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UK FOOTBALL PREVIEW: THE RB's

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It’s been a while but it’s probably time to turn our attention back to football. A few weeks ago, we looked at the QB’s on UK’s roster so let’s continue our look at the 2009-2010 football Cats and the Running Backs. In case you missed it, my earlier look at the QB’s is here .

THE RUNNING BACKS
Coming into the 2009-2009 season, this was perceived to be an area of strength for UK but found more pressure being put on the running game due to the inefficency from the QB position. Injuries also played a huge toll as starting TB Derrick Locke went down with a season ending injury in Game 7 vs Arkansas. The Wildcats were an effective but not spectacular tandem the remainder of the season with senior Tony Dixon leading the team in rushing with 430 yards and just a 3.2 yards per carry average. Freshman QB Randall Cobb was a welcomed addition to the staff and added 316 yards followed by Locke’s 303 yards and Moncell Allen’s 202. While each back shown at times throughout the season, the corps lacked consistency and cohesiveness and it showed against SEC foes. This year, basically the same group will be expected to carry the Cats, but with an improved season from Hartline and the WR’s, this can be a more balanced offense and the numbers should improve from the backfield.

DERRICK LOCKE
If he is healthy and able to play this season, expect Locke to be the “featured” back. He has explosive speed and has shown the ability to take a hit and bounce back up. However at 5’9 , 180, Locke, even if healthy is not the type of back to rack up 20-25 carries a game and grind it out, so he will be more as a chance of pace back. In his career at Kentucky, Locke’s high carry game was 20 and he only carried the ball more that 15 times just twice. Locke was on pace to be a nice receiving option out of the backfield, going from 7 receptions in 2007 to 23 last year. In a 2 game strect against Alabama and South Carolina, he caught 16 passes for 138 yards.

ALFONSO SMITH
Regardless of whether or not Locke does play, Alfonso Smith is poised to have a break out season. He is a big play tailback and provides nice versatility as a receiver out of the backfield. He has a little bit bigger size than Lock (6’1, 204) but is just as explosive. He proved that he can get effective yardage in the SEC against Georgia last year (11-60) and caught 5 passes for 108 yards against Arkansas. He has a great first step which can make defenders miss and has great breakaway speed. With a little bit more of a passing game, he averaged 7.1 yards per carry as a sophomore with Andre Woodson and company. His durability will again be a question, but with an more experienced O-Line, can bring the big play back to the Kentucky offence.

MONCELL ALLEN
If Locke and Smith are the lightning in the Wildcat running game, Allen is poised to be the thunder. He uses his size (5’8, 225) and runs close to the ground and is an effective power back between the tackles. he is great in short yardage and could be a potential grinder, but has suprising speed. He rushed for 202 yards last year but is expected to take a much larger role in the offense. he showed what he can do against Arkansas (7-46) and showed his explosiveness against Norfolk State (7-71). He has pretty reliable hands out of the backfield and can make a nice dump off target if the WR’s can stretch the field. The thing I like about Moncell is that he will fight for the tough yards and rarely comes down on firswt contact.

DONALD RUSSELL
Russell will be a true freshman and depending on Locke’s status, may be expected to step right in and produce this year. He is a thick back (5’11, 195) that can hit top speed by his second or third step. As a senior in HS, he rushed for over a 1000 yards and added 500 yards receiving which can make him a true dual threat out of the backfield. He can be the type of back that can churn for yardage and wear a ddefense down but is also prone to be taken down by a single tackle. Even if Locke redshirts, there will not be too much pressure on Russell as a freshman. Russell, is a solid 3 star recruit from Florida, and these are the type of recruits that blossom in the college environment. He was listed in the top 50 RB’s but has the potential to do much more.

JOHN CONNER
Conner will be UK’s FB and has proven to be a pretty good lead blocker. He does not get many touches with the ball and is good as an occasional receiver but did not figure into UK’s offense with 15 rushes for 47 yards and 11 receptions for 89 yards. He did have a couple of games with 3 receptions but may be called on to carry the ball more in short yardage depending on Locke’s status. Ran the ball 10 times for 37 yards in the Blue/White game.

COSHIK WILLIAMS
Williams is pretty much a wild card as he is listed as a 5’9, 173 DB out of Georgia and does not even have a biography on the official UK roster. He did open eyes at the Blue/White game and rushed 7 times for 57 yards and you wonder if Brooks has plans for an expanded role in the offense for him.

JONATHAN GEORGE
George was the mystery recruit when National Signing Day finished and Rich Brooks and the Wildcats think they got a steal. George, from Lincoln, Alabama, had an injury plagued junior year in HS and as a result was barely recruited and on very few teams radar. He quietly put together a 1800 yard rushing season with 27 TD’s and found himself in the SEC. He is looked to add depth and speed (another sub 4.5 guy) and may redshirt this year, depending on Locke’s status and if he is needed to add a few carries.

ANALYSIS
Same as last year, this is basically the same core that started last season. The big key will be Lockes and there are differing reports on whether he will play, redshirt, or be as effective as last year. If I have to single a player as a break out player, I think Moncell Allen is poised for a big season. He has attitude to put a team on his back and carry it, but his durability is called into question.

I think that Locke, Smith, and Allen can be a very good thunder and lightning combination, and if Locke sits, Russell will have to fill that 3rd back void. I look at Smith and Locke as the same type of player, so if Locke is unable to go, Smith will be a good complement to Allen. But UK runs into a very thin backfield situation if Locke can not play.

I do think that UK has a solid backfield, and would love to see Allen play fullback some and give UK a good 2 back system. But is this backfield good enough to carry the Cats? Like last year, it is not and depends on improved QB play to take some of the pressure off and an improved WR corps to stretch the field. As a whole, I look for this unit to gel behind a more cohesive O-line, and give UK that running game that can wear a defense down.

Last years Cats had the dubious stat of not having a 100 yard rusher the entire year. That stat may extend this year because no one Cat looks to be the type of player to get the 20-25 carries necessary for that, but the overall numbers should improve with this unit.

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