Cats running with depth, confidence

Brad Luttrell//Kentucky Kernel
 FB vs Kent StateEd Matthews//Kentucky Kernel
 Tim Riley for an opinions column

Brad Luttrell//Kentucky Kernel FB vs Kent StateEd Matthews//Kentucky Kernel Tim Riley for an opinions column

By Alex Risen

Rarely is losing a former all-conference running back like Rafael Little taken so lightly.

But with four experienced ball carriers coming back, head coach Rich Brooks hasn’t been shy about the potential strength of UK’s ground game.

“I love our four tailbacks,” Brooks said. “I haven’t been on a college team where I’ve had this many choices going into fall camp with four quality players at the position. That is our deepest position.”

Little rushed for 2,996 yards, good for third in school history, during his career at UK. While the Cats may not have a back with Little’s ability, they do have four capable runners in senior Tony Dixon, junior Alfonso Smith and sophomores Derrick Locke and Moncell Allen.

Dixon has the uncanny ability to break tackles and forge ahead for tough yards. As a junior he averaged 5.7 yards per carry and caught five passes in the win over Louisville. As for this year’s opener against the Cardinals, Dixon expects positive things.

“It’s all mental,” Dixon said. “Before we step out on the field at Papa John’s (Cardinal) Stadium, it’s all mental. If you cannot do it mentally, you cannot do it physically.”

Dixon pointed to last year’s wins over Louisville and national champion Louisiana State as proof that the Cats have arrived and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Dixon also mentioned the importance of leadership on a team that lost many of its key players.

“Nobody is going to stand in our way,” Dixon said. “We just have to work hard in fall camp and we have to come out and be ready.”

Locke, a freshman sensation last season, is expected to shoulder an increased workload this year in order to help the Cats get to their third consecutive bowl game. Last season, the speedster put up big numbers on limited carries, carrying the ball 94 times for 521 yards and five touchdowns.

Locke, a two-sport star, hopes to bring his track speed to the football field. Locke was named SEC Indoor Freshman Field Athlete of the Year and was named to the 2008 NCAA Indoor Track and Field All-American team as well as the 2008 SEC All-Freshman Team.

But the most intriguing player to watch could be Allen, a 225-pound bowling ball of a running back.

Brooks said Allen has great size and is hard to tackle once he gets into the secondary. Plus, the sophomore provides a change from the speed of Locke and Smith.

The rushing game isn’t the only place Little will be missed. He finished his UK career with 1,324 receiving yards, becoming a huge part of the UK passing game. With Little gone, it’s Locke who may become the target out of the backfield.

“Derrick Locke has shown pretty good hands in pretty good situations,” Brooks said. “Moncell has been able to catch it pretty well as well. So we’ll have to see who the best receiver is of that group.”

With a full stable of backs, depth shouldn’t be a concern at the position, and Brooks has said that all four backs will see time on the field.

“We all have to be ready,” Dixon said. “You never know when somebody could go down. When we get in, we just have to remember we are part of the team and we aren’t trying to compete against each other.”


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