game of the year, and while he's still trying to fight back to get on the field, he's expected to be ready in time for the start of the season as a backup center. At 6-4 and 284 pounds he's not huge, but he's athletic and he's refined.
A very nice recruit in 2007, junior Billy Joe Murphy will push Chandler Burned for the starting left tackle job. At 6-6 and 298 pounds, he has the frame to go along with the athleticism on the outside, and he's tough enough to work at guard if needed. Extremely versatile, mentally tough, and very, very smart, he saw time in a variety of areas while working on special teams throughout last year. If he doesn't get the left tackle gig, he'll see time at right guard and right tackle.
Watch Out For … Warford. While it might not seem like that big a deal to have a dominant right guard, Warford is a big, talented blocker who should grow into a key run blocker. He showed excellent promise last year, and he could be the unsung glue in a year of transition.
Strength: Size. If nothing else, UK has plenty of big bodies able to work in and out of the lineup. There are plenty of options, to play around with several versatile backups and some nice-sized blockers to find the right combination.
Weakness: Starting experience. Last year's offensive line was extremely productive and very, very tight. Now it has to replace four starters, and while there's a ton of promise and potential, it's asking a lot to have the same sort of cohesion right away.
Outlook: Don't freak out just because so many key starters are gone. Yes, it's going to take a while to be nearly as good as last year's front five, arguably the key to the bowl season. Hines is a budding star and there are other great blockers with upside, with Warford, Smith, and Burden all potential all-stars. It might take a little while to find the right combination, and it might take half the year to be solid, but the line will be decent in time and will be terrific next year.
Unit Rating: 6.5
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