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Kentucky's offense promises to take chances. The Wildcats will throw the ball deep. They'll shake up the defense with fancy wrinkles. And they'll be imaginative and daring. In other words, all the things they weren't the first two seasons under coach Rich Brooks, when the Cats went 6-17. Besides losing all those games, they were downright boring.
But after Kentucky's first spring practice, projected starting quarterback André Woodson was asked about all of the deep passes he threw. "Finally," he said. "Finally, we get to throw the ball downfield."
So the fans weren't the only ones who couldn't stomach the old system. Brooks' new man in the saddle, first-time offensive coordinator Joker Phillips, calls himself a gambler. Don't get him wrong, he still believes in the same tried-and-true methods of moving the ball with a balanced attack, but mostly he's made changes by showing his faith in the players to make plays.
"With coach Joker, we feel like we've got a coach who's on our side, who believes in us," Woodson said.
Whether that belief will translate to better offensive production and eventually more wins remains to be seen. Brooks already is operating on a tight leash. He's into the third year on his original five-year contract and teetered on the brink of being fired last season.
Woodson, a 6-foot-5 sophomore who strikes an impressive figure, is expected to give the Wildcats the passing threat that never emerged from the arm of Shane Boyd last season.
He might not have much help in the backfield. No back has gained more than 366 yards rushing in a season in Brooks' two years. The leading rusher a year ago was Boyd, the quarterback. But until one of the tailbacks takes the job by the throat, Kentucky will continue rotating them in and yanking them out.
The Cats go into the season with at least four potentially dangerous receivers in Keenan Burton, Scott Mitchell, Glenn Holt and Tommy Cook, as well as a receiver-turned-tight end, Jacob Tamme, who figures to be more of a threat.
The switch from a 3-4 alignment to a 4-3 this season is designed to help the Cats stop the run, something they haven't done in Brooks' two seasons. Up front, undersized defensive ends Durrell White and B. Jay Parsons should be more effective pass rushers off the edge, while tackle Trey Mielsch has been Kentucky's most consistent lineman for two seasons.
The linebacking corps has been decimated by injury and defection. Dustin Williams quit the team after a dispute with a coach, Chad Anderson withdrew from school after a prolonged suspension, and Jon Sumrall was forced to quit due to an issue with his spinal cord. Sumrall's departure opened a spot for Joe Schuler, a 240-pound sophomore who started two games in 2004. Wesley Woodyard, a 200-pound former safety, will handle the weak side, while Raymond Fontaine has the inside track at the other starting position.
Safety appears to be a strength, with Muhammad Abdullah and Marcus McClinton. The same can't be said of the cornerbacks.
Taylor Begley enters his fourth straight season as the team's placekicker, having hit 24-of-38 for his career. Tim Masthay, a true freshman, will likely be the Cats' punter.
Brooks has targeted team speed with his two most recent recruiting classes, but the Wildcats are undersized at practically every position near the line, especially on defense. And most of the speed that Brooks has added lines up in the form of a freshman or sophomore.
The Cats are in for a long season, which could put Brooks' job in jeopardy. But if he can show enough promise to get to the '06 season, that's when he figures this team will be both talented and experienced enough to take off. Until then, expect another long autumn in the Bluegrass.