The long lasting effect of the NCAA sanctions situation has played out like this. Guy Morris stepped into Kentucky with the remains of talent that was left behind from the Mumme years. When Morris started, the sanctions were just coming down, and this basically paralyzed recruiting efforts. Let's be realistic, it would be very hard pressed to sign on to a program that was not going to be able to go to a bowl game for a few years. A program that was going to have scholarship limitations, which meant that if you were to have a year where injuries plagued the team; you would not have the depth of players to overcome this.
From 2002-04, Kentucky was penalized 19 initial scholarships. This year, Kentucky has only 69 recruited scholarship players on the roster. With 16 unused scholarships under the maximum of 85, 11 scholarships were awarded to walk-ons for the 2005 season.
Along with the general issues in recruiting, Kentucky has also had to face the attrition of some players who were here who decided it was better for themselves to leave the program. After all, three coaches in four years would be enough to cause problems by itself. Coaching changes alter the face of a team, and not knowing how you may fit into a new scheme is enough to cause some players to jump ship.
Morris rode the wave, then he bailed out before it closed down on him. Enter Rich Brooks. Brooks came to Kentucky under the belief that he was going to be given the proper time to rebuild the team. He knew coming in that the toughest year when sanctions were going to hit the hardest was last season; what he didn't know was that injuries were going to devastate the team this year, worse than ever imagined.
Prior to the slew of injuries, we were already playing a young roster. In the season opener we saw six true freshman get their first action. WR DeMoreo Ford, CB David Jones, LB BRaxton Kelley, DT Myron Pryor, LB Johnny Williams, and punter Tim Masthay. Two redshirt freshman also got their first action: CB Shomari Moore and DE Nii Adjel Oninku. To give you an idea how rare it is for a true freshman to start a season opener, Braxton Kelley was the first UK true freshman to start a season opener since the records were available in 1993.
Realistically, barring the injuries, we would have seen more improvement this year. The Louisville game was proof of that. When we were healthy, despite being young, we were seeing improvement on the field. A basketball team can come back to life in a year with one or two players added to the roster; a football team which has so many more positions, and is so much more complex, does not have the ability to rebound as quickly. It is very frustrating, but these lean years are the growing pains that occur when you are turning things around.
FACT: Kentucky is playing more true freshman than all other schools in the nation, with the exception of one. This is not because we want to, this is out of complete necessity, because we lack the depth of successful programs who have had years of good recruiting. We have had 14 true freshman see action this year!
In order to grasp how devastating the injuries have been to the Kentucky roster, let's look at some of the most severe of the injuries. Injuries that required surgical procedures and that have changed the face of this year's team.
Players that were lost for the season who are not mentioned in the upcoming summary numbers include starting linebacker Jon Sumrall, reserve linebacker Dennis Johnson, special teams member Andrew Hopewell, cornerback Warren Wilson, and starting offensive tackle Aaron Miller who all missed the season due to personal issues or injuries.
* *Just two games into the season, our injured list has an incredible number of players who are out for the year:
Soph. TB Tony Dixon is out for the season with a broken bone in his ankle.
Jr DT Lamar Mills is out for the season with a torn knee ligament.
Soph. FS Marcus McCLinton is out for the season with a torn patella tendon, and dislocated knee cap.
Soph DT Ricky Abren is out indefinitely with a dislocated wrist.
Soph. OG Micah Jones is out indefinitely with a torn cartilage in his knee.
Sr. WR Tommy Cook is out indefinitely with a dislocated kneecap.
Soph WR Keenan Burton is out indefinitely with a broken foot.
Glenn Holt suffers an ankle sprain after coming off a neck injury in the season opener.
As if this is not bad enough, the list grows before the Florida game:
Soph. SS Dallas Greer broke a bone in his ankle and is out for the year.
Two other key reserves are playing with injuries at this point:
Sr. DE B. Jay Parsons has a broken hand and a sprained ankle,
Soph. DE Travis Day has a broken hand.
Going into the South Carolina game the Wildcats had undergone 14 surgeries since the start of fall practice. At this point, twelve starters and key reserves have already missed a whopping total of 27 games.
JR Special teams contributor Terrel Bankhead practices in a cast coming off of surgery on his wrist
By the Ole miss game the Wildcats have undergone 15 surgeries since the start of fall practice, with 13 starters missing 36 games.
Soph. Special Teams contributor Dicky Lyons undergoes the 18^th surgery for the Cats with hernia surgery and is sidelined indefinitely.
Sr.OT Ernie Pelayo has reaggravated his surgically repaired shoulder.
Going into the Mississippi State game we can add Freshman WR DeMoreo Ford to the list of injured players out indefinitely with a sprained knee. A total of 43 games have been missed by 13 starters and key reserves.
Going into this weekend's game against Auburn we can add two more big names to our severely injured list with:
Fr. Middle Linebacker Braxton Kelley suffering a torn ACL and out for the year.
Jr. OT Fatu Turituri (who had been suffering from a hamstring pull earlier in the season) out indefinitely with a knee injury.
This list of injuries does not include many of the other injuries which do deserve mention, but they are so numerous I would be hard pressed to get every single one of them down accurately.
Is there any bright light? The defense has set a recent record allowing the least amount of points scored against them in an SEC game since they allowed five points versus LSU in 1999. With the defense holding their last two opponents to only 20 points, this also marks the fewest points scored against them consecutively since a stretch in 1999. It may not seem like a big mark, but the defense has not given up playing through adversity.
It is often said you can measure the quality of people based on how they react when faced with adversity. Based on how the Wildcats have reacted to this year's tumultuous times, I think they should be congratulated on being a class act. There have not been off field antics occurring which have been distracting to the program, and these players have continued to give all they can in each and every game. This is a tight group of men who deserve to be given a little break. You can't make a quiche without eggs.
This lack of depth is not an issue that coaching can overcome. Kentucky needs depth, and the program needs to be given time to develop. I know the state of Kentucky remembers coach Howard Schnellenberger. Do you remember that he went 2-9, 3-8, 3-7-1, 8-3, 6-5… then 10-1-1, and to the Fiesta Bowl? It took him six years to turn Louisville's program around. With some healthy players and a little maturity it shouldn't take Kentucky that long, but success takes dedication. If win and loss records were built on fan bases, Kentucky would already be on top. Cheer on your Wildcat Football team as they give it their all on the football field this weekend. Beat Auburn!
Kerri Brooks is a CBS camera operator with substantial college football and NFL experience. Her job takes her to venues throughout the country, and she is fortunate to have met and formed relationships with many football coaches, analysts, and other experts in the field. And yes, she is the proud daughter of UK head football coach Rich Brooks. Visit with "BrooksDaughter" on the KSR Premium messageboard, where she appears to talk football, answer questions, and just be another UK football fan.