Kentucky spring wrap

2009 overall record: 7-6

2009 conference record: 3-5

Returning starters

Offense: 5; Defense: 7; Kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB Mike Hartline, RB Derrick Locke, WR Randall Cobb, WR Chris Matthews, OG Stuart Hines, DE DeQuin Evans, LB Danny Trevathan, FS Winston Guy

Key losses

FB John Conner, OT Zipp Duncan, DT Corey Peters, LB Micah Johnson, LB Sam Maxwell, CB Trevard Lindley

2009 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Derrick Locke* (907 yards)

Passing: Mike Hartline* (802 yards)

Receiving: Randall Cobb* (447 yards)

Tackles: Micah Johnson (105)

Sacks: DeQuin Evans* (6)

Interceptions: Sam Maxwell (6)

Spring answers

1. No Joking matter: Everybody knew Joker Phillips’ day was coming. He was named the Wildcats’ coach-in-waiting back in 2008. But with Rich Brooks retiring following last season, it’s now Phillips’ time to see what he can do with a program that’s made four consecutive bowl appearances. A sharp recruiter, Phillips understands the importance of continuing to upgrade the talent, which was obvious the last few years as Kentucky won seven or more games four years in a row.

2. Hartline states his case: He’s never been the most popular guy among the fans, but you’ve got to hand it to senior Mike Hartline. He doesn’t discourage easily and bounced back from a knee injury that ended his season a year ago to have a solid spring. His experience and understanding of the offense gave him the edge this spring over Morgan Newton and Ryan Mossakowski, and Hartline has made it clear that he’s preparing as if he’ll also be the guy come fall. A big senior season by Hartline would go a long way toward sending the Wildcats to a fifth straight bowl game.

3. New faces on defense: Much of the progress Kentucky made under Brooks can be traced to the caliber of defensive players he was able to bring into the program and the depth the Wildcats built on defense. Some key guys are gone on that side of the ball, but some newer faces such as linebackers Danny Trevathan and Qua Huzzie and tackle Mister Cobble made big steps this spring. Trevathan will be one of the leaders of this defense. Senior end DeQuin Evans, in his second year in the program, returns as one of the top pass-rushers in the league.

Fall questions

1. Padding the passing game: The No. 1 objective this spring was to improve the passing game. After Hartline went down last season, the Wildcats weren’t able to generate much of anything through the air and had to rely way too much on Randall Cobb in the Wildcat formation. Ideally, Phillips would like to ease some of the load on Cobb, which should make him even more effective as a receiver. The other key is Chris Matthews, who now in his second season after coming over from junior college has the size and speed at receiver to be a major headache for opposing defenses.

2. Getting it done on ‘D’: Even though the Wildcats feel good about the way they’ve recruited on defense the last couple of years, you don’t lose the likes of Corey Peters, Micah Johnson, Sam Maxwell and Trevard Lindley and not have some type of drop-off, especially early. There may be some growing pains for this defense as new guys settle into starting roles. How long those growing pains last could prove crucial because the middle part of the schedule is grueling, starting with the trip to Florida on Sept. 25

3. Molding the offensive line: The only starter returning on the Wildcats’ offensive line is guard Stuart Hines, and he’s a good one. Some of the guys who will step in have at least played some in the past, and a few have started. But this is a group that will need to establish some continuity pretty quickly. Protecting the passer will be key, particularly if the Wildcats are serious about being a better passing team. That means tackles Brad Durham and Billy Joe Murphy better hit the ground running.