THREE THINGS WE KNOW
1. Joker Phillips will be great leader of the Kentucky program.
Phillips has been around the block a time or two, and he's worked under some good coaches before. He was right there alongside Rich Brooks through the transformative years of Kentucky football this decade, so he has an intimate knowledge of how it was done. No one has a bad thing to say about him, and he's respected enough that even his in-state rival won't use negative recruiting against him. He understands there's more to a successful program than just winning too. Phillips is one of the sport's good guys, and Kentucky would have been hard pressed to find a better person to lead the program.
2. The running game should be pretty good.
Everyone knows at this point that Kentucky's Derrick Locke is about as good of a running back as we've seen in blue in recent years. He's fast, shifty, and a pretty good option as a pass catcher out of the backfield to boot. He nearly got to 1,000 yards rushing last year despite having fewer than 200 carries, missing a game to injury, and having little support in the passing game. His backup Donald Russell starred in the spring game, and there's also Randall Cobb's direct snap package to keep defenses off guard. If the almost completely retooled offensive line does its job, the Wildcat running game will do some great things in 2010.
3. The Wildcats should be able to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
The SEC player with the most sacks from last year who is returning is Alabama's Marcell Dareus, who had six solo and one assisted. The guy right behind him? Kentucky's DeQuin Evans, who had six solo sacks of his own last season. A JUCO transfer from California, Evans is the only
player defender on Kentucky's entire roster (including the incoming freshman class) to be rated a four star prospect by both Rivals and Scout. He adjusted quite well last season, placing in the top ten in the SEC and top 100 nationally in sacks per game. Kentucky lost some key players from last year's defense, but it kept Evans and that should help the Wildcat D keep pressure on opposing passers.
THREE THINGS WE DON'T KNOW
1. If Joker Phillips will be a great coach for the Kentucky program.
Phillips has all the intangibles and off-the-field qualities you want in a head coach. The question still remains of how many games he'll win in Lexington. It's impossible to know how good a head coach will be until he works in the job, so there is some uncertainty there despite his resume as an assistant coach. The dramatic decline in offense from 2006-07 to 2008-09 came under Phillips' watch as well, and only time will tell which set of years was the uncharacteristic one. Phillips is a good guy, but good guys don't always win.
2. Who the quarterback will be all season.
Right now, it appears as though senior Mike Hartline will take the first snap at quarterback for Kentucky in 2010. Phillips won't name a starter officially throughout the summer, but his experience gives Hartline the edge for now. I add the "for now" part because little in Hartline's career thus far suggests that he's going to be anything more than the fourth best signal caller in the SEC East. Morgan Newton at least picked up some experience last season after Hartline fell to injury, and redshirt freshman Ryan Mossakowski is in the mix as well. Hartline might give the team the best chance to win this year, but as a senior he's a dead end. If Kentucky falls on its face this season, you would have to wonder if Phillips would pull him in favor of giving more snaps to the young guys.
3. Where the defensive leadership will come from.
Kentucky lost five starters from its 2009 defensive unit, but four of them were good enough to gain All-SEC honors. It's tough enough for any team to suffer that kind of attrition, but this is Kentucky and last year's squad didn't exactly do anything exceptionally well on defense anyway. Leadership on that side of the ball was a question mark throughout spring practice, and though the coaches know who they want to step up (LB Danny Trevathan, DE DeQuin Evans, and DT Mark Crawford being the likeliest candidates), it's up to those players to do so.