Coming off a 6-7 season and a loss in the BBVA Compass Bowl, the Kentucky Wildcats are looking to make a big turnaround this season. In order to reach their goals the offense and the defense will both have to step up from last season performances.
Kentucky’s offense last year was pretty surprising through the air due to a great season from senior quarterback Mike Hartline. Also receiver Chris Matthews made himself a threat on every down as well. Add in the always consistent Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke and you have an offense that is capable of scoring every time they touch the ball.
All of those players have to be replaced this season, but the cupboard is not bare.
Junior Morgan Newton (6-4, 235) steps into the starting role again after starting the Compass Bowl last season and majority of his freshman season. Newton has improved his passing ability and has been working on his chemistry with his receivers.
Newton has a better grasp of the offense and has become the leader on the offensive side of the ball. With his hard work he has earned the respect of his teammates.
At wide receiver LaRod King (6-4, 194 Jr.) returns as the leading receiver for the Wildcats. Gene McCaskill (6-0, 206 Jr.) returns from an injury that took his whole season last year. Matt Roark (6-5, 214 Sr.) had some excellent games last season as well. Brian Adams (6-4, 221 So.) will also have an opportunity to play this year as a big play threat.
The talent is there in the upperclassmen ranks and they should carry this group. But the freshmen bring additional talent and don’t be surprised to see Darryl Collins (5-11, 203), Rashad Cunningham (6-4, 200) or Nile Daniel (6-1, 185) make it into the Wildcat rotation.
While tight end has been a problem spot for Kentucky in recent years, there may be a change in the air. Sophomore Tyler Robinson (6-3, 288 So.) stepped up last year and made some good catches. Jordan Aumiller (6-4, 231 So.) returns after struggling through injuries on and off the previous two seasons. The Wildcats will also get production from Nick Melillo (6-2, 226 Sr.), Ronnie Shields (6-5, 240 RS-Fr.) and Anthony Kendrick 6-3, 264 So.).
At running back, the Wildcats look to sophomore Raymond Sanders (5-8, 205 So.), the leading returning rusher, as the favorite to start early on. But Sanders will also share snaps with Jon George (5-10, 209 So.) and Brandon Gainer (5-11, 199 RS-Fr.). Freshmen Marcus Caffey (5-11 189, Fr.) and Josh Clemons (5-10, 201 Fr.) both look like players who could earn a lot of time as true freshmen.
Sanders became the front-runner to start after the spring, but Jon George has had an outstanding off-season as well. And if reports are accurate, at least one of the freshmen, Caffey and Clemons, will get snaps as well.
In the end, the offense can have as many weapons as they want, but it comes down the performance of the offensive line. The Wildcats have an experienced and talented bunch blocking for the offense.
Larry Warford (6-3, 336 Jr.) and Stuart Hines (6-4, 295 Sr.) return as all-conference caliber players at the guard spots. Matt Smith (6-4, 303 Jr.) had a good year as a first year center. The questions lie on the outside, but the Wildcats have two players who have played plenty of snaps and starts between them in Billy Joe Murphy (6-6, 308 Sr.) and Chandler Burden (6-4, 313 Sr.).
Providing depth on the line are tackles Trevino Woods (6-5, 281 Jr.) and Teven Eatmon (6-7 323 RS-Fr.). On the interior the Wildcats have Jake Lanefski (6-4, 283 Sr.), Zach West (6-5, 296 Fr.) and Sam Simpson (6-4, 292 So.) all provide additional depth as well.
The potential is there for the Kentucky offense to be as productive as last season’s offense, just in a different way. You can expect less Wildcat offense and much more of a traditional, balanced attack. However, the depth and talent at running back are strong points for this team. There are questions about the wide receiver position due to the losses of players like Cobb and Matthews.
If LaRod King and Brian Adams can become big play players for the offense, Kentucky will be able to score at will. The freshmen are all big play players as well, while McCaskill and Roark are possession receivers who are going to help move the chains.
The veteran offensive line will provide time for Morgan Newton to throw the ball and also open holes for the running backs.
While the offensive line is key, Morgan Newton will have to show that he has command of the offense and the ability to lead this team. If Newton can have a statistical year, similar to that of Hartline last season, the Wildcats will be able to put points on the board and continue to be a pretty potent offense.
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