SEC: Chris Matthews

Despite Morgan Newton's tremendously rough start to the 2011 season, Kentucky coach Joker Phillips plans to stick with the junior quarterback this week at South Carolina.

Newton's quarterback efficiency sits at a hideous 97.8, he's completing 50 percent of his passes and has 647 yards with six touchdowns and six interceptions.

Still, Newton is still in charge of running the Wildcats' offense.

"Morgan will continue to get the snaps," Phillips said.

[+] EnlargeMorgan Stewart
AP Photo/Bill HaberDespite being benched last week, Morgan Newton will start Saturday against South Carolina.
Newton has looked nothing like the freshman that stepped on the field in 2009 and was an SEC All-Freshman selection by the league's coaches for completing 55.6 percent of his passes for 706 yards and six touchdowns after filling in for Mike Hartline halfway through the season.

Even with a handful of playmakers missing from Kentucky's offense, the feeling was Newton would be able to hold his own for the most part and he wouldn't be the reason for the Wildcats' offensive struggles.

Well, as Kentucky sits with a 2-3 record, its offense ranks last in the SEC in scoring (15 points per game), total offense (255.6) and is 11th in passing (139.4). Even though Newton can't catch his own passes or block for both him and his running backs, more blame has been placed on his shoulders.

Kentucky coaches certainly made a statement when they benched Newton for true freshman Maxwell Smith late against LSU. Smith didn't fare much better, passing for just 9 yards on 1-of-5 passing.

"We think that the experience that Max did get will give us an opportunity to feel a little more comfortable about him, but it was a tough situation for him," Phillips said. "He did some good, but didn't do anything to spark us at that time."

Together, both quarterbacks sputtered through to pass for 66 yards on 7-of-25 passing against the Tigers. Newton returned to the game and threw Kentucky's only touchdown of the game.

Newton has received a lot of criticism this year -- some of it deserved -- but Phillips made it clear that this team needs other parts to step up in order to get this offense back on track. The receivers have been almost nonexistent, Phillips said the running backs are "adequate" but need to improve and the offensive line has dealt with injuries.

The Wildcats are also without last year's playmakers in Hartline (3,178 yards and 23 touchdowns), receivers Randall Cobb and Chris Matthews (145 combined catches for 1,942 yards and 16 touchdowns) and running back Derrick Locke (887 yards and 10 touchdowns).

Kentucky would love to have just some of that kind of production at this point.

It was easier to have receiving threats like Cobb and Matthews out there to sling the ball to. Handing the ball off to Locke and even Cobb made this offense go as well last year.

Losing those elements has really made things an uphill battle for Kentucky's offense.

"It's been a lot tougher than we thought," Phillips said.
HOOVER, Ala. -- Gone are the offensive weapons that provided the excitement in Kentucky’s 2010 offense.

Do-everything athlete Randall Cobb is gone. Quarterback Mike Hartline, who was second in the SEC in passing a year ago -- adios. And running back Derrick Locke and receiver Chris Matthews, who were both instrumental offensive cogs, have hit the road as well.

The cupboard isn’t bare, but it’s full of new, shiny objects that have yet to really get much grease on them.

Except when you look up front.

[+] EnlargeMorgan Newton
AP Photo/Butch DillMorgan Newton is looking forward to working behind a veteran offensive line.
Kentucky returns four veteran starters on the offensive line that has the makings of being one of the best in this league, accumulating more than 60 combined starts in their careers.

Senior guard Stuart Hines leads the group with 24 career starts and has enjoyed the praise he and his other fellow linemen have received this year and expects it to be the guiding force for the Wildcats’ offense this fall.

“There’s a lot of pride behind that. We’ve worked hard as a group to be where we are right now and we just want to continue to improve and continue to get better,” Hines said. “It’s a great starting spot to build your offense around.

“People [say] we lost a lot of guys, well we return a lot of guys on the offensive line.”

Hines might be the heart and keeps the focus in the trenches, but a lot of the hype has surrounded second-year starter Larry Warford.

After playing mostly as a reserve during his freshman year, Warford burst onto the scene last season, starting 13 games and leading Kentucky’s line with 43 knockdown blocks. He enters his junior year with some nice preseason accolades as well.

Hines admits that Warford was a bit lazy when he first arrived, thinking his ability alone could carry him, but now he sees a determined athlete with relentless drive on and off the field.

“He’s worked his butt off to get into shape and shed a few pounds and keep his weight down,” Hines said. “He’s done a great job of doing of that and getting the extra stuff with Coach ‘Rock’ [Oliver]. It’s great to see a guy that dedicated to doing what he has to do to be a good player.”

Kentucky also returns junior Matt Smith at center and senior Chandler Burden, who missed spring but will return in August, at left tackle. Senior Billy Joe Murphy left spring as the starter at right tackle.

By last count, that makes three of the five up front residing in Kentucky’s senior class, a welcomed realization for new quarterback Morgan Newton.

“Everyone knows the offensive line is a big key,” Newton said. “Those guys are as good as anybody. That group, we talk about guys that work and don’t really say a lot, that’s that group.

“That’s one of the best offensive lines in the country. Having a group like that is a great start for a special offense.”

And it will have to be a great start. Along with the baby-faced Newton, the Wildcats also have a new group of young running backs to utilize. Hines said it’s important for the line to make those players feel comfortable about running up the middle. They need to provide quality holes for the backs to limit the dancing around in the backfield.

Like any offensive line, this one is very close-knit. Hines said one major reason is the pride four of them take in being from the state of Kentucky. To Hines, there is something about being Kentucky bred that contributes to their on-field success.

“I guess we eat a lot of Kentucky country food or there’s something in the water,” he said. “I don’t know what it is. A bunch of cornbread or something.”

SEC media days: One good thing

July, 22, 2011
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AUBURN: The defending national champion Tigers won't have to look far for motivation in 2011. They've heard from their own coaches all spring and all offseason that "all the good players are gone."

Not that anybody on the Plains really believes that, but it's made for some fierce competition on the practice field and in the weight room.

It's also driven the returning players to prove that the foundation of the Auburn football program remains rock-solid despite the departure of Cam Newton, Nick Fairley, Antoine Carter, Josh Bynes, Lee Ziemba, Darvin Adams and 30-some other players who were on the roster in Glendale, Ariz., in January.

"We lost some great players, no doubt," Auburn defensive end Nosa Eguae said. "But we have a lot of other talented players who've just been waiting for their shot. Nobody expected us to do what we did last year, so why would this year be any different?"

GEORGIA: It's no secret that Georgia's depth on the offensive line has taken a considerable hit.

It started with Trinton Sturdivant's third torn ACL in the spring and continued with A.J. Harmon and Brent Benedict both leaving the program.

Georgia coach Mark Richt, though, is more interested in who he will have this fall up front, and it's a unit that's anchored by a guy, Ben Jones, whom Richt calls the "best center in America."

Richt knew from the time Jones attended Georgia's football camp that the Bulldogs were getting a great one.

"We're doing a little pass-rush drill," Richt said. "He's just whooping everybody. Finally, I stepped in and said, 'Look, I want every defensive lineman to line up. One by one, I want you to go against Ben, play after play after play.

"After about I don't know how many, 10 or 12, he was finally exhausted and somebody beat him. But he's a fierce competitor. He's mean as a snake on the field, but he knows what he's doing. He's a great leader. He's a great football player. I'm glad we got him."

KENTUCKY: A year ago, it was the Randall Cobb Show at Kentucky with Derrick Locke, Chris Matthews and Mike Hartline all playing supporting roles.

This year, it might not be as flashy offensively for the Wildcats (unless you like the big guys up front), but they enter the 2011 season with one of the best and most experienced offensive lines in the league.

"Everybody knows that's where it starts … in your offensive line," said Kentucky junior quarterback Morgan Newton, who enters his first season as the full-time starter.

Stuart Hines and Larry Warford form perhaps the best guard tandem in the SEC, while center Matt Smith and left tackle Chandler Burden are also returning starters.

"We've all played together for two years now," Hines said. "We trust each other. We rely on each other, and we want it to be on our shoulders this year."

TENNESSEE: Quarterback Tyler Bray did a lot of things right last season as a true freshman.

He threw 16 touchdown passes while starting the final five games and led the Vols to a 4-1 record.

He also threw seven interceptions in his last three games and beat up on four teams (Memphis, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Kentucky) who won a combined 13 games.

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley is as anxious as anybody to see what kind of encore his strong-armed sophomore has and whether he's ready to enter the next stage as a quarterback.

"He's made a tremendous investment in getting better, having a better command of the offense, being able to make better decisions and putting our offense in better positions," Dooley said. "It's only going to come with experience."

Coaching 'em up: Kentucky

July, 8, 2011
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We turn our attention today to Kentucky.

Coach: Tee Martin

Position: Passing game coordinator and receivers

Experience: He's entering his second season on the Kentucky staff. Martin, 32, was in charge of the Wildcats' receivers last season, but was promoted to passing game coordinator in January and signed a contract extension. Martin came to Kentucky from New Mexico, where he was the Lobos' quarterbacks coach in 2009. He coached high school football in 2007 and 2008, serving stints as an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at two different Atlanta-area high schools. Martin got his start in coaching in 2006 as the passing game coordinator at Morehouse College in Atlanta.

Of note: In Martin's first season as Kentucky's receivers coach, Randall Cobb and Chris Matthews combined for 16 touchdown catches. Cobb earned first-team All-America honors, and Matthews tied for the SEC lead with nine touchdown catches. ... Martin was one of the coaches Alabama's Nick Saban considered for the Crimson Tide's receivers job this offseason, which led to Kentucky sweetening Martin's deal to $205,000 by the end of this year and promoting him to passing game coordinator. ... Martin worked as an analyst for a college football television show in Atlanta while coaching high school ball in 2007 and 2008, and he also did some radio work. ... Martin was the starting quarterback on Tennessee's 1998 national championship team. He's still tied for the NCAA record for consecutive completions in one game with 23 in a row against South Carolina on Oct. 31, 1998. ... Martin and Kentucky offensive coordinator Randy Sanders go back to Martin's freshman season at Tennessee in 1996 when Sanders was the Vols' receivers coach. Sanders was promoted to Tennessee's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach and was Martin's position coach during his senior season in 1999.

His challenge: Losing a talent like Cobb was one thing, but the Wildcats also lost Matthews. On top of it all, Kentucky will turn to junior Morgan Newton at quarterback, and this will be the first time he's gone into the season as the full-time starter. It wasn't a great spring for the Kentucky receivers, either. They dropped at least eight passes in the spring game, according to various reports. Junior La'Rod King will be counted on to step his game up, and Martin has made it clear to King that he needs him to be a leader this coming season. Sophomore Brian Adams, who doubled as a baseball player, was Kentucky's most consistent receiver this spring, but Martin and Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips want to see more consistency across the board in the way the Wildcats' receivers catch the ball. Martin will work hard to get some of the younger receivers ready, and the Wildcats are also keeping their fingers crossed that junior Gene McCaskill can come back and be a big factor in the passing game after missing all of last season with a torn ACL. The passing game as a whole was a priority this spring. Phillips was pleased with Newton's progress. Now it's on the receivers to make that same kind of progress come fall.
Former Kentucky offensive lineman Bob Talamini will be inducted into the Kentucky Chapter of the National Football League Players Association Hall of Fame today at the Lexington Opera House.

Talamini will be one of six players inducted into the Hall of Fame, which recognizes pro football standouts who played their college football in the commonwealth of Kentucky, according to a release.

Talamini played for the Wildcats from 1957-59 and helped lead Kentucky to a 5-4-1 record during his junior season. He earned third-team All-SEC honors as a senior in 1959.

He was selected by the Houston Oilers the second round of the 1960 American Football League draft and played nine seasons in the league. He played 126 games at left guard without missing a game and was a part of two AFL championships with the Oilers. He played eight years in Houston before joining the New York Jets in 1968.

Talamini made first-team All-AFL in 1962 and was selected to six straight AFL All-Star games through 1967. He helped anchor an offensive line that helped Hall of Fame quarterback George Blanda set passing records that stood for decades, while creating holes for Hall of Fame running back Billy Cannon and standout backs Charlie Tolar, Sid Blanks and Hoyle Granger.

In his only season with the Jets, Talamini was a part of an offensive line that protected quarterback Joe Namath and running back Matt Snell. He participated in one of the greatest upsets in pro football history when the Jets defeated the NFL’s Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.

Eight Kentucky players will also be honored in the inaugural “All-Commonwealth Team,” which recognizes players from every college football team in the commonwealth of Kentucky.

Do-everything wide receiver Randall Cobb, running back Derrick Locke, quarterback Mike Hartline, offensive guard Larry Warford, linebacker Danny Trevathan, safety Winston Guy and punter Ryan Tydlacka represented the Wildcats. Wide receiver Chris Matthews was an honorable-mention selection.

The selection committee included representatives from the Kentucky NFL Alumni and Kentucky media.

SEC recruiting needs: Eastern Division

January, 28, 2011
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We now turn our attention to the recruiting needs of the Eastern Division teams in the SEC.

Given the fact that four of the six teams in the East finished with losing records this season, it’s safe to say this is a needy division right now.

FLORIDA

Linebacker: The Gators are looking for at least two linebackers in this class. Seniors Brandon Hicks and A.J. Jones both exhausted their eligibility.

[+] EnlargeJanoris Jenkins
Kim Klement/US PresswireFlorida cornerback Janoris Jenkins returns next season, but the Gators need depth at the position.
Quarterback: John Brantley will be a senior, and it’s doubtful Trey Burton fits the pro-style offense new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis will implement. The Gators had to have a marquee quarterback and got the No. 1-rated guy in the country in Jeff Driskel, who’s already enrolled in school and will go through spring practice. It wouldn’t hurt to add a second quarterback.

Defensive back: Yes, there’s some young talent in the program, but safeties Ahmad Black and Will Hill are both gone, and cornerback Janoris Jenkins will be a senior next season. What’s more, cornerback Jeremy Brown, who will be a junior, has been beset with injuries.

Running back: It seems like the Gators have been looking for that prototypical every-down running back forever. They really like early enrollee Mike Blakely, but he recently had shoulder surgery and will miss the spring.

GEORGIA

Running back: Caleb King has been a disappointment, and his future at Georgia would appear to be shaky at best. Washaun Ealey will all of a sudden be a junior. The Bulldogs need to add some pop in their backfield, which is why everybody in red and black is keeping his fingers crossed that Isaiah Crowell of Columbus, Ga., picks Georgia. He’s rated by ESPN as the No. 1 running back prospect in the country.

Nose guard: If you’re going to effectively run a 3-4 defense, you’ve got to have a big, imposing nose guard that clogs the middle and eats up the run. Terrence Cody was that guy at Alabama, and Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is looking for his version of Cody. The Bulldogs are wooing 6-4, 340-pound junior college nose guard John Jenkins.

Quarterback: The dismissal of Zach Mettenberger left the Bulldogs dangerously thin at quarterback, and Logan Gray is now a receiver. So they had to have a quarterback in this class, which makes Christian LeMay of Charlotte, N.C., such an important get.

Cornerback: Grantham felt the Bulldogs were a cornerback short this season. Now, Vance Cuff is gone, and Brandon Boykin will be a senior next season. Georgia needs to add depth to a talented cornerback tandem of rising juniors Sanders Commings and Branden Smith.

KENTUCKY

Receiver: How do you replace everything that Randall Cobb provided for the Wildcats? Not only is he gone after deciding to turn pro, but so is Chris Matthews. They combined to catch 16 touchdown passes this season. Replacing their playmaking ability won’t be easy.

Defensive line: Three of the four starters from the bowl game are gone, including dependable tackle Ricky Lumpkin. The Wildcats hope promising tackle Mister Cobble is over his academic issues, but still need to add interior help. Rising senior tackle Mark Crawford ended this season on suspension. They could also use some pass-rushing help on the outside after finishing with 21 sacks this season, which was tied for next to last in the league.

Linebacker: Fortunately for the Wildcats, Danny Trevathan decided to stay in school. He led the SEC in tackles this season, but will be a senior next season. So will Ronnie Sneed. Ridge Wilson will be a junior, so it’s time to start finding the guys who are going to fill their shoes. There are a couple of young linebackers in the program the Wildcats like, including rising sophomore Qua Huzzie.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Defensive line: The Gamecocks should be very talented in the defensive line next season even though they’re losing end Cliff Matthews and tackle Ladi Ajiboye. But with tackles Travian Robertson and Melvin Ingram both coming up on their senior seasons, South Carolina is going to need help down the road. The good news is that the Gamecocks are in great shape to get defensive end Jadeveon Clowney of Rock Hill, S.C. Clowney is the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect and a big-time pass-rusher.

Linebacker: South Carolina lost two senior starters in Tony Straughter and Josh Dickerson, and Rodney Paulk will be a senior next season. Shaq Wilson only played in one game this season because of a hamstring injury and will be a redshirt junior next season. Obviously, the Gamecocks need to develop depth across the board at linebacker.

Defensive back: Covering the pass was an adventure this season for South Carolina, which finished 10th in the SEC in pass defense and gave up 23 touchdown passes. The Gamecocks are looking for more cover guys at cornerback, especially with the possibility of Stephon Gilmore turning pro following next season.

TENNESSEE

Defensive tackle: The Vols desperately need interior defensive linemen. They had to move ends over there to play this season. Montori Hughes was a big disappointment, although it helps that Marlon Walls will be returning from injury.

Linebacker: Three senior linebackers are gone, including team leader Nick Reveiz. Austin Johnson will be a senior next season, and Greg King has had lingering injuries.

Quarterback: Tyler Bray was one of the better true freshman quarterbacks in the country this season, but the Vols had to have some insurance at the position. They went out and got quarterback Justin Worley of Rock Hill, S.C. He was the Gatorade Player of the Year in South Carolina and is already enrolled in school.

Running back: The running game wasn’t nearly as consistent as it needed to be this season, and the Vols could really use a home-run hitter at tailback. Tauren Poole will be a senior next season, and David Oku left the program.

VANDERBILT

Quarterback: The quarterback position has been a problem area for the Commodores the past couple of years. Larry Smith has struggled mightily, and now he’s going to be a senior. Jared Funk, who played some toward the end of last season, is gone. The Commodores hope Jordan Rodgers can come through if his shoulder problems are cleared up. Either way, they need at least one quarterback in this class in the worst way.

Defensive line: The Commodores are looking for more muscle inside, especially with T.J. Greenstone coming up on his senior season. They also need to stock up on pass-rushers after finishing last in the SEC last season with 20 sacks.

Linebacker: John Stokes’ graduation hurts in a number of different areas, and middle linebacker Chris Marve will be a senior. This has historically been a strong position for the Commodores, and they need to replenish.

Offensive line: It’s been difficult for Vanderbilt to find offensive linemen and even more difficult to keep them healthy. The Commodores have to build some depth up front offensively.

Compass Bowl keys for Kentucky

January, 7, 2011
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Here are three keys for Kentucky in its BBVA Compass Bowl matchup Saturday against Pittsburgh:

1. Shut down the running game: Pittsburgh and Dion Lewis put up impressive numbers in the running game last season, but it’s been a struggle for much of this season. The Panthers were 5-0 when rushing for 150 yards, so the last thing the Wildcats want to do is allow Pitt to establish itself on the ground and dictate the flow of the game by running the football.

2. Get Newton off to a good start: Look for the Wildcats to put replacement quarterback Morgan Newton in an early position to make some easier throws and generate a little confidence. It’s been a while since he’s been in this situation. So having some success early will probably be even more important. And that confidence thing isn’t confined to just him. His teammates also need a reason to believe in him and rally around him.

3. Get the ball to Cobb: The best thing Newton will have going for him is Randall Cobb, who may see more than a few snaps at quarterback in the Wildcat package. Cobb’s been off for more than a month and is rested, so there’s no such thing as wearing him out at this point. He ought to get 15 touches at a minimum and maybe even 20. Don’t be surprised if the Wildcats have several new plays in place to get him the ball. Newton’s probably not going to be as efficient as Hartline throwing the ball, which means Kentucky may have to work harder at making sure Cobb gets his touches.
Kentucky is making its fifth straight bowl appearance and faces Pittsburgh on Saturday at noon ET on ESPN.

Here’s a quick preview of the BBVA Compass Bowl:

WHO TO WATCH: He’s been one of the most versatile players in the SEC for the last two years, but this could be Randall Cobb’s final game in a Kentucky uniform. He’s yet to make a decision about turning pro and wants to focus solely on bringing the Wildcats a fifth straight winning season. Few players in this league have worn more hats and worn them with the success of Cobb. He leads the SEC with 2,192 all-purpose yards and scored touchdowns this season running, passing, receiving and returning a punt. If that’s not enough, he’s also the holder on extra points and field goals. Whatever he decides about his future, Cobb will go down as one of the finest players to ever play at Kentucky.

WHAT TO WATCH: With senior quarterback Mike Hartline suspended for this game, sophomore Morgan Newton gets his shot to lead the team without playing any meaningful snaps this season. When everybody was healthy, the Wildcats had one of the most balanced offenses in the league. But senior running back Derrick Locke went down with an injury, and Hartline was able to take the passing game to another level. The offensive playmakers are in place to put up more big numbers in this game. In addition to Cobb, senior Chris Matthews had a big season with nine touchdown catches. It comes down to how effective Newton is throwing the ball and running the offense after watching from the sideline all season.

WHY TO WATCH: The Hartline suspension certainly raised some eyebrows in and around the Kentucky program, but it was nothing compared to the turmoil Pittsburgh has faced. Dave Wannstedt was forced out as head coach and was replaced by former Miami (Ohio) coach Mike Haywood, who was fired 16 days later after being arrested on domestic violence charges. Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett will coach the Panthers in the bowl game. We’ll find out on Saturday which team is more resilient.

PREDICTION: Pittsburgh 30, Kentucky 24. Had Hartline not been suspended, the Wildcats would be the team to beat in this game. But Newton has thrown just seven passes all year long and will no doubt have to get accustomed to game speed. He’s had more than a month to get ready. Pitt will take advantage of his lack of game action, though, and force him into some game-changing mistakes.

SEC lunch links

November, 3, 2010
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Making the rounds in the SEC on a Wednesday:

Lunchtime links: Dyer is for real

August, 18, 2010
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Some Wednesday linkage for your viewing pleasure:

  • Freshman running back Michael Dyer pumps some life into Auburn's running game in the Tigers' third scrimmage of the preseason.
  • LSU freshman cornerback Tyrann Mathieu has hit the ground running during preseason camp for the Tigers.
  • Georgia quarterback commitment Christian LeMay will skip his senior season after being suspended for a violation of a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' code of conduct rule. He will complete the credits he needs to graduate from high school at a private setting and plans to enroll at Georgia in January.
  • South Carolina's play on special teams figures to be more of an asset this season.
  • Top recruit James Wilder Jr. of Tampa, Fla., plans to commit to Georgia during a Wednesday evening press conference, reports Brett McMurphy of FanHouse. Wilder, a running back/outside linebacker prospect, is rated by ESPN as the No. 2 athlete in the 2011 class. He'd narrowed his choices to Florida, Florida State and Georgia.
  • Kentucky is looking for a huge season from senior receiver Chris Matthews, who takes his second shot at SEC defenses after coming over from junior college last year.
  • Mississippi State freshman receiver Michael Carr is cleared to play by the NCAA's Eligibility Center.
  • Tennessee senior fullback Kevin Cooper is looking for more consistency this season.

Opening camp: Kentucky

August, 6, 2010
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Schedule: Practice starts Friday at 2:55 p.m. ET for the first group and 4:15 p.m. ET for the second group. The first day in full pads is Tuesday (Aug. 10).

What’s new: The Joker Phillips era at Kentucky is being billed as “Operation Win” as he takes over for Rich Brooks. Phillips made several changes, including bringing in Mike Summers to coach the offensive line, Tee Martin to coach receivers, David Turner to coach the defensive line, Greg Nord to coach tight ends and special teams and Rock Oliver to head up the strength and conditioning program. Summers, Turner, Nord and Oliver all had previous stints at Kentucky.

Sidelined: Redshirt freshman Mister Cobble, who would have competed for one of the starting defensive tackle spots, has been ruled academically ineligible and won’t play this season. Defensive line signee Tim McAdoo will attend junior college, while linebacker signee Tim Patterson is on hold after undergoing knee surgery.

Key battle: The Wildcats lost four starters on the offensive line, and one of the battles to watch will be at center. Junior Jake Lanefski has the most experience after moving over from guard. He’s also coming off a knee injury that caused him to miss the contact portions of spring practice. Sophomore Matt Smith and redshirt freshman Sam Simpson will both push Lanefski.

New on the scene: Prep school signee Donte Rumph qualified late after two years of trying and should be able to help on the defensive line. Redshirt freshman Qua Huzzie will battle for a starting linebacker job. Redshirt freshman Jonathan George will help spell Derrick Locke at tailback. Junior college defensive back Mychal Bailey has a chance to make an immediate impact in the secondary. A pair of true freshmen to watch are kicker/punter Joe Mansour and linebacker Avery Williamson.

Breaking out: In his first season out of junior college, Chris Matthews emerged as Kentucky’s second leading receiver a year ago. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Matthews should be even better in Year No. 2. He’s big, but can also run and will take the pressure off Randall Cobb on the other side.

Don’t forget about: Junior Ronnie Sneed has waited his turn behind Micah Johnson at middle linebacker and is healthy now after battling through a bum shoulder last season.

All eyes on: Senior quarterback Mike Hartline. This is his last chance to make the kind of mark he wants to on this program. He heads into the preseason with a slight lead, but Phillips insists the quarterback race will be wide open with sophomore Morgan Newton and redshirt freshman Ryan Mossakowski also getting every opportunity to show what they can do over this next month.

Quoting: “We want to take this program to the next level, and the way you do that is by winning the key games Kentucky hasn’t typically won, going to BCS bowls and playing for SEC championships.” -- Kentucky receiver Randall Cobb

The SEC's 25 best players: No. 14

June, 16, 2010
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If you like players who can do a little bit of everything, you’re going to love No. 14 on our countdown of the SEC’s 25 best.

No. 14: Randall Cobb, WR/QB, Jr., Kentucky

2009 numbers: Second in the SEC behind Mark Ingram with 15 touchdowns. Led Kentucky with 39 catches for 447 yards and four touchdown catches. Second on the team with 573 rushing yards, while leading the way with 10 rushing touchdowns.

Most recent ranking: No. 22 on the 2009 postseason countdown.

Making the case for Cobb: Line him up anywhere, and the 5-foot-11, 191-pound Cobb is going to make plays. He’s still coming into his own as a receiver after playing quarterback in high school, yet is still a big part of Kentucky’s Wildcat package when he lines up at quarterback in the shotgun. Cobb is especially crafty in the red zone. He also returns kickoffs and punts and was the only player in the SEC last season who had more than 300 yards rushing, receiving, returning kickoffs and returning punts. A first-team All-SEC selection by the Associated Press last season, Cobb averaged 139.4 all-purpose yards per game and rolled up a career-high 237 all-purpose yards against Mississippi State. One of his challenges is to become a more complete receiver this coming season. He’s already plenty dynamic after the catch and is one of those guys who just naturally makes defenders miss. One of the things that should help Cobb in 2010 is having a more seasoned Chris Matthews on the other side at receiver. Teams won’t be able to load up as much on Cobb. But he’s so versatile that the Wildcats can move him around to just about anywhere to create mismatches. Even though he’s not a speed burner, there are few players in the league who are any better with the ball in their hands.

The rundown

No. 15: Janoris Jenkins, CB, Jr., Florida

No. 16: Mark Barron, S, Jr., Alabama

No.17: Darvin Adams, WR, Jr., Auburn

No. 18: Alshon Jeffery, WR, So., South Carolina

No. 19: D.J. Williams, TE, Sr., Arkansas

No. 20: Cliff Matthews, DE, Sr., South Carolina

No. 21: Clint Boling, OT, Sr., Georgia

No. 22: Greg Childs, WR, Jr., Arkansas

No. 23: Washaun Ealey, RB, So., Georgia

No. 24: Chris Marve, LB, Jr., Vanderbilt

No. 25: Luke Stocker, TE, Sr., Tennessee

Spring superlatives: Kentucky

May, 18, 2010
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We turn our attention today to the Wildcats’ strengths and weaknesses coming out of spring practice.

Strongest position: Receiver

Key returnees: Junior Randall Cobb (39 catches, 447 yards, four touchdowns, 573 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns), senior Chris Matthews (32 catches, 354 yards, three touchdowns), junior Gene McCaskill (17 catches, 163 yards), sophomore La’Rod King (10 catches, 142 yards, one touchdown)

Key departures: Kyrus Lanxter (eight catches for 60 yards)

The skinny: It was a tough call between running back and receiver for the Wildcats’ strongest unit, but Cobb’s playmaking ability and overall presence was the difference. He’s a touchdown machine and reached the end zone 15 times last season. Although he’ll still be used in a number of different ways, Cobb has turned most of his focus to being a better all-around receiver, which means he should be even better at getting open and making plays in 2010. Matthews had a big spring for the Wildcats, and his position coach, Tee Martin, looks for the 6-5, 222-pound Matthews to put it all together next season. He has the kind of size and speed to be the perfect complement to Cobb and should be more comfortable in the Wildcats’ offense his second time around after coming over from junior college. Matthews is also an excellent blocker. King showed a lot of promise last season as a true freshman, and there’s good depth. McCaskill has 10 career starts, while sophomore E.J. Fields could be one to watch coming back from injury.

Weakest position: Linebacker

Key returnees: Junior Danny Trevathan (82 tackles, five tackles for loss, two forced fumbles), junior Ronnie Sneed (14 tackles, one for loss)

Key departures: Micah Johnson (105 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss), Sam Maxwell (80 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, six interceptions)

The skinny: Trevathan gives the Wildcats a solid base at linebacker and returns as one of the top defenders on the team. His 82 tackles were second a year ago, and he developed into a big-play performer from his weak side linebacker spot. The trick now is filling in the holes around him. Johnson racked up more than 90 tackles each of the last two seasons and was a force against the run, while Maxwell was one of the best coverage linebackers in the SEC. Both of those guys made a ton of plays for the Wildcats last season, and it’s difficult to replace that mix of production and experience. Junior Ronnie Sneed will get first crack at the middle linebacker job, but redshirt freshman Qua Huzzie would have played last season had he not injured his shoulder. Sophomore Ridge Wilson is eager to put last season behind him, particularly the off-the-field incident that tainted his first year at Kentucky. Wilson is battling for the strong side linebacker spot with senior Jacob Dufrene, but may also be used as a defensive end in pass-rushing situations.

Matthews could be Kentucky's other threat

April, 27, 2010
4/27/10
4:47
PM ET
There’s a reason Kentucky spent so much time on the passing game this spring.

“For us to get where we want to go, we have to throw the ball much better next season,” Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said.

Senior quarterback Mike Hartline exited the spring as the likely starter in the fall, and it’s no secret around the SEC what Randall Cobb can do once he gets his hands on the ball.

But Cobb is going to need more help in 2010, which makes this summer a big one for senior receiver Chris Matthews.

The 6-5, 222-pound Matthews looks more like a tight end, but has outstanding speed for a guy his size. After coming over from junior college last year, Matthews had a solid first season for the Big Blue, catching 32 passes for 354 yards and three touchdowns.

This spring he looked primed to make an even bigger impact. First-year Kentucky receivers coach Tee Martin said Matthews has the same ability some of his top receiving threats at Tennessee did in 1998, when Martin was quarterbacking the Vols to a national title.

Having been through a season now in the SEC, Matthews should be better at getting open and demanding the ball.

Hartline has already seen that side of him this year.

“He comes to me and Morgan (Newton) after film study and says, ‘You need to throw me the football more,’” Hartline said. “He’ll say, ‘I know your reads may take you elsewhere, but I want to be like Randall, a guy you’re going to know where I’m going to be on the field at all times.’

“Chris has been making those plays. He’s a big, strong receiver and knows what kind of impact he can have for us on offense next season.”

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