The book on the 2011 season has closed and now the football Cats will change their focus on spring practice and preparing for the 2012 campaign. There will be several promising young players already on the roster vying for playing time and the incoming recruiting class will include a couple of guys that might be ready to contribute upon arrival.
Here are the top 5 players on the roster who will need to step up this spring.
#11 – Maxwell Smith – QB
When Morgan Newton went down injured this season, Smith was able to come in and lead the offense in a way that proved more effective than Newton had. Now Smith will head into the offseason as the favorite to start in 2012 and will get a jump on Newton while he rehabs his shoulder and misses the spring practice session. Smith will need to prove that he is the future at quarterback for the Cats and he’ll need to do it by the end of the spring. If not, Newton may be able to play himself back into the mix and the door may be opened for Patrick Towles to be given a shot as a true freshman.
#4 – Raymond Sanders – RB
There’s no doubt that Sanders can play, but he’s been hampered by injuries throughout his first two seasons in Lexington. While his ability to block and catch the ball out of the backfield sets him apart, he needs to really show up this spring and take the reigns to claim the starting running back job. Freshman phenom Josh Clemons should be healed up, senior-to-be CoShik Williams was impressive when filling in this past season, and Jonathan George will be in the mix as well. Also, I haven’t given up on Brandon Gainer either (he’ll only be a sophomore). That’s a lot of talent at one position and Sanders will likely have a major battle on his hands this spring.
#76 – Teven Eatmon-Nared – OT
Kentucky will lose both starting tackles from this past season when Chandler Burden and Billy Joe Murphy graduate. Freshman Darrian Miller looked like the future at one side this season, but there is still a question mark on the other. Eatmon-Nared has a HUGE frame at 6’7 and 330+ pounds, but he hasn’t been able to lock down a starting spot yet. With Jordan Swindle, Jon Toth, and T.J. Jones all committed to enrolling this fall, Eatmon-Nared is running out of time to entrench himself in the lineup.
#40 – Avery Williamson – LB
Kentucky’s defense was clearly the team strength in 2011, but the losses of linebackers Danny Trevathan, Winston Guy and Ronnie Sneed will have to be overcome. Williamson played as a true freshman and was one of the team’s top reserves in 2011. He played extensively on special teams and was able to fill in for Sneed at any time. He will need to take charge this offseason as the defense tries to find the right fit for the other two linebacker positions.
#35 – Cartier Rice – CB
If the defense was the team’s strength in 2011, someone forgot to tell the defensive backs. The oft-picked on duo of Randall Burden and Anthony Mosley have exhausted their eligibility and the departures of Jerrell Priester and Dale Trimble has left Kentucky without it’s top four cornerbacks on the post-spring depth chart from last year. Rice will need to take over at one of the two positions and be a leader because it is likely that the other cornerback will be either a freshman or a sophomore.
Hope that gave you a quick football fix this Thursday afternoon, and Happy New Year to everyone out there.