There was a new leader at the helm as Kentucky began spring ball March 24.
Joker Phillips is Kentucky's new head coach after Rich Brooks retired following the 2009 campaign. Brooks guided the Wildcats to a school-record four consecutive bowl games.
Changes will be minimal as Phillips will operate similar to Brooks in many facets of the job. Phillips' ability to oversee the entire team instead of just the offense will be one of the things watched closely during the spring session that ends with the annual Blue-White Game on April 24.
Phillips and offensive coordinator Randy Sanders will oversee a three-player battle for the starting quarterback job, and the Wildcats also need to identify four new starting offensive linemen.
Defensively, Kentucky lost both talent and leadership, as its top four defenders were seniors last season. Some new blood will get the opportunity to arise in the spring and it is hoped the drop-off won't be too significant.
Spring ball will be the time for Phillips to assert his style of leadership and formally make the on-field transition from assistant coach to head man.NOTES, QUOTES
SPRING OBJECTIVES: Senior quarterback Mike Hartline is back from the knee injury that derailed his 2009 season, but he won't be handed back his starting job.
Hartline will compete with sophomore Morgan Newton and redshirt freshman Ryan Mossakowski. A decision may or may not be made at the conclusion of spring drills.
Newton went 5-2 as a starter last season, but Kentucky's passing offense was woeful with him at the helm. Mossakowski was a highly rated high school quarterback before arriving at Kentucky.
Rebuilding the offensive line also rates as a high priority. Starting tackles Zipp Duncan and Justin Jeffries, starting guard Christian Johnson and starting center Jorge Gonzalez were all seniors last season, leaving junior guard Stuart Hines as the lone returning starting lineman.
Senior Brad Durham started seven games over the past two seasons when Jeffries was sidelined with injuries and he will be one of the starting tackles. Junior Billy Joe Murphy is the favorite at the other tackle spot. Senior Marcus Davis, who started one game last season before suffering a season-ending ankle injury, is the favorite to be the new center. The other guard spot likely won't be decided until fall camp when injured Jake Lanefski (knee) is back in the mix.
Defensively, linebackers Micah Johnson and Sam Maxwell are gone, as is cornerback Trevard Lindley and defensive tackle Corey Peters. Redshirt freshman Qua Huzzie and junior Ronnie Sneed will vie for Johnson's spot, while Matt Lentz has moved from safety to Maxwell's strongside linebacker spot. Junior Randall Burden got substantial playing time when Lindley was injured last season, while senior Shane McCord is ready to replace Peters.
BUILDING BLOCKS: With Kentucky's defense in transition, the offense led by receiver Randall Cobb and running back Derrick Locke will be counted on to be the more productive side of the ball. Cobb's versatility saved the 2009 season as his running out of the shotgun formation (called the "WildCobb") gave the Wildcats an offensive element that was hard to defend. Locke is a dependable running back who gained 907 rushing yards last season and should top 1,000 this year.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Matt gives us a guy at linebacker who will be strong and physical. He flies around and hits people." -- Kentucky coach Joker Phillips, on the move of safety Matt Lentz from safety to linebacker.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: It's a bit of a transition season with a new head coach and so many key leaders to replace. Playing in the SEC East is not for the meek and timid so finding some players to step up as leaders in the spring is crucial. The Wildcats would like to stretch that school-record streak of consecutive bowl games to five this fall.
TE Alex Smith -- Kentucky could use an upgrade at the position and the four-star recruit ought to be able to compete for a starting job. He was rated as the nation's 11th-best tight end by Rivals.com and has an intriguing blend of size and hands.
LB Tim Patterson -- The state of Kentucky's top recruit (he picked the Wildcats over hometown Louisville) might get the chance to play right away with the center of the defense in transition mode.
TE Terrell Combs -- Transfer from Minnesota will get a long look at tight end during the spring and it will be determined whether he will remain at the position or be switched to defensive end.
--FB Moncell Allen is unlikely to do much this spring after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery after last season. The senior was primarily a tailback in the past but Wildcats have a big hole at fullback after departure of solid John Conner.
--G Jake Lanefski won't see action in spring after midseason knee injury in 2009, but he has a good shot at a starting spot before 2010 campaign starts.
--Sophomore CB Martavius Neloms will be a key guy to watch this spring after he was forced into significant action last season because of an injury to Trevard Lindley.
Previous Report: 04/09/2010