In the 2011 college football season, head coach Joker Phillips and the Kentucky Wildcats will be utilizing many new faces on the offensive side of the ball. Several key players from one of the SEC's highest scoring offenses from last season are gone.
All-American wide receiver Randall Cobb was drafted in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers. Cobb elected to leave Lexington as a junior in the midst of an NFL lockout. Other key losses for the Wildcats include All-SEC running back Derrick Locke, All-SEC quarterback Mike Hartline and the Wildcats' second leading receiver, Chris Matthews.
I would venture to say every Kentucky fan cringes at the last paragraph. But there is certainly a bright future ahead for the Wildcats' depleted offense.
Morgan Newton, now a junior, will be taking over as the signal caller for the Wildcats. Newton started the last half of the season during his freshman year in place of injured Hartline. Newton played very well and showed he is the quarterback of the future for the Wildcats, leading them to a 5-3 record to round out the season. During his sophomore season, he played a backup role to Hartline. On the other hand, he started for the Wildcats in the BBVA Compass Bowl against Pittsburgh, playing extremely well despite a loss to the Panthers.
Newton has the tools to become an elite SEC quarterback. He possess an extremely strong arm, big upper body, great legs and is capable of gaining good yardage on the ground.
The question is: Will he have the support around him?
On the ground, the Wildcats have a plethora of young talent. Sophomore Raymond Sanders will be heading up the depth chart. He showed last season, as a true freshman—as well as in spring practice—that he is more than capable of taking the reins of running the ball.
Also of note, Josh Clemons, an extremely talented and high upside freshman, will also make a push for the starting job. Sophomore Jonathan George, junior CoShik Williams and redshirt freshman Brandon Gainer will also get carries during the season.
As you can see, the Wildcats are not without talent and depth on the ground.
The Wildcats returns one of the top offensive lines in the SEC heading into the season. Seniors Chandler Burden and Billy Joe Murphy will be the left and right tackles, respectively. Senior Stuart Hines and junior Larry Warford will be anchoring the middle at the guard positions. Junior Matt Smith will be snapping the ball to Newton.
The Wildcats return a vast amount of experience and talent in the trenches on the offensive side of the football. This offensive line will be one of the tops in the SEC.
Without question, the most impacted position—as a result of the loss of Randall Cobb and Chris Matthews—is the wide receiving corps. Quarterback Morgan Newton will be throwing passes to some pretty big question marks out wide.
Junior La'Rod King and sophomore Brian Adams will be the two best targets for Newton. Matt Roark, Gene McCaskill and E.J. Fields will also be on the field catching passes. As you can see, there will be quite a bit of inexperience out wide. Also, true freshman Daryl Collins is being labeled by many as "the next Randall Cobb."
The talent is there, but the big question is whether they be consistent in pressure situations like Cobb and Matthews.
At the tight end position, the Wildcats return everyone. This position is wide open with four players vying for the starting nod including Tyler Robinson, Nick Melillo, Anthony Kendrick and Jordan Aumiller. There is quite a bit of talent and depth at the tight end position, but which of these four players will get the starting nod post-summer camp?
The Wildcats lost quite a bit of firepower on the offensive side of the ball. The talent is there, but still questions remain.
All of the questions and position battles will become more clear after summer camp progresses and comes to a close.
But one thing is for sure: The Wildcat offense has a very bright future moving forward.