UK Signees: 2011 Difference-makers

Kentucky signed 24 players yesterday and many of them will likely become starters during their careers at various positions. But which of these players can possibly step in and play a critical role from day one?

Kentucky loses a number of players from the 2010 roster who were major contributors. Under ideal circumstances you expect those players to be replaced by their current backups or another player on the roster. But Kentucky's 2011 recruiting class includes a few players who will have the opportunity to play very early.

At running back Kentucky loses Derrick Locke and Donald Russell, leaving the Wildcats painfully thin. Although Brandon Gainer will remove his redshirt this year and Raymond Sanders will play a big role, incoming freshmen Marcus Caffey and Josh Clemons will both have opportunities to get playing time next season. The Georgia natives are both blessed with excellent speed and each of them played at a high level of competition in high school. Caffey may eventually move to defensive back, but he will get a chance to carry the ball. Clemons is already built like an SEC back and with added strength, he is an every down back.

Staying on the offensive side of the ball, Kentucky's receivers are going to be another young group, with LaRod King and Matt Roark returning from this season's rotation. Gene McCaskill will also be back, but the group needed an injection of star power. Enter Daryl Collins and Rashad Cunningham. Both of these Alabama natives look like players who will have a chance to compete for playing time next season. Collins could play in the slot or on the outside, but in either role, he's a play-maker. He could play a similar role as Randall Cobb, carrying the ball in the Wildcat offense occasionally. Cunningham is a big target with excellent hands. Cunningham is also an excellent blocker on the outside with break-away speed.

At quarterback, Kentucky loses senior Mike Hartline and also lost redshirt freshman Ryan Mossakowski to transfer earlier this week. That leaves Morgan Newton as the lone signal caller on the roster. Kentucky received a commitment from Maxwell Smith, who grayshirted, last spring. Smith is already enrolled in school and will likely be the default backup after spring practice. Smith has great size and a strong arm. Theltus Cobbins could also get an opportunity at quarterback, but he is likely going to redshirt next season and could be moved to another spot on the field due to his overall athleticism.

Kentucky's making some changes in philosophy defensively beginning in the spring, likely showing more 3-4 defense. Across the defensive line, Farrington Huguenin is a prototype hybrid player for the 3-4. Huguenin, along with Tim Patterson (who enrolled last month) will be playing the outside linebacker, defensive end role. Given the opportunity each of these players have the athleticism to get on the field next season.

Kentucky's problems at linebacker were well documented last season and most of the players return, including All-American Danny Trevathan and the rapidly improving Ridge Wilson. There's still a chance to get a freshman on the field in a limited role and Jabari Johnson or Demarius Rancifer are the most likely candidates. Johnson, however, is coming off a grayshirt season and appears to be behind physically. His instincts are excellent and if he can get his weight down to 240, he should get an opportunity to play. Rancifer is an aggressive linebacker prospect who makes plays all over the field. He'll need to get stronger to play next year, but it's not unheard of. Rancifer could make some noise in the rotation.

In the defensive backfield, look for Glen Faulkner and Ashely Lowery to make pushes for playing time next season. Kentucky returns both starting safeties and two backups, however Faulkner and Lowery are excellent talents who will likely compete to be Wildcat starters by their sophomore years. Faulkner is a rangy free-safety who can play the ball, close on the pass and make tackles at the line. Lowery is more of a strong safety who can play in coverage but will also play closer to the line to make plays in the running game.

Kentucky will likely redshirt most of this class, but there's not a player in the group who definitely won't have a chance to start during their careers at Kentucky.

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