Things to watch: Spring Practice

Joker Phillips becoming head coach at Kentucky was the beginning of a new era. The Wildcats brought in a solid recruiting class and now will begin spring practice on March 31st. KSR takes a look at some of the big questions that need to be answered during the spring campaign.

Joker Phillips becoming head coach at Kentucky was the beginning of a new era. The Wildcats brought in a solid recruiting class and now will begin spring practice on March 31st. KSR takes a look at some of the big questions that need to be answered during the spring campaign.

With the graduation of some of Kentucky's most celebrated players, the Wildcats will be looking to replace prospects and find players who can make an impact on the field next fall. There will also likely be a few changes in philosophy with Coach Phillips taking over and adding a few new faces to the coaching staff.

7. Who will take over at tight end?

There has been precious little production from the tight end position the past couple of seasons, with the graduation of Jacob Tamme. Kentucky also lost three seniors at the position. However there are some new options available at the position. Ryan Wallace, Anthony Kendrick and Nick Melillo will all have a chance to win the role.

Wallace is the oldest and most physical of the group. He is likely the front-runner as a pure tight end prospect. Wallace should come out of the spring as the starter with a solid performance.

Kendrick is more of a wide receiver prospect with his size, but if he can get up to 230 pounds or more, he'll be a factor in the receiving game. He will also need to learn the offense and develop chemistry with the quarterbacks.

Nick Melillo was one of the stars of last season's spring game. He, like Kendrick, is more of a wide receiver. He is good at finding open spots in the zone running good routes, but he needs to improve his blocking. Melillo will also have a chance to win the starting role, going into the fall.

6. How will the position changes affect the team?

The biggest position change for the Wildcats is Matt Lentz moving from safety to linebacker. Lentz's size and speed are a welcomed addition to the linebackers and he's also got an aggressive nature needed for the position. His time playing at linebacker will also be an asset, as he is a solid player in coverage as well.

Replacing John Conner won't be an easy task, but Moncel Allen will have an opportunity to prove his worth. Allen has played running back most of the time, but he's always been a good blocker. He can also run the ball and catch out of the backfield, much like Conner did.

5. Who will replace Zipp Duncan at left tackle?

Zipp Duncan has been a stalwart on the offensive line for Kentucky over the last three years. Duncan has played both guard spots and left tackle during that time.

There are several prospects who could step into the role, but most are unknown quantities. Billy Joe Murphy is the most experienced back-up tackle on the roster aside from Brad Durham. Durham is likely slated to replace Justin Jeffries at right tackle, where he virtually split snaps last year.

Murphy has also played several snaps during his career and will have a chance to nail down the position. However Dave Ulinski and Trevino Woods are both talented players with good size. Woods is very athletic and with added strength, he could be the starter for a few years at the position. Ulinski has the strength and also is very athletic. However, Ulinski may wind up at guard, should Woods or Murphy beat him out.

Walk-on Ian Anderson won't likely earn playing time this year, but his size and natural strength make him an intriguing prospect for the future.

4. Who will step on the defensive side?

Defensively, Kentucky needs to replace Corey Peters, Micah Johnson, Sam Maxwell, Trevard Lindley and Calvin Harrison. Each of these players has made an impact on the defense over the course of their careers. Who will Kentucky look to as replacements?

On the defensive line, Percy "Mister" Cobble, Mark Crawford, Shane McCord, Myron Walker and possibly Chandler Burden will all have an opportunity to take some of Peters's snaps. Shane McCord and Mark Crawford both played last year, backing up Peters and Ricky Lumpkin, but with the competition open, Cobble and Walker will both have an opportunity to earn the starting role.

Last year's part-time starting defensive end Chandler Burden, also has the size and strength to play the position, should they decide to move him inside.

At middle linebacker, Qua Huzzie and Ronnie Sneed will have to replace Micah Johnson. Huzzie brings speed and aggression to the position, but after sitting out a year, he's a little behind in practice and in strength training. Ronnie Sneed played some snaps last season behind Johnson and will have a chance to impact the position, should he prove that he can be a consistent performer; he'll have a chance to enter the fall as starter.

At outside linebacker, replacing Maxwell, will be Matt Lentz, who will move in from safety. He'll add the ability to cover as well as his mean streak. Ridge Wilson will also have a chance to make his presence known and if he can add strength and learn the defensive signals.

Replacing Trevard Lindley will be tough, but several players played last year in relief of Lindley when he was injured. Martavius Neloms and Randall Burden both have size and speed, similar to that of Lindley. They can both provide good coverage of bigger receivers in the SEC. Whichever one of them that can show the greatest improvement stopping the run will likely win the job, with the other one being a third corner.

At safety, Kentucky loses Calvin Harrison, a three year contributor at the position. Kentucky will likely look at newcomer to safety, Dakotah Tyler, as well as Greg Wilson, Taiedo Smith and Jarvis Walker to take over the position. Wilson and Smith are both experienced players at the position, but Tyler and Walker are more physically gifted.

Smith and Wilson will both likely start off the spring in front of the younger players, but don't be surprised if Tyler and Walker both surpass them.

3. Who will step up at wide receiver?

Wide receiver has been a weakness the last couple of seasons, even with Kentucky's best offensive player at the position. Nobody has stepped up to take the second receiver spot for this team. There are several very talented candidates who will have a chance to stand out this year.

Chris Matthews, who started most games last year, could not distance himself from the pack with his play last year. He's gifted with the physical tools, but coming from junior college, he had a big adjustment to make.

Aaron Boyd is a talented prospect at the position as well and coming off a redshirt year, many believe sitting out last year was his wake up call. With his size (6-foot-4, 210-pounds), and improved speed, Boyd will have a chance to make a move early on and earn a starting spot, should he have a strong spring.

E.J. Fields will have a chance after two years of injury problems to make a move to get playing time as well. Fields has size, speed and strength at receiver. His overall explosiveness could prove very important for this team to reach its potential. The question is can he shake the rust in order to become a contributor?

Gene McCaskill has been a solid player during his time at Kentucky, but has become mostly a possession receiver. His consistency may be enough to earn him a starting spot, should the others not step up their efforts and beat him out.

2. Who will step up at quarterback?

Last season Kentucky started off with incumbent, Mike Hartline as the starting quarterback. He showed flashes of being a solid player at the position; unfortunately a knee injury put him down for most of the rest of the season.

Also showing a lot of promise this year was wide receiver La'Rod King. King has great size and good speed to go with his hands. King showed the willingness to go across the middle and make big plays in the mid-level passing game. King also displayed excellent chemistry with Morgan Newton.

Freshman Morgan Newton came in and gave Kentucky pretty strong play and showed the talent that made him a four star prospect coming out of high school. Still, there were times that he still looked like a freshman. Joker Phillips has declared the position wide open for competition, so both Hartline and Newton will be jousting for position at signal caller.

Also joining the fray will be Ryan Mossakowski and his surgically repaired shoulder. If Mossakowski can recover from his injuries and regain his arm strength, he'll be in the thick of the battle.

This position battle will be the most watched position battle of the spring.

1. What kind of changes will Joker and his new staff bring?

New staff members and Joker Phillips will all want to instill their football values into this year's team. David Turner brings intensity to the defensive line, along with solid techniques. Mike Summers is one of the best teachers in the nation on the offensive line. He'll maintain and elevate the offensive line play on the team. Tee Martin brings youthful enthusiasm to the wide receiver position. With Martin learning under Joker Phillips the receivers are going to have a chance to improve significantly.


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