As a followup to my Friday column reminding Kentucky football fans that we aren't out of the woods yet, I thought it might be interesting to look at next year's starting lineup on each side of the ball. As always, a number of caveats are in order. I can't project any true freshman into the starting lineup at this point, though there is a fair chance that at least one shows up there. Someone will inevitably respond, "What about _______, he's a starter from day one."
Unless you are a recruiting guru who has watched film on all these kids (which I'm not), that is pretty much a naked assertion. We don't know much about who will fit where until they reach campus. Randall Cobb was rated a two-star by Rivals. Four stars often don't pan out. So I'd rather not single anyone out at this point.
Position changes: I'd expect some. Given his contributions the last two years and the change in the offense I wonder if fullback D.J. Warren will move up to the line or to defense. I'd also expect at least one move from the running back ranks. Finally, assuming Jalen Whitlow is buried in the QB battle, the Cats will have to find a way to get him on the field in another capacity.
Finally, there is the question of Bud Dupree and where he will play in a more traditional 4-3 scheme. Dupree played well at weakside linebacker last year but is at his best rushing the QB. He may be undersized as a traditional defensive end, though.
In any event, here's a look.
QB- Maxwell Smith. WIth apologies to Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow, it's hard to imagine one of them improving enough to supplant him over an offseason.
RB- Josh Clemons. Jonathan George. Raymond Sanders. Take your pick. If this year is anything like the recent grinds through the SEC, the Cats will need all three of these guys and more to get through the season.
TE- Anthony Kendrick. An academic casualty in 2012, Kendrick is the type of TE who will fit in well in this system. UK has to get more production here to be successful in 2013.
WR- DeMarcus Sweat, A.J. LeGree and Demarco Robinson. We can call these three the starters, but there will be plenty of playing time to go around. Daryl Collins also brings his own skill set and at least one freshman, and likely more, will have to contribute. The Cats will need at least five wideouts to run this offense.
LT- Darrian Miller. One of the few things written in stone.
LG- Teven Eatmon-Nared. Considered athletic for his size, Nared would seem to be the favorite to move into the pulling guard spot, as explained below.
C- Zach Myers. Least confident pick. Max Godby is a walk-on who moved up to #2 on the depth chart last year when Sam Simpson left the team. Conventional wisdom seems to be that redshirt frosh Myers will take over this spot.
RG- Zach West. Last year's starter at left guard who I'm predicting will slide over the Larry Warford's spot on the right side. West will start somewhere.
RT-Kevin Mitchell. Last year's starter.
DT- Three man rotation between Mister Cobble, Donte Rumph and Tristian Johnson. Even though Rumph had a solid season in 2012, this is one area where the Cats must improve. They were gashed up the middle all year.
DE- Za'Darius Smith and . . .Bud Dupree. Here's where the question marks come in. The Cats would probably prefer to play Dupree at LB to get more size on the field, but there is much more depth at linebacker. If Juco All-American Smith doesn't adapt to the college game quickly or is an out and out bust, the Cats are in real trouble here. Mike Douglas is an option.
Sam- Khalid Henderson. This is a guess.
Mike- Avery Williamson. Thank god for this kid.
Will- Miles Simpson. Simpson was a pleasant surprise last year, ending the season as the team's third leading tackler. He will have to make the move from his hybrid safety position to a true outside linebacker.
Safeties- Ashley Lowery and Glenn Faulkner. Lowery would appear to be a lock and I'm giving the nod to Faulkner over Zach Blalock. Glenn sat out 2012 due to injury after playing sparingly on special teams in 2011. He is the highest rated former high school recruit returning to the team.
CB- Cody Quinn and J.D. Harmon. Both played as true freshmen last year in what can only be described as trial by fire. Fred Tiller figures to be in the mix as well.
It isn't hard to see where freshmen potentially figure in. Wide Receiver and the defensive backfield are both areas of opportunity. Though it is much harder to break into because of differences in physical maturity, the defensive line could also use help.
Keep in mind that some of these picks are nothing more than educated guesses, if you have other thoughts of questions about whether I may have left someone out, lets talk about it in the comments.
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