Wildcats have depth, talent at tailback

One of the positions on the Kentucky football this season which immediately invokes excitement among the fan base is at tailback.

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- One of the positions on the Kentucky football this season which immediately invokes excitement among the fan base is at tailback.

That excitement is based on the 2005 season that was filled with an array of highlights produced by the tailback/kick returner Rafael Little. The all-purpose threat quickly became one of the more dominant feature backs in the country, leading the offense with 1,045 yards on the ground in addition to hauling in 46 balls.

Little was not just dangerous in the offensive backfield, as he found himself fulfilling multiple roles for the Wildcats. He led the SEC in punt return average (16.9) and all-purpose yardage en route to All-SEC honors and second-team sophomore All-America accolades.

"I want to pick up where I left off last season," Little said. "I need to concentrate on doing the things that I did last year and hopefully improve on it a little more. I have an individual goal of reaching 1,000 yards on the season but all of that is secondary to doing what the coaches need me to do to help this team win football games."

Little returns this season after bouncing back from an off-season wrist injury. The Anderson, S.C. native has obviously gained the respect of coaches around the league, as the coaches' preseason poll named Little to the All-SEC team.

A positive to the ground game is the majority of it doesn't have to depend on Little, allowing running backs coach Ron Caragher to choose from an array of depth.

That depth begins with Tony Dixon, a sophomore tailback who sat out the 2005 season because of a broken leg. Dixon, the starting tailback in 2004, looks to return to the form which earned him the starting spot. Dixon rushed 54 times for 244 yards in 2004 and proved he could be a home-run threat, particularly in a 105-yard performance in the 2004 win over Indiana.

"I feel great coming off the injury," Dixon said. "I am just really glad to be back out here. I am ready to get back out on the football field and perform like I did in 2004. Everybody keeps telling me ‘the old Tony is back', so I am just excited to go play."

With the return of Dixon, the offense will have the luxury of a talented tailback rotation when the 2006 Wildcats hit the field against Louisville September 3.

"I think we could see the offense line up in a little more two-back sets and take advantage of some of the playmakers we have at tailback," Little said. "With Tony, Alfonso (Smith), and me I think we have a lot of weapons to use. I am not sure what the coaches have in mind as far as a rotation but I am sure they will put us in a position to make plays."

Defenses will focus on slowing Little down, an idea which goes well with Dixon.

"I think that having Rafael and me in the game could be a good weapon," Dixon concluded. "Everybody is going to be keying on ‘Raf' and the defense has probably forgot about me, so I think that could be a threat."

Caragher is encouraged by his deep and experienced backfield.

"To have both of those guys back is nice," Caragher said. "To have that flexibility gives the offense lots of options. The possibility of those two guys in the game at the same time, doing different things, opens up the field a little more."

The depth is not restricted to just two excellent backs as redshirt freshman tailback Alfonso Smith has emerged as a potential playmaker to go along with Little and Dixon.

Smith, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound back from Louisville, had an impressive spring running the majority of the reps with the first-team offense while Little and Dixon recovered from injury. As a former state sprinting champion, Smith brings pure speed to the position and a growing ability to hit the hole with authority. Smith turned heads during the spring game, rushing for 97 yards and one touchdown. And don't forget yet another tailback, redshirt freshman Antoine Brown, who also has played well in practice.

Regardless of who plays, it's likely that the tailback position will bring excitement for the Wildcats in 2006.

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