Bleacher Report's Kentucky Football Community Leader and Wildcats Thunder staff member, Jordan Coleman, along with Wildcats Thunder staff member, Kyle Travis, preview the Kentucky Wildcat offense for the upcoming season.
1. Rafael Little has been a big part of the Kentucky offense and special teams for the last 3 years. Who will replace Little at running back and punt returner?
Jordan: The Cats return a very experienced backfield even with the loss of Rafael Little. Senior Tony Dixon, sophomore Derrick Locke, and junior Alfonso Smith at running backs. Derrick Locke was the Cats second leading rusher behind Little with 536 yards gained on the ground and 5 TD’s. My prediction as to who will be the main guy is Derrick Locke, with Dixon and Smith getting a lot of carries as well. This is one of the fastest backfields to ever come through Kentucky with both Derrick Locke and Alfonso Smith running 4.2 40 yard dash’s.
Also, with the loss of Little as the Cats punt returner, The Cats will most likely turn to Senior receivers Dicky Lyons and Demoreo Ford to take the reins returning punts for the Cats. Demoreo Ford had 8 returns for 50 yards. Dicky Lyons had 2 returns for 40 yards. Both players are capable of returning punts. But you never know, there is always a possibility of someone else stepping in and surprising people like incoming freshman EJ Fields or junior EJ Adams possibly getting some returns.
Kyle: Although it will be very hard to replace Rafael Little, there are three other very good and experienced backs. One of them is Senior to be Tony Dixon who once had the starting job but suffered from injuries which lead Little to take his spot. In the 07 season when Little missed games because of injuries, Dixon is the one who got the start. Dixon is small (5'9) but weighs in at 205. In Dixon's career at UK he has had a total of 159 carries for 714 yards and 8 touchdowns.
Another canidate is Junior to be Alfonso Smith who has also been distracted by injuries. Smith is speedy back who can run his 40 in a 4.3. Smith has come up big in games especially in the 2nd half when tired defenses could not handle his speed. In Smith's career at UK he has a total of 81 carries for 399 yards with 4 touchdowns. At the end of the 06 season he was voted by the coaches as UK's Most Outstanding offensive player.
The next candidate is sophomore to be Derrick Locke. Locke who is a fan favorite is most notable for his speed running a 40 in a 4.2. Like Smith, Locke came up big in the second half when tired defenses could not handle his speed. In Locke's career at UK he has 94 carries for 521 yards and 5 touchdowns.
All three of these guys can start but in my opinion Dixon will be the one to replace Little because of his experience and tough running.
At Punt returner speedy wide receiver Demoreo Ford will probably get the nod. Ford has had his share of injuries so if ever injured you can look up to EJ Adams or Dicky Lyons Jr.
2. With the strong depth at RB and an experienced offensive line, can the wildcats lead the SEC in rushing?
Jordan: Like I said earlier, the Cats have a very fast and experienced backfields returning in 2008. With Tony Dixon, Derrick Locke, and Alfonso Smith as the three-headed monster at running back, as I mentioned in the above post. But also, the Cats return a lot of talent at the fullback position as well.
Sophomore Moncell Allen, is a truck at 5’7 tall and weighing 225 lbs. He can punish defenses with his size and strength. He can play both the fullback and can be called on at halfback for power purposes and short yardage. Junior John Connor and junior Maurice Grinter will also be returning for the Cats at the fullback spot.
This is one of the fastest and deepest backfields to ever come through Kentucky. This backfield is truly a three-headed monster with Locke, Dixon, and Smith at the halfback spot. Not to mention Allen, Connor, and Grinter at the fullback position. This backfield has the potential to be one of the best in the SEC, and with UK’s improved and very experienced O-Line play in 2008, the Cats will be a force to be reckoned with on the ground.
Kyle: This season you will mainly see the cats run the ball. Kentucky has the depth at O-line and running back to lead the SEC in rushing yards. The O-line is the most experienced and talented as their ever was in the Rich Brooks era and you can count on them to open good holes for the speedy backs. Not only will the running backs be running the ball but the Cats have to very mobile QB's who can run the ball in the Mike Hartline and Curtis Pulley.
3. The Wildcats lost one of the best quarterbacks in the nation and arguably the best in school history. So, who will win the battle to replace Woodson under center for the Cats in 2008?
Jordan: The loss of Andre Woodson will hurt the Cats tremendously. He was arguably one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever come through Kentucky. The Cats have big shoes to fill and little time to fill them. Red shirt junior Curtis Pulley and sophomore Mike Hartline will be battling for the starting job.
Curtis Pulley is one of the best pure athletes in the SEC. He is a dual threat QB that can hurt you with not only his arm but his legs as well. When the protection breaks down or nobody can get open, he will tuck it and gain big yards on the ground. He is not only a QB, but he also plays receiver and slot. Mike Hartline is a pure quarterback and leader. He has a very good arm and good accuracy. He can also tuck the ball and run it if he has to. Both players are good QB’s and will help the Cats.
Both Pulley and Hartline, had very good spring games. Pulley was 12-26 with 134 yards with a TD, but also had 86 yards rushing. Hartline was 11-28 with 124 yards and 50 yards rushing. Both threw one interception each.
I think red shirt junior Curtis Pulley will eventually win the starting job just because of his experience and athleticism. Regardless of who starts, expect the other to be in constant rotation and get plenty of snaps.
Kyle: Their are two candidates to replace the once Heisman contender Andre Woodson at QB. Mike Hartline and fan favorite Curtis Pulley. Curtis Pulley who red shirted last season actually beat out Andre Woodson in the spring of 2006 to be the starting QB. Curtis has the most experience at the QB position having started 1 game and played sparingly at wide receiver. Pulley has a nice arm with decent accuracy but he is most noted for his running ability. When in at QB you usually saw a QB draw or option. In Pulley's career at UK he has completed 38 of 63 passes for 247 yards with 0 touchdowns and 3 interceptions with 61.1 QB rating. Although Pulley hasn't thrown a touchdown pass he has rushed 72 times for 273 yards and 3 touchdowns.
The second candidate is Mike Hartline. Mike who hasn't played much has good height at 6'6 with a powerful arm. Like Pulley, Hartline has speed but it has yet to be proven. AT UK Hartline has completed 4 out of 6 passes for 34 yards with 0 touchdowns and 1 interception.
Come August 31, UK's first game I think you will see both QB's get splitted time but with Pulley starting because of his experience.
4. Who will step up at receiver to replace Burton, Johnson, Tamme, and even Little catching passes?
Jordan: The Cats lost four of their top five leading receivers with Keenan Burton, Steve Johnson, Jacob Tamme, and Rafael Little, all of which are in the NFL. All together, the Cats lost 2,748 yards receiving. The Cats leading receiver coming back is senior Dicky Lyons with 655 yards on 56 catches and 7 TD’s. Expect him to lead the Cats receiving along with fellow senior Demoreo Ford.
Also, the Cats picked up a big recruit in four star receiver prospect out of Lexington, KY in Aaron Boyd. Expect him to get instant playing time and look for him to produce. As well as, junior EJ Adams, who had a very good spring scrimmages, sophomores Kyrus Lanxter and Andre Henderson to produce as well. Incoming freshman EJ Fields will also compete for playing time, he has blazing speed and is a great athlete.
T.C. Drake, will take over for Jacob Tamme, who was argubably the best tight end in Kentucky history. He played some last season, just enough to get experience in for this coming season. He will be a pretty good blocking and receiving tight end for the Cats. Ross Bogue will be the back up tight end.
Overall, the Cats passing game will struggle a bit this season due to the total rebuilding from the ground up in our passing game. But the Cats still have some good talent at QB and receiver to put up some pretty good numbers.
Kyle: This will also be a tough task because all of these guys came up big when the cats needed it. All of these guys were clutch in close game situations and that can be really hard to replace. Starting the season as the #1 wide receiver will be senior Dicky Lyons Jr. who has caught a total of 16 touchdown passes. Others to step in will be sophomore Kyrus Lanxter who hasn't played much but impressed the coaching staff in the Music City Bowl practices. EJ Adams who has moved over from CB will also see time at WR. Adams is most known for speed. Terrance Jones who missed all of last season because of injuries, Aundre Henderson who stands at 6'6, and Anthony Mosley who has good speed and hands. But lets not forget Aron Boyd. Aron Boyd who is the brother of Shane Boyd was the center of the UK recruiting class. He stands at 6'4 and has incredible athletic ability. EJ Fields an incoming freshmen will move up the charts when practice begins.
At Tight End the starter will most likely be TC Drake who saw limited action because of the good play of Jacob Tamme. Backing up Drake will be Ross Bogue.
Be on the lookout for the defensive preview coming up as well.
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