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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Two-A-Days: Kentucky Wildcats

Over the past few weeks, I've traded emails with beat writers for each SEC team, along with Georgia's three other BCS-conference opponents to get some insider insight into what fans can expect from UGA's competition in 2009.

Each day, we'll preview two teams, culminating with a big-picture look at the SEC and a deeper look at the biggest issues facing your Georgia Bulldogs. To submit a question for the Georgia entry in Two-A-Days, send me an email with the subject line "Two-A-Days" and I'll do my best to find you an answer.

The sixth entry in the series is the Kentucky Wildcats.

Head coach: Rich Brooks
2008 Record: 7-6 (2-6 SEC)
Total Offense: 299.31 ypg (9th in SEC, 106th overall)
Total Defense: 332.28 ypg (11th in SEC, 40th overall)
On the docket: Kentucky opens its 2009 season against Miami (OH) on Sept. 5. The Wildcats visit Athens on Nov. 21.

After playing the role of afterthought for decades, Kentucky is coming off its third straight bowl victory under head coach Rich Brooks. But while the Wildcats program has clearly improved, fans are now expecting more. So can Kentucky actually be a contender in the SEC East this year? I went to Lexington Herald-Leader beat writer Chip Cosby for answers.

David Hale: When last Bulldogs fans saw Randall Cobb, he was playing quarterback, torching Georgia's defense in a near upset in Lexington. This spring, however, Rich Brooks seems pretty adamant that the Wildcats will return to Mike Hartline as the starting QB. So how do you see this playing out? Can Hartline really handle the job?

Chip Cosby:
The jury's still out on whether Hartline can handle the job. At times last year he looked like an effective game-manager, but he also battled periods of inconsistency. Ideally Brooks would like for Hartline to be the No. 1 guy so he can let Cobb be a full-time receiver, but if Hartline struggles out of the gate, don't be surprised to see Brooks turn back to Cobb. While Cobb is probably the Wildcats' best receiver, Brooks is keeping a quarterback package installed for Cobb just in case. True freshmen Morgan Newton and Ryan Mossakowski will also get a serious look when they arrive in the fall.

DH: The tailback situation seems to be in flux this spring after Derrick Locke suffered a serious knee injury during the bowl game. Does Locke expect to be ready for the season, and who might step up to handle the running duties in his place?

CC: Locke will be cleared for running and full contact in June, but whether he'll be anywhere near 100 percent or still have the same speed and explosiveness is up in the air. Senior Alfonso Smith has had his moments in the past, and he'll likely start the year as the No. 1 guy. Junior Moncell Allen also figures into the equation but must take care of business in the classroom this summer to be eligible. Koshik Williams, a redshirt freshman walk-on from Hiram, has been impressive this spring and could crack the rotation.

DH: Kentucky's defense has a couple of big-time players like Jeremy Jarmon and Trevard Lindley, but they'll need more than that to contend in the East. Who are some potential breakout candidates from what you've seen this spring to step up on defense in 2009?

Micah Johnson should be one of the SEC's best linebackers in the fall, and the coaching staff is excited about several youngsters who got their feet wet last fall. Winston Guy and Danny Trevathan played mostly on special teams as true freshmen but will move into the starting lineup in 2009. Guy is fast and physical safety while the speedy Trevathan has big-time playmaking ability at weakside linebacker. Sophomore Randall Burden had a big Liberty Bowl and could start opposite All-SEC corner Trevard Lindley.

DH: After the John Calipari hiring, is anyone in Kentucky actually aware the spring practice is going on in Lexington? Do you think this team has the capability of keeping Cats fans still interested in the pigskin by November or will it be a quick transition to the hardwood for fans in 2009?

It's ironic. Before Billy Gillispie was fired and Calipari was hired, everybody talked about how ready they were for spring football. Calipari's hiring has definitely dominated the headlines and placed football on the backburner somewhat. But compared to years past, the excitement level is still fairly high. UK is coming off three straight bowl wins, but to the keep the fan base interested the team really needs to step up and win 8-9 games and make some noise in the SEC East. I think this team will be bowl-eligible but could be a year away from really making any kind of significant jump.

DH: From what you've seen this spring, what has jumped out at you in a positive way, and what would you say are the biggest questions Kentucky still needs to answer before the season begins?

CC: I think Kentucky has shown that they have several promising players on defense who will step in and support Jarmon, Lindley and Johnson. Last year was advertised as one of the best Kentucky defenses in a long time, but I think this year's defense has the capacity to be better. The biggest question marks are once again on offense. The Cats must get better quarterback play than they got last year, whether it comes from Hartline, Cobb or the two freshmen. Their receiving corps, which featured five true freshmen last season, must grow up in a hurry. And Kentucky must find a way to run the ball consistently, something they really didn't do in 2008.

* Chip Cosby has worked at the Lexington Herald-Leader since 1996 and has covered Kentucky football since 2000. You can read find his Kentucky coverage HERE or find his blog HERE. Also, did you know Jared Lorenzen is playing arenafootball2 in Lexington? I learned that HERE.

NEXT UP: Oklahoma State with The Oklahoman's Scott Wright.


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