Vaught's Views: Depth a problem for Cats

August 13, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

Despite all the talk about Kentucky's potential offensive problems this season, that is not the biggest concern coach Rich Brooks and his staff have.

No, the UK coaches worry more about the team's depth, or lack of depth, than anything else.

Think about it. Before practice even started, the Wildcats had already lost three probable starters for the year. Not a week or two, but all season.

First, it was linebacker Deion Holts being booted off the team last winter for disciplinary reasons. Next, senior receiver Tommy Cook hurt his knee in the spring game. Then cornerback Bo Smith was hit in the head with a baseball bat during a fight in Oldham County last month. Not only is he out this season, but he may never play football again.

Want more? Defensive tackle Ricky Abren is suspended from game competition pending the outcome of his legal problems. While he likely would not have started, he was expected to be a key backup.


Freshman running back Rafael Little was being counted on to provide needed punch to the offense. Now his status is in doubt because of surgery in June to repair torn knee cartilage he suffered in a high school game last season.

But that's not all. Cornerback Warren Wilson was expected to help offset Smith's absence. He missed most of last year with an injury, but was healthy this season - or he was until he dislocated a big toe and turned an ankle the second day of practice.

Even freshman return specialist Dicky Lyons Jr. missed practice Thursday with an ankle injury. Like Wilson's injury, it's not deemed season-threatening and he should be ready to go again soon.

Good to have these problems early or a sign of things to come?

The optimist might say it's good to have all these problems early because it gives Brooks and his staff time to make alternative plans. The pessimist might say that so many personnel problems this early forecast a gloomy outlook for a team short on depth because of probation, coaching changes and some wrong personnel decisions.

Obviously, Kentucky is not the only team to have personnel issues. Georgia not only has suspended several players for early season games, but it has lost its best running back for the year with a knee injury. Louisville had its expected starting tight end leave the team before preseason practice opened.

What makes Kentucky's predicament more precarious is that the Cats have less than 75 scholarship players and lack quality depth at most positions. Or at least that's what the coaches believe.

Perhaps injuries will force Brooks and his staff to use more players. Remember Rick Pitino's philosophy that every coach has depth, some just don't choose to use it.

Maybe there's a walk-on player just waiting for an opportunity to show he can play. Maybe there's a redshirt freshmen capable of playing more, and better, than the coaches think. Maybe there's a senior who has been waiting and waiting for a chance that has never come.

Brooks' challenge now is to find the best way to solve the perceived lack of depth now, as well as later in the season when more injuries likely will occur, especially based on what has already happened to cut severely into UK's talent pool for this season.

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