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Checking in on the Kentucky Wildcats

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- I spent part of Wednesday at Kentucky’s Nutter Training Center and had a chance to visit with coach Joker Phillips, both of the Wildcats’ coordinators, Randy Sanders and Rick Minter, as well as a handful of players.

Here’s some of what I came away with:

  • Phillips really likes his past two recruiting classes, and said patience has been the key. “We do our homework, do it the right way and stay the course, and we’ve had some very good players fall to us,” Phillips said.

  • Minter faces a tough task after coming in last season and putting a charge into the Wildcats’ defense. They created nine more turnovers than they had the year before, and ended the season playing their best football. But five of the top seven tacklers are gone, including stalwarts Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy, both of whom finished with 120 or more total tackles.

  • Even though Kentucky’s losing six starters on defense, Minter has been impressed with the way some of the younger players have come on this spring. Sophomore Alvin “Bud” Dupree has a huge upside at the Wildcats’ hybrid linebacker/end position. He started the last three games a year ago. Sophomore Ashley Lowery would be a fit at the hybrid linebacker/safety spot (Guy’s old position), but the Wildcats need him at safety. Minter said sophomore Miles Simpson is currently holding down that spot and doing a good job. The entire staff is excited about Marcus Caffey’s development at cornerback. He came in as a heralded running back, redshirted last season, and told the coaches in December that he would like to play defense. Minter loves having Caffey’s physical approach at the cornerback position.

  • The strength of Kentucky’s defense should be up front, where senior end Collins Ukwu, and junior tackles Donte Rumph and Mister Cobble all return. “Those three are SEC-type football players, particularly the big heavyweights in there. They can play with a lot of guys,” Minter said of the 315-pound Rumph and 331-pound Cobble. “And then we’re cultivating younger players who are beginning to fill out. Farrington Huguenin (a redshirt freshman defensive end) is really going to be a good football player. He just got here, but I’m really high on him. As he grows and develops in the weight room, you’re going to see a legitimate defensive end in the SEC. Christian Coleman is just getting started, and it’s going to take him another year or so. But all defenses are dominated up front, and we have an outside linebacker like Bud Dupree with a big upside. So we can put a front four out there that can compete with a lot of teams.”

  • Sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith has impressed his coaches and his teammates with the way he’s thrown the ball this spring. He still has to hold off senior Morgan Newton once preseason practice resumes, but it’s Smith’s job to lose at this point. Newton is still recovering from a shoulder injury and not participating through the spring.

  • One of the things that plagued Kentucky last season was an inconsistent passing game, and it wasn’t all on the quarterback play. Senior receiver La’Rod King said he’s seen more playmakers emerge this spring, and is determined to be more of a leader. King has caught 12 touchdown passes over the past two seasons, including seven a year ago. “We’ve got to do it in every game, and can’t have those games where we don’t show up,” King said.

  • Until Kentucky had its streak of bowl appearances stopped at five straight years last season, the Wildcats were one of only five teams in the SEC to go to at least five bowl games in a row. The other four teams in that group were Alabama, Florida, Georgia and LSU.

We’ll have more on the Wildcats in the coming days, so stay tuned to the SEC blog. They finish up spring practice this Saturday with their annual spring game.