FIRST DOWN: Who's Under Center?
When is the biggest question of fall camp not really the biggest question? What is this, you ask, the football version of Frank Gorshin's ADHD-plagued Riddler on the old Batman TV series? Here's the deal: fans and media alike (myself included) will spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on who will emerge as UK's quarterback over the next two or three weeks. It's ingrained in our culture. Quarterback is always the most talked-about position. But it's far from the most important question this team faces. Whoever emerges from the sophomore logjam of Maxwell Smith, Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles is talented enough to lead Neal Brown's "Air Raid" offense and put up big numbers this season. It's an interesting competition but not one that I expect to make a big difference in the win column.
SECOND DOWN: Who Catches The Ball?
It's second down on your list but should be first-and-goal on your mind. Who's going to be on the receiving end of all those passes in the new offense? Kentucky's struggles at the wide receiver position have been well-documented the last two seasons, and Brown didn't inherit much from the previous staff. There were only four scholarship receivers on campus following spring practice – A.J. Legree, Demarco Robinson, Daryl Collins and Rashad Cunningham – and while each of them has nice potential, none have been established as a major playmaker to date. The staff will get creative with athletics tight ends like Ronnie Shields and Steven Borden playing receiver at times. I also expect more passes to guys out of the backfield than ever before. Raymond Sanders could emerge as the team's leading pass-catcher. Draft him now if you're playing the college version of fantasy football. The Cats are also hopeful newcomers like Javess Blue, Alex Montgomery, Ryan Timmons and Jeff Badet can make an instant impact. Those guys should be salivating right now. I can't recall a time when a group of freshmen (and one juco in the case of Blue) had a bigger opportunity to jump right into the mix at UK.
THIRD DOWN: What To Make of The Secondary?
If Stoops came from an offensive background, the receiver situation probably would have been his biggest concern coming out of spring practice. Since he has spent his entire career on the defensive side of the ball, though, it had to take a backseat to the secondary. Hardly a day of spring passed in which Stoops did not express concern with the back side of his defensive unit. He stressed repeatedly that it was one of his biggest recruiting priorities, which did not seem like a vote of confidence for the current personnel. The Cats have a lot of young players in that group, although several (Cody Quinn, Fred Tiller, J.D. Harmon and the Blaylock twins, Daron and Zack) played extensively last season. With the lack of numbers at receiver in the spring, one might have expected them to get the best of the offense, but that did not happen. The situation became an even bigger question mark when the most proven player in the secondary, junior safety Ashely Lowery, was involved in a serious car wreck during the off-season. High-profile signees like Jaleel Hytchye, Nate Willis, Blake McClain and Marcus McWilson may be forced into early action.
FOURTH DOWN: Can O-Line Replace Key Departures?
Kentucky lost a pair of experienced, productive offensive lineman last year in center Matt Smith and guard Larry Warford, the latter who is currently in the mix for a starting position with the Detroit Lions. UK has big shoes to fill at both spots. Size 18s. Will this be the year that Teven Eatmon-Nared, a 6-foot-7, 330-pound athlete, emerges as an impact player? He'll try to move into Warford's old spot. Can Zach West, Zach Myers or Jon Toth handle the center spot? West will likely be on the field somewhere, either at center or guard, but both Myers and Toth had some good moments in the spring. Kevin Mitchell brings senior leadership and experience at the other guard position, but depth at those interior spots is iffy. The Cats are strong at left tackle with Darrian Miller entering his junior year as a potential star, but sophomores Jordan Swindle and Shaq Love remain unproven at right tackle. This is a year when it's imperative for UK to stay healthy up front.