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.