A Look into the Class of 2004: Running Backs

A year ago, no offensive unit was under more scrutiny and watchful eye then the running backs position. Armed with a trio of young stars, Kentucky was poised to find at least one decent replacement for Artose Pinner.

They didn't.

So after experimenting with a variety of different scenarios and formulas, the Kentucky coaching staff and company, decided to stick to the original plan for the future: Recruit better.

So they did just that.

Little's commitment solidifies Kentucky's future Using the solid relationship with Joker Phillips as a platform, Rafael Little committed to the Cats with the understanding he would be the future cornerstone of an offense that so desperately needs a solid big play threat.

The highly rated back from TL Hannah high school in Anderson (SC) is Kentucky's most desired recruit and most important to the future. The 5'11 Little had over 1600 yards rushing to go along with his amazing 39 touchdowns as senior, showing that what Little lacks in size, is made up for with speed (4.4), quickness, and hard-work. Highly skilled as a kick returner and receiver out of the back field, Rafael Little is the future running back star that the Wildcats so desired last season. Don't be surprised if he is on the field next season for the Cats.

With Little in the bag, Coach Brooks did not hesitate to bring in additional competition for his running backs. Tony Dixon and Shomari Moore are current Kentucky commitments who have experience playing the running back spot having dominated at their respective high schools. Moore and Dixon, whom as of today are both projected as defensive backs in college, are going to get their opportunity to give the staff something to think about. Moore has apparently been told by Coach Paul Dunn, his future at Kentucky might be in the back field; even drawing comparisons to little Darren Sproles of Kansas State.

Notably absent from next year's projected back field is Kentucky's first verbal commitment for 2003 in Joe Casey, the promising and talented running back from Paducah. Casey, perhaps Kentucky's most highly rated recruit not named Rafael Little, will head for junior college next year in hopes of gaining his eligibility at a later date. Casey, would have been a welcomed addition to an already stacked roster of youngsters. Time will only tell about Casey's eligibility and whether or not he can wear blue and white.

Starting RB still up in the Air Even with the arrival of Little and Moore, the running back position, is most likely still a three horse race with Draak Davis, Alexis Bwenge, and Arliss Beach all returning. Davis appears to be the front runner in the race he won in Fall practice last year in only two weeks of playing. Regardless of past performance, all three will need to have big summers if they want to fend off their new found competition.

Draak Davis, in his second year out of junior college, would be considered the favorite to take over the position. At 5'6, Davis leaves a lot to be desired, but still has the necessary SEC caliber speed needed at the running back spot for Kentucky. An off-season full of conditioning and agility improvement will only help boost the confidence of Davis and might help him return to the form that made him a junior-college All-American after only one season of play.

He isn't the only one who has not fulfilled expectations, however.

Arliss Beach returns for his junior season. A tremendous athlete and hard worker, Beach is the dark horse in the race. At 6'0 200 pounds, Beach has the work ethic and the desire to improve mightily this off-season. If Arliss can put together another spectacular summer of lifting and conditioning, don't be surprised to see the Ashland native carrying the ball against Louisville, next year.

Bwenge is a perfect running back for short yardage. At 6'1 215, Bwenge runs bigger then he is and stays lower to the ground then the other UK backs. He is hard to tackle one-on-one and if he adds speed this summer, could have another productive season.

Fullback Position Should be Much Improved At Fullback, the Cats will welcome Joey Razzano, the highly rated prospect that red-shirted a year ago. Razzano is perhaps the most exciting prospect to see this spring as he will do battle with junior-to-be Ronald Johnson. Johnson, who saw his carries increase with the arrival of Rich Brooks, will need to add some much needed weight this off-season if he hopes to fend off Razzano. This position, along with the running back spot, will again be the focal point of spring and fall practice.

Next year's recruiting class will need a solid fullback prospect. The Cats had originally promised Cole Mason an opportunity to play fullback, but he has since been in limbo on his commitment. With added emphasis on the run at Kentucky, the Cats will need to solidify this position for the future, if they hope to have a successful running game that sets up the pass.

Analysis: Overall, Cat fans should find satisfaction in the fact that this year's recruiting class, in addition to last year's last minute additions, has addressed the most glaring need of last year's football team. With Little and Razzano as a future back field tandem, one cannot help but be excited at the future possibilities.

A Look Head: With the additions of Little and Moore, the running back spot immediately becomes more competitive. Whether or not that jump-starts a few players and their careers remains to be seen. Draak Davis came to Kentucky and was immediately proclaimed the answer to Kentucky's problems, but as we saw last year, the transition from junior college to the Southeastern Conference was not as easy as some suggested. With a year under his belt, you can only hope it will greatly enhance the chance of Davis returning to his old form. With Shane Boyd offering more mobility at the quarterback spot, Davis should benefit from the more option oriented plays that should give him the opportunity to create more plays in the open field. If that is indeed the case, I think fans will be more pleased with the productivity of the running back position next season and Draak Davis, in particular. However, if the running game remains prodominantly between the tackles, Davis will continue to struggle getting through and making plays and Beach will most likely be the man, next season. Regardless who starts, with a young and inexperienced line expected to return, the Cats will need both men to shine at the running back spot this up-coming season.

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