Hartline holds key for Cats

Kentucky's offense should be a lot more entertaining this season ... especially if the Wildcats' quarterback can polish up his Andre Woodson impersonation.

Mike Hartline completed a mere 55.3 percent of his passes for 1,666 yards with 9 touchdowns and 8 interceptions as a sophomore last fall. Those numbers are remarkably similar to the ones posted by Woodson as a UK sophomore in 2005 - a 57.7 completion percentage, 1,644 yards, 6 TDs and 6 interceptions.

Woodson blossomed as a junior (a 65.3 completion percentage, 3,515 yards, 31 TDs, 7 interceptions), however, and Big Blue head man Rich Brooks is hoping Hartline can do the same.

"Mike Hartline should show marked improvement, and I believe he will," Brooks said at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala. "All I have to do is think back about three years ago (to) Andre Woodson's sophomore season. What he accomplished his junior season was significantly improved. I think Mike Hartline will see a lot of that same type of improvement. The people around Mike Hartline will be more experienced and better, as well."

One of the people around Hartline is Randall Cobb. An Alcoa native who grew up just 15 minutes from the Tennessee campus, Cobb emerged as Kentucky's most versatile weapon as a mere freshman last fall. He tied for the team lead in rushing touchdowns (7) and receiving touchdowns (2), also ranking second in rushing yards (316) and receptions (21). He passed for 542 yards and two touchdowns as a part-time quarterback and averaged 8.4 yards on 11 punt returns.

Brooks called Cobb "a great athlete," noting that he energized a lethargic UK offense last fall in Game 2 vs. Norfolk State,

"We put Randall Cobb in at quarterback," Brooks recalled, "and he immediately scored two quick touchdowns just before half ... boom, boom. The place went nuts."

The head man expects even more dynamic play from Cobb in '09.

"He has exciting play-making ability," Brooks said. "He can run it. He can catch it. He can return it. He can throw it."

Although he'll take an occasional shotgun snap in the "Wildcat Package," Cobb will mostly catch it this fall. That's because Hartline has tightened his grip on the quarterback position.

"Mike Hartline did a very good job in the old term everybody hates to hear ... managing our offense," Brooks noted. "He didn't make a lot of negative plays, but he didn't make as many positive plays as he needs to make."

Kentucky tied for fourth nationally last year in sacks allowed (1.0 per game), a feat Brooks credited partially to Hartline knowing when to throw the ball away or scramble for a few yards. The coach expects his quarterback to make even better decisions in 2009.

"I think that he'll feel a lot more comfortable in our offense," Brooks said. "He'll have more experience surrounding him. I mean, we played five freshmen receivers last year.... The experience around him will be greater, his understanding of the offense will be greater, and his accuracy I think will improve along with that experience."

Hartline and his supporting cast need to improve significantly if Kentucky is to contend in the SEC East. The 2008 Cats ranked ninth among the 12 SEC teams in total offense (299.3 yards per game) and dead last in third-down success (31.4 percent).

"I think that this year's Kentucky football team going into this season is a better team than I had going into last season," Brooks said. "The reason I feel that way is I believe our offense will be much more productive, which it needs to be, because we were not very good a year ago."

Inside Tennessee Top Stories