VAUGHT: Thurmond a big loss for Cats' depth

Losing redshirt freshman linebacker Brandon Thurmond to a season-ending knee injury during spring practice could be a bigger blow to Kentucky than it might have first appeared. While there is still hope Thurmond could return for part of the 2007 season, linebacker coach Chuck Smith knows that he now has to find another capable backup for all-Southeastern Conference linebacker Wesley Woodyard.

"I am really disappointed about losing Brandon. I was really excited about what he could do. He was looking good in practice and I thought he was ready to have a big year," Smith said. "Now he is probably gone for the year. He was wanting to learn and do well so bad. He was excited about the opportunity in front of him.

"The injury didn't look that bad when he made the tackle. He said the knee was just bothering him a little bit, then after practice it started to swell and turned out to be a torn ACL. That was a big loss for us."

Not only is Thurmond not there to push the starting linebackers, he's not available in case something would happen to Woodyard or available to give him a rest.

"There is nothing like competition. That brings out the best in everyone," Smith said. "Brandon was doing enough to play a lot next year. He would give us quality depth at Wesley's position, or he could have moved to another spot if needed.

"We didn't have any depth behind Wesley last year. It is a concern now and was a concern all last year when we just held our breath and hoped nothing happened to Wesley. He was going to ease that concern for us, but now we don't have that option."

Smith is hoping sophomore Sam Maxwell, who played mainly on special teams last year, will continue to develop and give the linebackers needed depth.

"Sam can be a playmaker for us. He wants to be good and works hard. He is conscientious about being the best player he can be," Smith said. "He can really help us and earn more playing time.

"He is more physical now. As freshmen, it was just a different game for him. It is hard to explain. Not many freshmen can step in and do it in the SEC. It takes a little while to mature and grow up and get used to the speed and physical play. Linebackers not only have the run to stop but they also coverage responsibility. And each coverage has more than just one responsibility. You don't just do one or two things. You do several little things. It is not easy. It is complicated. But Sam is picking all that up now and could really be a plus for us next season."


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