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Opening spring camp: Kentucky

3/23/2011

Schedule: The Wildcats open spring practice on Wednesday morning and will hold their Blue/White spring game on April 23 at 3 p.m. ET.

What’s new: Rick Minter, the head coach at Cincinnati from 1994-2003, joins the staff as co-defensive coordinator and will oversee the defense. Minter was the linebackers coach at Indiana State last season, but has served stints as defensive coordinator at Notre Dame, South Carolina, Ball State and Marshall. He plans to experiment with a three-man front, although the Wildcats will operate primarily out of a 4-2-5 alignment. Steve Brown remains as co-defensive coordinator and will coach the defensive backs. He takes over for Chris Thurmond, who was not retained. Steve Pardue replaces Larry Brinson as running backs coach. Pardue was previously the longtime head coach at LaGrange (Ga.) High School. Brinson was also not retained.

On the mend: Chandler Burden, who started 12 games at left offensive tackle last season, will be held out of contact this spring while he recovers from a shoulder injury. Receiver Gene McCaskill will be limited after experiencing some swelling in the knee that caused him to miss last season.

On the move: Senior Jake Lanefski will move from backup center to getting more reps at one of the guard positions. Junior Ridge Wilson will play a hybrid role, lining up as a defensive end in pass-rush situations and also playing some at his standard linebacker position.

Key battle: Replacing Randall Cobb and all he did will be difficult enough, but the Wildcats also have to find somebody to fill the shoes of top rusher Derrick Locke. Sophomore Raymond Sanders, redshirt freshman Brandon Gainer, junior CoShik Williams and sophomore Jonathan George are the top candidates.

New faces: The Wildcats grayshirted three players from the 2010 class -- quarterback Maxwell Smith, defensive lineman Jabari Johnson and linebacker Tim Patterson. They enrolled in January and will go through spring practice. Patterson is still rehabilitating a knee injury and might not be full go in contact drills.

Breaking out: Gainer has bulked up to the 215-pound range and is one of those guys the Kentucky coaches are eager to see in pads after redshirting last season. He’ll push hard for the starting tailback job. On defense, maybe this is the year that safety Winston Guy makes that jump and becomes a bona fide All-SEC player.

Don’t forget about: Kentucky returns four starters on the offensive line, and with a new quarterback, new tailback and new go-to receiver, the Wildcats will need to lean on those guys up front more than ever. It’s a veteran group and an underrated group, and it also looks like second-year offensive line coach Mike Summers will have some depth.

All eyes on: Junior Morgan Newton has nine career starts, but this is the first time he goes into a spring as the Wildcats’ clear No. 1 at quarterback. Ryan Mossakowski elected to transfer following last season. Even so, Kentucky coach Joker Phillips isn’t just going to hand the job over to Newton. Phillips wants to see Newton become more of a leader and play with more consistency. Of course, the reality is that there’s not a long list of quarterbacks on campus pushing Newton.