Pre-Spring Offseason Forecast: Kentucky

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With the offseason officially underway, SDS will examine what’s next for spring football for all 14 teams. Next up, Kentucky.

What’s changing

The football world revolving around Lexington is spinning faster. Kentucky made the necessary decision to fire Joker Phillips and hire Mark Stoops. Many questioned the hire and felt Kentucky should have gone another direction. Guilty as charged. I know he hasn’t proven anything on the field yet, but he and his staff signed the best recruiting class in Kentucky football history just 10 weeks on the job. Pulling players away from Nebraska, USC, Ohio State and Florida is nothing to ignore, and Stoops has assembled a staff for future success. The only problem is that Kentucky plays one of the toughest schedules in college football in 2013, but this spring is paramount for changing the culture and installing new systems. Offensive coordinator Neal Brown will be installing his air raid this spring, while Stoops and new defensive coordinator DJ Eliot will try to transform a weak defense. The march back to relevancy begins now.

Position of concern

Along with Neal Brown’s air attack offense, he needs wide receivers who can play immediately. There are only six on the current roster, with Demarco Robinson being the biggest impact player. Outside of Robinson’s 28 catches in 2012, five other players combined for just 33 catches. Max Smith will be an all-star in Brown’s offense, but the potency lies in difference makers at receiver. And outside of Robinson, there aren’t many at all. Brookie Cobbins, Daryl Collins, Rashad Cunningham, AJ Legree and DeMarcus Sweat will have to be developed and get comfortable with the offense this spring.

Emerging spring player prediction

One player who was the cornerstone to the 2013 recruiting class is also an early enrollee and a defensive linemen. JUCO transfer and defensive end Za’Darius Smith will emerge as the talk of the spring. Smith was a massive signee for Stoops, and everyone will know why this spring.

Three signees to be excited about

1. Ryan Timmons, ATH: Timmons played everywhere in high school, from quarterback to receiver to kick returning specialist. Kentucky hopes he is the next Randall Cobb, and he certainly has the makings of a special player who will make an impact in his first year. Kentucky needs receivers, and Timmons needs the ball.

2. Marcus McWilson, DB: In addition to Smith and Timmons, McWilson is the biggest signee for Stoops and company. McWilson, the Ohio native, decommitted from Nebraska only to sign with Kentucky. That’s a three-state trifecta, and McWilson showed he wanted to play in the SEC. His impact will be felt in his first year in the secondary.

3. Jason Hatcher, DE: Much like Timmons, Hatcher was a must-get in-state signee who was committed to USC before signing with the Wildcats. Hatcher might not make an instant splash, but he’ll be one of the better defensive linemen when he develops. And it starts next fall, because Hatcher will have an opportunity to get on the field immediately.

Biggest position battle

One of the better overall positions for the Wildcats will also be the most intriguing position battle. The cupboard is stacked at running back, headlined by Raymond Sanders and Jonathan George. Dyshawn Mobley, DJ Warren, Josh Clemons and Justin Taylor will all be in the mix this spring. Kentucky is absent several stars at other positions, but running back isn’t lacking. It’s one of the deepest position groups in the SEC for any one team. Add freshmen JoJo Kemp and Khalid Thomas into the mix come fall, and you have eight running backs competing for playing time. That’s a great problem to have.

Previous Offseason Forecasts:

Photo Credit: Jamie Rhodes-US PRESSWIRE

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