Now that this year's spring football practice is officially in the books, it's a good time to look back at how things developed for the Wildcats over 15 workouts, culminating with Saturday's Blue-White Spring Game at Commonwealth Stadium.
Here's a few of the major talking points we'll carry into summer and fall camp, brought to you in What I Know/What I Think I Know fashion:
1. What I Know: Kentucky's quarterback situation is far better than it was last year and probably healthier than it has been since the Cats' last bowl appearance in 2010. UK will easily exceed its meager touchdown pass totals of 13 and 12 it posted the last two seasons, regardless of whether Patrick Towles, Reese Phillips or Drew Barker is under center.
What I Think I Know: Towles looks to be the leader for the starting job heading into the summer. It's a great story if it pans out that way. Many had written the former Bluegrass State "Mr. Football" off a long time ago – and most expected him to transfer after appearing to be buried on a crowded depth chart for two years – but the third-year sophomore from Fort Thomas Highlands appears to have regained his mojo. If he continues to make progress and deliver on the huge potential he carried to Lexington, it will be a great lesson for all of us not to count out kids just because they don't star the instant they step onto campus. In fact, it rarely works that way. The third year in the program is typically when you see football players come into their own. Towles could be right on schedule.
2. What I Know: Kentucky has its best stable of running backs in recent memory. Tailbacks JoJo Kemp, Braylon Heard, Josh Clemons Mikel Horton and fullback D.J. Warren give UK terrific depth and a variety of running styles and skills out of the backfield. It's the most talent the Cats have featured at the position since they had Rafael Little, Alfonso Smith, Tony Dixon and Derrick Locke in 2007. Fans are eager to see the "Air Raid" offense take off in Lexington once again, but it would take a pretty grumpy sort to be unhappy with what he or she saw from the Cats' ground attack in the spring game. The winning Blue squad rushed for a net 203 yards and 7.8 yards per carry, led by Kemp's 93 yards and two scores on 11 attempts. The better this team runs the ball, the more opportunities the quarterbacks will have to air it out with success.
Jojo Kemp was the offensive star of the Blue-White Spring Game. (Scout Photo by Jeff Drummond.)
What I Think I Know: With UK still a little on the thin side at wide receiver, I wouldn't be surprised at all if Kemp wound up being one of the Cats' leading pass-catchers in 2014. Simply put, he's a guy Neal Brown has to find as many ways possible during the course of a game to get the ball in the sophomore athlete's hands. He turned two catches into 41 yards in the Blue-White Spring Game. The explosive Florida native needs to catch four or five balls a game (he had just nine receptions as a freshman) to go along with the dozen or so rushing attempts he figures to see. Heard appears to be in a similar mold, and we've been told great things about Horton's hands.
3. What I Know: SEC games are won and lost on the line of scrimmage. Kentucky is improved on both fronts. How much remains to be seen, but the offensive line has benefited greatly from another year in Erik Korem's strength and conditioning program, and the defensive line has benefited greatly from Mark Stoops' recruiting prowess.
What I Think I Know: The Cats will be really good on the outside with both units. The offense has a pair of experienced, talented tackles in Darrian Miller and Jordan Swindle, the latter who could be the heart and soul of the unit. If center Jon Toth and guards Ramsey Meyers and Zach West continue to progress, it could be a really productive O-Line. The defense appears to have NFL prospects at end in Bud Dupree and Za'Darius Smith. Like their counterparts, the key will be how the interior players come along. There are many options with Regie Meant, Melvin Lewis, C.J. Johnson, Mike Douglas, Jacob Hyde and Christian Coleman, and five-star signee Matt Elam will be arriving in the summer. UK has never featured this much quality depth at defensive tackle.
4. What I Know: Avery Williamson is going to be tough to replace. The All-SEC middle linebacker departed with 100-plus tackles and immeasurable leadership to his credit, and there's no clear-cut replacement coming out of spring. It's the single-biggest question mark facing the team, even moreso than quarterback, which will be in good hands regardless of who emerges.
What I Think I Know: Junior Josh Forrest looks like he's coming along and could be an impact player with more physical development and experience. Early freshman enrollee Dorian Hendrix looks like a gem. He performed well in the spring game and may have put himself in a position to challenge for the job in fall camp. He's got the kind of size and instincts you look for at that spot. Everyone better stay focused on getting better because junior college signee Ryan Flannigan – a 6-foot-3, 230-pound athlete who can really cover a lot of territory from sideline to sideline – will be expecting to beat all of them out when he reports from Blinn College in June.