Finally, the day has come. After a long wait, football players report to school today with their first practice/walk-through today. That officially means football is here, the summer dead period is over and the smack talking may begin.
Therefore, I’m going to provide you with the top 10 things I think you should pay attention to before the Louisville game on August 31st.
1. How quickly is Mike Hartline named the starter.
Yes, I’m assuming he will be named the starter and the reasons are obvious. First, Joker Philips said earlier in the summer that Hartline was being a leader this summer and Pulley was not. Then Pulley gets arrested, twice. Yes, Brooks left the door open, but I think it’s to challenge Hartline more. The key will be how quickly Hartline is named the starter. If it isn’t quickly, maybe the QB situation will be worse than everyone thought.
2. Alfonso Smith.
The junior running back has sat on the depth chart and battled with injuries his whole career, but he had a breakout game during the spring game. Tony Dixon is the starter and Derrick Locke showed potential last year, but I believe Smith will be the breakout back this year. He’s waited long enough, feels that everyone forgot about him (they did) and that his time is now. He’s was the speedster before Locke came along and they both run the same 40 time.
3. Randall Cobb
Everyone will be talking about Aaron Boyd sliding into the slot or No.2 receiver position, crowning the freshman the first chance they get. But if you want to know the guy to really watch for, it’s Cobb. Remember two years ago when Dicky Lyons Jr. would line up in the slot, hit the post, beat the safety and score at least twice a game? I expect the same from Cobb this year.
4. Impact Redshirts
Last year, there were quite a few talented freshmen that were redshirted and now are expecting to challenge for jobs. Stuart Hines is one such player and there are others that will establish themselves in fall camp. These guys could be the keys to replace the departed seniors.
5. E.J. Adams
The former corner showed great ability in the spring, doing well in the scrimmages. But Brooks called him sloppy and Adams needs to learn the routes better. But he showed huge playmaking ability and if the Cats line up four-wide with Adams in the middle, get ready to cheer.
6. Micah Johnson’s dominance
Two years ago, Johnson was the second coming of Jesus in linebacker form. Best recruit ever for UK. But he’s played off and on for the past two years behind Braxton Kelley. Well, Kelley has moved over and Johnson is the guy in the middle. Time to prove you deserved the hype, big fella.
7. Defensive line: the X-factor
Everyone knows about Jeremy Jarmon, who is sure to get all kinds of double teams and confusing blocking schemes thrown his way. And if they are healthy, people know that Myron Pyror and Corey Peters can clog up the middle as defensive tackles. But the X-factor to all of this is going to be the guy on the other side rushing the end. With the other three anchoring the line, chances are his guy will be getting one-on-ones. If whoever steps up there can capitalize, UK’s defense WILL be good.
8. Paul Warford
One of the best tacklers in the secondary, but saying that reminds me of something I was told as a kid in little league football: son, of course you can be the best tackler in the league if you always let your opponent catch the ball. That is the essence of Warford. Great tackler, but needs to improve his coverage. If he can help Trevard Lindley in being shutdown corners, that’s going to create a lot more turnovers and coverage sacks.
9. T.C. Drake
The heir to Jacob Tamme’s throne, it will be interesting if Drake will primarily block or be as reliable as Tamme was. Tamme was a key player last year, with key catches. Drake caught one touchdown pass against LSU last year. While a good blocking TE is good, a TE who also opens up the middle of the field is better.
10. Brooks’ confidence level
All off-season, the head coach has touted his defense and his trust in all three quarterbacks fighting for the starting job. But Brooks doesn’t pull punches when he thinks the team is practicing badly. This team doesn’t have as many clear senior leaders as last year. Watch the boss man’s quotes to see how this year will play out.