NCF Nation: Ryan Mossakowski

Opening spring camp: Kentucky

March, 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.

Reviewing Kentucky's spring game

April, 26, 2010
Kentucky coach Joker Phillips wasn't prepared to say it coming out of the spring, but senior quarterback Mike Hartline knows how he'll proceed this offseason.

[+] EnlargeMike Hartline
AP Photo/James CrispQuarterback Mike Hartline was 11-of-24 for 124 yards in the Blue-White spring game.
Like he's the starter.

"The coaches are going to let it ride through the summer and fall and let us compete," Hartline said following the Wildcats' Blue-White spring game last Saturday. "When they announce it, they announce it. But I'm preparing like I'm going to be the guy when Sept. 4 comes."

Ultimately, he's probably going to be right. Hartline's edge in experience this spring was obvious. He ran the offense more effectively most of the time and gives the Wildcats a better chance right now in the passing game, which is why he's the favorite to be the starter when the season begins.

Phillips did say that sophomore Morgan Newton and redshirt freshman Ryan Mossakowski closed the gap toward the end of spring, which means both will be options if the offense struggles under Hartline.

The star of the spring game for the Wildcats was backup running back Donald Russell, who rushed for 118 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries. Russell ripped off a 70-yard touchdown run and also pulled in a nice 35-yard, over-the-shoulder catch from Hartline on the sideline.

The game was set up as an offense vs. defense scrimmage. Hartline was intercepted by linebacker Danny Trevathan on the opening drive, but bounced back to throw a 21-yard touchdown pass to E.J. Fields. Hartline finished 11-of-24 for 124 yards.

The best news for the defense was that it got consistent pressure on the passer. Trevathan looks like he's going to be a big-play performer for this defense. He had a sack, an interception and a quarterback hurry. The guy to watch up front is redshirt freshman tackle Mister Cobble, who had a big spring.

Kentucky's top two offensive weapons, Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke, didn't get much work. Cobb caught just one pass and didn't have any rushing attempts. Locke ran the ball twice for 11 yards.