The Kentucky Wildcat offense of 2009 is best described as uneven, at least throughout most of the year. The root cause for the inconsistent offensive output can easily be traced back to the quarterback position. With then-junior Mike Hartline going down with a knee injury in the South Carolina game, true freshman Morgan Newton was charged with quickly picking up the nuances of playing quarterback in the SEC; no easy task, indeed. The experiment, while at times successful, left the Cats more ground-centric than most had hoped for.
Now, with a healthy Mike Hartline once again the starter at quarterback, UK will look to improve significantly on last year's passing numbers -- Kentucky quarterbacks threw for only 1,824 yards and 13 touchdowns, while completing 55.2% of their passes. Both Hartline and Newton averaged fewer than 10-yards per completion.
Although the Cats averaged a respectable 26.1 points per game (9th SEC) last year, they were many times hamstrung by their collective inability to throw the ball downfield. This season, that needs to change.
Helping out on the receiving end will once again be the electric Randall Cobb, along with second-year JUCO transfer Chris Matthews, who many believe is poised for a breakout year. Although the Cats lose wide outs Kyrus Lanxter (quit football), Eric Adeyemi (transfer), and Gene McCaskill (torn ACL), there are several exciting youngsters ready to make a difference on the field.
Follow me after the jump for a look at UK's quarterback and receivers for the 2010 season.
Mike Hartline -- 6-6, 210 lb senior: In six games last season, Hartline completed 79 of 133 passes (59.4%) for 802 yards, six touchdowns and seven interceptions. For his career, Hartline has completed 225 of 450 passes (56.7%), for 2,502 yards, 15 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.
Early last week Hartline was named the starting quarterback for the Louisville game by UK head coach Joker Phillips.
Almost everyone is aware that stretching the field with accuracy has been the weakness in Hartline's skill set. For the most part, Hartline's down-field passes have been inaccurate, although, when he went down last season in the fifth game of the year against South Carolina, he was putting together his best overall performance as a Cat.
Coach Phillips is no fan of a dual-quarterback system, so Hartline will be given every opportunity to succeed. But, don't be surprised if Cat fans get a healthy dose of Morgan Newton at some point in the season, if Hartline isn't up to the task.
Morgan Newton -- 6-4, 235 lb sophomore: In eight games last year, Newton threw for 706 yards on 75 of 135 passing (55.6%); good for six touchdowns and three interceptions. Newton ran for 130 yards (205 positive yards) on 59 carries (2.2 yards per carry) and two touchdowns.
Newton offers Joker Phillips a nice change-of-pace option, in that he is very mobile -- not a speed burner, though --but very capable of making tacklers miss. One of the issues Newton struggled with last year was deciding when to tuck and run, and when to wait out the coverage. And as a true freshman, it is/was certainly understandable. Just as with Hartline, Newton struggled at times with his accuracy, especially in the final two games of the season, which is what ultimately led to the just decided quarterback battle.
Newton will be given an opportunity. It's just a matter of when. And if he is able to display a calm demeanor in the heat of battle, e.g making good decisions, along with passing accuracy, his exceptional athleticism almost demands he be under center.
Ryan Mossakowski -- 6-4, 224 lb rs/freshman: Mossakowski of course redshirted last year after tearing his labrum midway through his senior season at Centennial High School in Frisco, Texas. Regardless, he put up some tremendous numbers in his high school career: 7,433 passing yards and 51 touchdowns. Mossakowski was named an All-America by SuperPrep and PrepStar magazines.
Mossakowski has a howitzer hidden up his sleeve; so strong is Mossakowski's arm, he was tagged by most high school football scouts as having the second strongest arm in the Class of '08. Unfortunately, his injury has put him squarely behind Hartline and Newton on the college football learning curve, but, it would not surprise me in the least if Mossakowski isn't given the opportunity to unveil the gift that God gave him at some point this season.
"Wildcat" Package Alert
Randall Cobb -- 5-11, 185 lb junior: Working out of the "Wildcat" package last season, Cobb threw for only 89 yards on 5 of 13 passing, but he ran for 573 yards on 94 carries (6.1 ypc) and 10 touchdowns. His career numbers look like this: Passing -- 57 of 112 (50.9%) for 631 yards, two touchdowns and five interceptions: Rushing -- 173 carries for 889 yards and 17 touchdowns.
I expect Joker Phillips to utilize Cobb's considerable talents out of the quarterback spot, more this year, than what we saw last year. He is simply too special to ignore, and I think Phillips is a bit more "open" than Rich Brooks when it comes to expanding the offense. Cobb is most dangerous as a pass catcher, but, if Kentucky struggles in the passing game, I'm not sure Phillips can justify not using the "Wildcat" as a means of getting the ball in Cobb's hands.
The Wide Receivers
Randall Cobb -- 5-11, 185 lb junior: Cobb caught 39 passes for 447 yards (11.5 yards per reception) and four touchdowns. In his two year UK career, Cobb has hauled in 60 passes for 644 yards (10.7 ypr) and 6 touchdowns.
Randall Cobb is the primary reason the Cats must have an effective pass thrower. He is simply too dangerous, especially with the ball in his hand, especially in the open field. And the best way for Cobb to get into the open field is via the air.
Phillips said Cobb was going to be used, and then used some more. I'm holding you to that, Joker.
Chris Matthews -- 6-5, 219 lb senior: In Matthews' initial season with the Cats, he was the team's second leading receiver, catching 32 passes for 354 yards (11.1 ypr) and three touchdowns.
Matthews looked good early, struggled a bit in the middle of the year (as rookie receivers are wont to do), but came on strong at the end. He's as physically gifted as any UK receiver of recent vintage; he's got the height, huge hands, and the strength and athleticism to go get the ball ... and now he has the experience.
Look for Matthews to have a good year. Maybe not Stevie Johnson good, but very good still-the-same.
La'Rod King -- 6-4, 205 lb sophomore: In '09 King caught 10 passes for 142 yards (14.2 ypr) and one touchdown.
King catches the ball in traffic, he catches the ball on the fly ... he just plain catches the ball. For a man his height King is very fast, with a very long stride. I look for him to have a very big year, if the quarterbacks can consistently get him the ball.
Brian Adams -- 6-4, 232 lb rs/freshman: Adams was a quarterback in high school, so he accumulated no receiving stats. He did miss his senior year in high school because of an injury.
The talk is Adams is the most athletic player, regardless of sport, to come through UK in quite some time. As a baseball player, Adams was drafted in the 45th round of last year's draft by the Cincinnati Reds. He runs a 4.4-40, and he can leap tall buildings ...
Adams, because of his sheer athleticism (and a bit of attrition), has carved a place as the No. 2 receiver behind Chris Matthews at one of the receiver spots. If he picks up his route running and learns the blocking schemes, he could make some noise at the wide out spot.
Matt Roark -- 6-5, 209 lb junior: Roark has made six catches for 65 yards (10.8 ypr) in his career.
Roark, a physically gifted receiver, has struggled in his two years at UK.
Aaron Boyd -- 6-4, 212 lb rs/sophomore: In his career, Boyd has five receptions for 46 yards.
Boyd, who had mono at the beginning of his freshman year, causing him to be slow in picking up the offense, redshirted last season, making this a very important year for the highly recruited Henry Clay star. He's currently second on the depth chart behind La'Rod King at one of the wide out spots. He's going to get his chance.
E.J. Fields -- 6-1, 198 lb rs/sophomore: Field redshirted his freshman year, then, last year a foot injury in August put the kibosh on his '09 season.
Fields played a multitude of positions at Frankfort High School, using his 4.4 speed all over the field. He could be a very dangerous receiver once he gains some experience. We might see Fields returning kicks, also.
The Tight Ends
Last season the UK tight ends combined to make 18 catches for 184 yards -- Not great production. Joker Phillips likes to utilize the tight end spot to catch passes, not just block for the running game, so look for one of the following tight ends (or possibly a combination of the three) to put up numbers UK fans are accustomed to seeing from the tight end position.
Nick Melillo -- 6-2, 242 lb junior: Melillo, a transfer from Lindenwood University, an NAIA school, played in 13 games for UK last year. He caught four passes for 44 yards.
The Trinity grad is hurt, and will not play Saturday in the Louisville game. Melillo will look to give the quarterback a legitimate pass-catching threat, something that's been missing from the UK attack since the graduation of Jacob Tamme. If he isn't the answer, there are a couple of redshirt freshman eager to make a difference.
Jordan Aumiller -- 6-4, 230 lb rs/freshman: Aumiller, a Boyle County graduate (yes, the same school that produced Jacob Tamme), caught 53 passes for 829 yards and 10 touchdowns in his high school career.
Originally a linebacker at UK, with the graduation of all three Kentucky tight ends last year, he's been moved to the offensive side of the ball.
Tyler Robinson -- 6-3, 243 lb rs/freshman: Robinson, who hails from Alcoa High School in Tennessee (yes, the same school that produced Randall Cobb), was rated a top-25 tight end in the nation by ESPN.com. He was also rated the No. 13 prospect in the state of Tennessee. In Robinson's sophomore and junior years combined, he caught 58 passes for 1,013 yards and 24 touchdowns.
With the exception of a rash of injuries or ineffecitve play by the other tight ends, Robinson probably won't see much time this season. But, his high school numbers and accolades certainly are reason to be excited for the future of the position.
Alex Smith -- 6-5, 251 freshman: The jewel of Joker Phillips' first recruiting class, the Lakota West (OH) star was the No. 11 rated tight end in the country last year by Rivals. He was also rated the No. 13 prospect out of Ohio. Smith's junior and senior years combined, he caught 50 passes for 786 yards and eight touchdowns.
A redshirt season seems like a strong possibility at this point.
Thanks for reading and Go Cats!