BIG BLUE FANS FOR
Kentucky Gives Fans a Glimpse of Commonwealth Stadium Renovations
Cats Open SEC Play With Lose To Florida
Cats Lose To Louisville, Teddy Bridgewater, 3rd Straight Time
Cats Have Their Own Way Against A Weak Miami of Ohio 41-7
Stoops' Debut Game Demonstrates
Kentucky Hires Mark Stoops
SCOUTING THE CATS
The main man: It took awhile for it to reveal itself in fall camp, but junior Demarco Robinson has been named the probable punt returner for the Cats, and he's one of four players who could handle kick return duties as well. Undersized, but speedy, coaches think he could be dangerous at that spot. His senior year of high school, the 5-foot-10, 158-pounder returned a punt and a kickoff for scores. In his 18 punt returns last season, he averaged just 6.5 yards. He took his one kickoff return 20 yards. "He's got the quicks and if we can get him to the next level, he's got a chance to go," special teams coach Bradley Dale Peveto said of Robinson.
The supporting cast: The coaches have a lot of faith in senior kicker Joe Mansour, who mostly has handled kickoff duties previously, and punter Landon Foster was the most productive freshman punter in school history last season (42.9 yards per punt) and has continued to improve. Kelly Mason will handle long-snapping duties and Jared Leet will remain holder. Kickoff return duties have been narrowed to four players: Robinson as well as junior-college transfer Javess Blue and true freshmen Ryan Timmons and Jeff Badet.
Outlook : This group returns starters at every position except placekicker, and it sounds like Mansour has done more than enough to earn the trust of his coaches and teammates. Coaches are looking to get true production from returners for the first time since Randall Cobb was wearing Kentucky across his chest. It was then (in 2010) that UK last scored a touchdown off a punt return. Not since 2009 when Derrick Locke returned a kickoff for a touchdown have the Cats scored in that way.
The main man: Coaches have been mum about who their "main man" is (if they know yet), and they might decide to stay that way so Western Kentucky has to spend more time preparing for three distinctly different quarterback options in Maxwell Smith, Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow.
The supporting cast: Take your pick: Jalen Whitlow (6-2, 220 pounds) dual threat quarterback who started UK's final seven games last season and ran the offense most productively in the spring game; or Maxwell Smith (6-4, 218), who also has started more than a handful of games before being plagued by injuries, is likely the most accurate passer of the group and has been a key offensive leader in the locker room; or Patrick Towles (6-5, 225) a highly touted, strong arm who has slimmed down and by all accounts developed a sound understanding of the offense. Also, don't forget true freshman Reese Phillips (6-2, 219) who turned some heads in the spring with his solid arm and good decision making.
Outlook: It seems nearly impossible for this position group to not see a significant upgrade this season in a pass-centric offense that moves at a rapid pace. Brown's upgraded Air Raid also has built in checks (center and running back both handle significant portions of the blocking calls) that take some of the pressure off the quarterback so he can focus exclusively on delivering the ball where it needs to be. This position, regardless of who plays it, likely will see an upgrade because all of the sophomore players have game experience and have seen the speed of play.
The main man: Kentucky is still searching for one. It returns four players from last season, but Demarco Robinson, A.J. Legree, Rashad Cunningham and Daryl Collins combined for 57 catches, 581 yards with zero touchdowns. There has been chatter during camp that Legree and Robinson are emerging as potential playmakers, but a few of the highly touted incoming wideouts could fill that role, too.
The supporting cast: When Neal Brown and staff were running this updated "Air Raid" offense at Texas Tech, they never got on the bus with fewer than 10 options at wide receiver. They like to have stockpiles of them, using players who can make plays in different ways. They'd like to see some true playmakers emerge, especially from the group of newcomers like Jeff Badet, Alex Montgomery, Ryan Timmons and Javess Blue. Timmons and Montgomery have drawn considerable praise from their coaches during fall camp and likely will be regulars in the rotation. A collection of walk-ons also has impressed in camp and one or two could be in the rotation.
Outlook : A group maligned for its lack of production and bounty of dropped balls in the spring seemed to have turned it around before Saturday's scrimmage, when some of those familiar problems came back. But Brown believes the receivers are going to be far better this season than they were last season. He's created a diverse group of players of varying speed and skill level — including making former tight end Ronnie Shields a full-time receiver — and it could turn out to be special. It helps that the new players have been pushing the veteran guys, making everyone better, coaches have said.
The main man: Senior Raymond Sanders has separated himself from a talented backfield with his maturity, knowledge of the game and blocking ability. His versatility doesn't hurt either. He's been able to score in multiple ways, including catching passes, which makes him a great option in Neal Brown's offense. For his career , Sanders has run for 1,078 yards and eight touchdowns. He's also caught 39 passes for 238 yards and a score.
The supporting cast: Running backs take a pounding during the season, especially in the Southeastern Conference, but UK seems to have a fairly deep collection of promising, versatile backs, including senior Jonathan George (108 carries for 504 yards and four scores last season), sophomore Dyshawn Mobley, who is coming back from hernia surgery , and freshman Jojo Kemp, who was rated the No. 10 multipurpose back in the nation by Rivals.com. They all offer different running styles that could prove useful.
Outlook: Two players in this position group, Kemp and George, earned the designation of "pit bull" by Coach Mark Stoops this week for their attacking style. The Cats are going to need all of their top dogs at this spot to be successful this season, especially as they break in a lot of new wide receivers. The Air Raid focuses on wide receivers, but the running backs might be the most key position for UK to find success this season.
The main man: Kentucky has several veterans back to anchor the line but perhaps none more important than Darrian Miller, who has played in 24 games , including 14 starts. His size, speed and ability to pick up the new offense have made him a leader by example, said position coach John Schlarman. "He doesn't blow assignments, doesn't have poor technique. He does the little things right."
The supporting cast: Kentucky doesn't have a bunch of stars, but it does have quite a few players returning on the offensive line that have been in the trenches before and played well, including right guard Kevin Mitchell, who has played in 30 games with 13 starts. There's Zach West, who started every game last season at left guard but is coming back from shoulder surgery. West is vying for time at that spot with Teven Eatmon-Nared, who played in eight games last season. Others like Max Godby, Jon Toth and Jordan Swindle have been drawing praise in fall camp and will be key contributors.
Outlook : This offensive line doesn't have two three-year starters in Matt Smith and Larry Warford to anchor it like it did last season, but it does have a tight-knit group of guys who like to work together and are being cross-trained to fill multiple positions when needed. The position group isn't as deep as coaches want it to be, but they believe that will come with time. The offensive line was one of the surprises of the spring and it has continued to improve as players' conditioning and understanding of the new offense has improved.
The main man: Anthony Kendrick has drawn tons of pre-season praise from his new coaches with a slimmed down body and a physical presence. The 6-foot-3, 233-pound senior from Texas hasn't played in a game since 2011, but coaches think he can be a difference maker, especially in the passing game.
The supporting cast: Give him the situation and tight ends coach Vince Marrow believes he has a tight end who can help. The former NFL tight end is high on Kendrick and fellow senior Jordan Aumiller, whom Marrow said has good size and blocking ability. "But what's impressed me most lately is how he's running, getting up the field." The Cats also have other options in Steven Borden, a junior college transfer, who is still getting used to the system and speed as well as stalwart Tyler Robinson, who has shown flashes of potential.
Outlook : A position that has been underused since Jacob Tamme played it in the 2007-08 season and had 56 catches for 619 yards and six touchdowns, the UK tight end could see a resurgence in offensive coordinator Neal Brown's system, with lots of talk about two-tight end sets. Marrow likes how many options Kentucky has at the position. "I'm happy with all five of those guys," he said. "You hear some coaches be political and they say that. No, I like all five of those guys. Because they all can do something to help us." The key, he said, is figuring out where to put them so they can have the most success within the scheme.
The main man: The Cats return lots of players who helped out toward the end of the season when their were injuries, but the true star of this unit is junior safety Ashely Lowery, who had 43 tackles (fifth on the team) in eight games last season, including three for a loss. Lowery also had an interception. Coaches still haven't figured out if there will be missed game action for Lowery, who was charged with a DUI after his car accident in early May. His legal situation hasn't been settled.
The supporting cast: Sophomores Cody Quinn (25 tackles) and Fred Tiller (27 tackles) have shown vast improvement from last season, but Quinn has been sidelined much of the last week of camp with an ankle injury. Several other newcomers have had to step in, including junior college player Nate Willis, who just arrived on campus last week and true freshman Blake McClain, who was a safety to start camp. Jaleel Hytche also has been in the thin rotation. At safety, junior Eric Dixon has seized the other starting spot with Lowery, with Glenn Faulkner and Daron Blaylock getting time in relief.
Outlook : Some of the unit's biggest problems are based in things it may not be able to fix this season: lack of size and overall depth. But coaches have talked about improved fundamentals and trying to develop some of the younger players into viable options. Stoops has made a living rebuilding secondaries and he has been working with this group heavily during fall camp.
The main man: Middle linebacker Avery Williamson is the undisputed leader of the linebackers, the defense and maybe the entire team. The senior from Milan, Tenn., finished second in the SEC and seventh in the nation in tackles with 135, more than doubling his 49 from the season before. He also had 4.5 tackles for loss, one interception, four pass breakups, two forced fumbles and one recovered.
The supporting cast: Coaches have said Williamson is "miles ahead" of the others at linebacker, but he's doing everything he can to bring the rest of them up to cruising speed. Other likely starters include junior Kory Brown and sophomore Khalid Henderson. Miles Simpson, a starter last year with 70 tackles, could add some depth, as could Josh Forrest (13 tackles) and Tyler Brause.
Outlook : Linebacker was one of the few positions on the field where the new staff wasn't able to bring in some highly touted talent. It's also a place where UK could use some added depth. In turn, it's now a place where the Cats can't afford any kind of injury. The coaches are beyond pleased with Williamson and are hoping the others can follow his big-play making lead this season. The work ethics of Brown and Henderson have both been lauded, so they're likely to be key contributors.