Deja Vu for the Big Blue

By Cody Porter

With the season approaching, UK football fans are hoping that head coach Joker Phillips can put any flaws that hampered the Cats last season behind them. For those of you who may not remember, the Cats’ defense was a second-half group for much of last season, giving up a combined 74 points less than its first-half numbers.

In scouting the 2011 squad, on paper it seems the UK defense should be the team’s safety net with returning veterans in junior linebacker Danny Trevathan and senior safety Winston Guy. They’re aiming to pick up where they left off after leading the team in tackles for the 2010 season.

The questions now lie on an unproven offense that will feature several players who have climbed their way to the top of the depth chart. In digging through the vault of the Kernel, I came across a quote of Joker’s from last season, in which he spoke about having “juice.”

“I came in with juice, coach (Greg) Nord, coach ‘Rock’ (Oliver), we can have as much juice as we want. But if (the players) don’t have juice, it doesn’t matter — it really, really doesn’t matter.”

Is this going to be something that a rather inexperienced set of playmakers will have to face?

The potential is there for these Cats to mimic the ’07 team that made everyone “Believe” in them once Stevie Johnson got loose on the Cardinals, but we could be in for a repeat of a 2006 squad that finished the season 8-5.

The ‘06 group of Cats featured a junior quarterback named Andre Woodson, an unproven set of skill players, and one of the more notorious groups of defensive players that UK has had play in Commonwealth Stadium.

Woodson came into the season with the starting job, but not by much over the younger, faster Curtis Pulley.

Following spring practice, Woodson became a man on a mission, determined to keep his starting position at quarterback, and this is where the similarities are starting to become apparent.

About the time many of you were putting school in the past and the beach into view, Morgan Newton was attempting to put his stamp on this team.

While he may not be entering the season with the problem of having to look over his shoulder at the competition, Newton must face the skeptics who questioned his leadership tactics.

A tweet during the spring from Newton was used as motivation for the rest of the team after he questioned their work ethic and devotion to improve themselves and the team collectively.

Some believed that it wasn’t appropriate for Newton to call out his teammates in such a manner, but it was one of his first acts of displaying leadership abilities that could help further the progress of the team.

Much like Woodson, Newton will be joined by a wide array of young running backs and wide receivers that have yet to receive their opportunity to shine.

The wide receiving corps will led by junior La’Rod King, who will be playing the role of Kennan Burton.

Burton came into his junior season after only catching 24 passes in his sophomore season.

His junior season however proved to be his coming out party as a Cat, pulling in 77 passes for 1,036 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Similarly, King was third on the team in receiving last season with 36 catches for 478 yards and five touchdowns.

In order to aid Morgan Newton and the running game, the Cats will need for King to have a breakout season close to the magnitude of Burton’s as the other receivers, such as senior Matt Roark and sophomore Brian Adams, who have yet to earn an opportunity to show fans what they are capable of.

Of everything mentioned above, the most important aspect of this team will be the running game.

Raymond Sanders more than likely will be the team’s starting running back once they travel to Nashville to take on Western Kentucky, but with so many young, powerful running backs, the job may not yet be taken.

Freshman Josh Clemons and redshirt freshman Brandon Gainer are two of the more highly ranked commitments that UK has had come to the commonwealth, but not to be forgotten are backs CoShik Williams and Jonathan George, who have some experience on their side like Sanders.

UK will feature an offensive line that fans haven’t seen in several years, but for the big uglies up front to show their worth, the UK coaching staff must find the right fit for the running game regardless of their class.