Ready to lead?
[Editor's note: This series is a collaboration between Glenn Logan and Alex Scutchfield.]
Over the next few weeks, we will be taking a look at the Kentucky Wildcats football team in groups by position. We will start with the offense, and subdivide that into two sub-groups: Backfield and receivers, and offensive line. This isn't meant to be an exhaustive list, mainly a preview of the presumptive starters at each position, if they can be discerned with any degree of certainty. In the case where it is very uncertain, we will either speculate or simply offer the best candidates.
After that, we will take a look at the defense starting with the line and working our way back to the defensive backfield. Finally, we'll look at the special teams.
Offensive backfield and receivers
The presumptive starter will be Maxwell Smith. Last year, Smith stepped into the starting role after an injury to Morgan Newton early in the Mississippi St. Bulldogs game. Smith himself suffered an injured shoulder three games later against the Georgia Bulldogs, forcing wide receiver Matt Roark, who was a QB in high school to man the position in the final game of the season against Tennessee
Smith has showed signs in the spring of being an upgrade over what Newton was last year. Newton figures to be ready to fight for his spot back over the summer, and several other candidates including highly regarded freshman Patrick Towles and redshirt freshman Bookie Cobbins may be considered for the spot as well, although he seems likely to have moved to receiver with his recent number change.
- Running Back
Kentucky returns senior CoShik Williams, who led UK in rushing last year with 468 rushing yards (4.12 ypc). Sophomore Josh Clemons, who showed great promise in his freshman campaign before being injured in the South Carolina Gamecocks game (279 yards, 4.29 ypc) should also return healthy. Juniors Jonathan George and Raymond Sanders also figure to fight for time in this spot, with Sanders either the starter or very high in the rotation.
This is one spot at which UK has multiple options, including freshman Justin Taylor, who decomitted from the Alabama Crimson Tide to sign with Kentucky. Taylor injured an ACL in his senior season, producing a change in his Alabama offer to a grayshirt, and that prompted him to sign with Kentucky where he could immediately compete for playing time.
Alcoa (Tenn.) product Darrell Warren figures to get the nod as Kentucky's "starting" fullback for the second year in a row. Warren started all four games that the Cats began in a two back formation last year. He is a converted lineman, big at 6'0" 230. Warren is backed up on the depth chart by walk-on Codi Jones. The Cats will probably not utilize a two-back set in much in 2012.
- Wide Receiver 1
La'Rod King will be one of the Cats' leaders on offense and he bell cow of the receiving corps this year. The three year letterman stands 6'4, 211 making him Kentucky's most imposing and experienced target. A lot was expected of King in 2011, and while he improved on 2010's numbers, with 40 catches for 598 yards, he didn't become the true #1 receiver many anticipated. Of course, the Cats' entire passing offense took a big step back. Still, a 50-60 catch season from King, together with a double digit touchdown tally, is doable and would mean the attack got a nice boost.
- Wide Receiver 2
Demarco Robinson, a true sophomore from Georgia was supposed to be Kentucky's secret weapon last year. Robinson played a fair amount early in the year and was used almost exclusively to run end-arounds that were consistently stopped behind the line of scrimmage. I doubt that this was Robinson's fault, but the play became emblematic of the Cats' failures on offense. In any event, Robinson put his name back on the forefront for 2012 with a monster spring game (9 catches, 146 yards, 2TDs). Can the 5'10" 157lb. mighty mite be the big play threat Kentucky is missing? We'll see.
- Slot Receiver
Redshirt Freshman Daryl Collins came in with a good amount of fanfare in 2011 and then was injured prior to the start of the season. A former Alabama recruit, Collins dropped into Kentucky's lap when the Tide asked him to greyshirt and he took exception. He is known as a good route runner, and looked good in the slot at the spring game. The job is his to lose.
- Receiver Backups
The receiving core will benefit from experienced depth. Gene McCaskill, who has had a star crossed career of sorts, will be back for his last season. McCaskill starred in the Liberty Bowl as a freshman, but has never quite been able to build on that success. Having missed 2010 with a torn ACL, Gene pulled in only 9 passes last year. E.J. Fields, also a senior, caught seven balls against Louisville and looked like the Cats' lone bright spot from that game. Alas, he was barely heard from the rest of the year.
Aaron Boyd, another senior, would appear to be an afterthought at this point in his career. Bookie Cobbins appears to have made the permanent switch to wideout after switching his number from 7 to 87. We've heard a lot about Cobbins' athleticism in the past year. His move to WR is another way for Joker to try to get the most talent on the field, as any productive player in that spot will eventually land in the rotation.
- Tight End
The tight end spot is full of potential candidates for the position, and it's hard to tell who's going to wind up the starter next year. Tyler Robinson is the best blocker, played the most last year, and as such has the inside track on the job. Anthony Kendrick and Ronnie Shields also saw time last year.
The mystery man at this position is Jordan Aumiller, who had an excellent first year and made the SEC all-Freshman team. He vanished last year due to some shoulder problems as well as displeasing Nord with his lack of physicality at the spot. But tight end is a place that Kentucky has a number of options, and better than average depth.
Obviously, the biggest question mark will be the quarterback and receivers. Kentucky really struggled in the passing game last year, and the running game was hardly a strength, although the raft of injuries to the running back position made it really hard to figure out if Kentucky was that bad, or just too beat up to succeed.
If the Wildcats can get some durability out of their running backs, that will hopefully give some time for the young offensive line to gel and produce some lanes for them to run in. Kentucky had a really difficult time with injuries in skill positions last year, and if this group can stay healthier this year, perhaps it won't be quite the disaster so many Wildcat fans seem ready to acquiesce to.