There are position battles all over this team that haven't been there heretofore. This is an indication of better depth. On the offensive side of the ball, there's a battle first and foremost, with Andre Woodson
and Curtis Pulley
at quarterback. With the addition of Will Fidler and Michael Hartline, there's obviously more quality depth at quarterback than in recent memory.
Though Rafael Little made a name for himself across the nation last season with all-purpose yardage, the now healthy Tony Dixon is breathing down his neck. Backing those two up is Alfonso Smith and Maurice Grinter, a fullback who will be used at tailback and some one back sets. Grinter 6-foot-3, 250-pounds gives them that big back needed in the backfield. Grinter had great speed and soft hands. However, at this point, John Conner, 5-foot-11, 233-pounds has the No.1 spot at fullback nailed down primarily because he's the best blocker and the most complete back of the three of them.
Though Aaron Miller has been declared academically ineligible and will be missed, Joker Phillips pointed out more depth at the position-- "James Alexander has been pretty much a staple at left tackle." There has been a great deal of shuffling in the offensive line. Fatu Turituri, Michael Aitcheson and Christian Johnson have practiced at both guards, and Aitcheson has practiced at right tackle. Phillips said that center Jorge Gonzalez has made significant progress while Matt McCutchan has been out recovering from a stinger, but is expected to contribute greatly. In addition, the recent change of positions for Justin Jeffries is starting to pay dividends. "It's a shame he wasn't over there earlier, he missed a lot of work. We came into this thing thinking we wouldn't have to count on a freshman up front. Looks like he's going to have to play some. He's one of our better tackles so we've got to get him ready to play and help us. We feel good about the offensive line, we've just got to get the right five out there."
On the defensive side of the ball, there are battles going on at every position and especially at the linebacker position. With the decimation of the defense due to injuries, to have some depth and competition should be a welcome phenomenon for the defensive coaches.
The starting three positions (Sam, Mike, and Will) appear to be set for the opening game. "As of right now, I'm set at the strong-side linebacker but it's the coaches decision," Johnny Williams said. After having been gray-shirted, Williams made an early splash in the 2005 spring practice. However, as more and more of the defenses were installed, Williams stalled. "It's all starting to make sense to him now," Coach Chuck Smith said. "He's kind of a analytical deep thinker and when thinking hard you don't react and that was his problem." At 6-foot-3, 240-pounds, Williams said he is faster and stronger. Smith said he has really practiced well and has a great attitude.
Alongside Braxton Kelly and Wesley Woodyard, Williams completes the triumvirate. The middle linebacker spot is so deep with Kelly, Micah Johnson, Ben McGrath, and Mikhail Mabry, McGrath is being cross-trained at the Sam-linebacker. Other linebackers in the mix are walk-on 5-foot-11, 250-pounds A.J. Nance, Brandon Thurmond, Terry Clayton, Sam Maxwell and Patrick Barnette. Maxwell recently moved from the Sam to the Will.
Could depth and UK become synonymous with each other and become a staple of this team? Only time will tell!
In the past, using the word "depth and University of Kentucky football was an oxymoron. Though it won't definitely be known until UK lines up against the enemy, coach Rich Brooks and other coaches on the staff have used the word "depth" many times this fall in relation to UK. From casual observation, it is easy to see the look of this team is drastically different.