Two-a-Days rolls on with our 10th installment, in which we take a closer look at the Kentucky Wildcats.
To read previous entries, click HERE.
Kentucky in a flash:
Head Coach: Joker Phillips, first year
2009 Record: 7-6 (3-5 SEC), lost to Clemson in the Music City Bowl
2009 Stats: Total offense, 331.54 ypg (10th SEC, 93rd nationally), Total defense, 359.69 ypg (8th SEC, 53rd nationally)
Coaching Changes: Head coach Rich Brooks called it a career, and offensive coordinator Joker Phillips, already the coach-in-waiting, steps in. Mike Summers, formerly of Arkansas, replaces Jimmy Heggins as offensive line coach. Former Tennessee quarterback Tee Martin steps in to coach receivers, while David Turner is Kentucky's new defensive line coach.
Starters Returning: Offense (5), Defense (7), Special Teams (1)
Key Player Losses: CB Trevard Lindley, LB Micah Johnson, LT Zipp Duncan, DT Corey Peters
Big Games: @ Florida (9/25), South Carolina (10/16), Georgia (10/23), @ Tennessee (11/27)
Non-Conference Slate: @ Louisville (9/4), Western Kentucky (9/11), Akron (9/18), Charleston Southern (11/6)
For years Kentucky was among the doormats of the SEC, but four straight bowl games earn Rich Brooks plenty of credit for turning around the program into a legitimate competitor in the East. This year, however, Brooks is gone, and coach-in-waiting Joker Phillips takes over a team in search of talent on both lines and a starting quarterback.
So, how's the search going so far? For that, I turned to Chip Cosby, who covers Kentucky for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Here's what he had to say...
David Hale: In terms of coaching changes, the one at Kentucky this year has to be considered among the smoothest you'll find. But what's actually been different this spring with Joker Phillips running the show?
Chip Cosby: For starters, the practices have been more up-tempo. Phillips doesn't believe in conditioning/wind sprints after practice. Instead, the players sprint from station to station in between drills. Phillips is also more hands-on than Brooks. Brooks would often stand back and let the coaches coach. Phillips is much more vocal and his presence can be felt more on the practice field.
DH: Mike Hartline started the season at QB last year then got hurt. Morgan Newton stepped in and made some nice strides down the stretch. So who has the edge in the QB battle as the spring winds down? Might we see both of them at times this fall?
CC: Hartline was the most consistent of the quarterbacks in the spring, especially in the early going. It appeared as if Phillips might even name Hartline the starter by the end of spring. But both Morgan Newton and Ryan Mossakowski closed the gap at the end, and after the Blue/White Game Phillips said the competition will continue through the fall. Newton needs to be more consistent with his passing. Mossakowski is still trying to get comfortable with the offense after sitting out last year following shoulder surgery, but I wouldn't count him out either. It wouldn't surprise me to see all three QB's play at some point in the fall.
DH: Whoever starts at QB will be working behind a much different O line this year, with four of five starters departing from last year's team. Which of Kentucky's likely replacements looked good this spring, and how much of a concern will the line be in the fall?
CC: The line will be more athletic but less experienced. Stuart Hines, the lone returning starter at left guard, could blossom into an All-SEC candidate. The coaches believe sophomore guard Larry Warford has NFL potential, as he goes 6-4, 335 with quick feet. The key will be the development of Chandler Burden, who moved from defensive end to try and replace Zipp Duncan at left tackle. Burden has size and athleticism; he just needs to pick up the system. Much like last year, run blocking figures to be a strength, but they struggled in pass protection this spring. This is still a work in progress.
DH: Kentucky lost a lot on defense across the board last year. Who impressed this spring that might step into the void left by the likes of Corey Peters, Trevard Lindley and Micah Johnson?
CC: Weakside linebacker Danny Trevathan showed the ability to be a playmaker in the spring. The Cats will be smaller and less experienced up front so may have to come with more pressure than they have in the past. This plays to Trevathan's strengths: He's 6-1, 225 and speedy. Defensive end DeQuin Evans led the team in sacks last year with six; he figures to be the anchor of the line. Senior tackle Ricky Lumpkin has the most experience, and redshirt freshman Mister Cobble had an impressive spring at tackle. Free safety Winston Guy will lead the secondary.
DH: Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke have the potential to be one of the best WR-RB combos in the league this year, but there are so many other questions on the defense, at receiver, on the line... even the head coach. So what's the feeling around Lexington this spring? Do they believe a fifth straight bowl game is in the cards or could this be a bit of a rebuilding year?
CC: The schedule is a little lighter this year, so getting six wins and going to a fifth straight bowl isn't out of the question. But it's far from a certainty. The Cats need to get things figured out on both lines, and the front seven on defense is a big question mark. But it's not so much how many wins UK gets. It's who they beat. If they get six wins but find a way to knock off South Carolina and/or Tennessee, I think the fans will consider it a good season. But if they go 6-6 without any real significant wins, there will be a sense of disappointment.
Many thanks to Chip for the great insight. You can read Chip's Wildcats coverage HERE, check out his blog HERE and follow him on Twitter HERE.
So this is the point in which I ask you guys your thoughts on Kentucky this season, and while I'm quite interested in that, if you'd like for the comments to devolve into a discussion of how awesome the name Mister Cobble is, I have no problems with that.
And don't forget, we'll be wrapping up Two-A-Days with an in-depth look at Georgia, so if you have questions you want answered, leave them in the comments section here or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.NEXT UP: Tennessee on Tuesday morning.