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Redshirt freshman running back Justin Taylor has been granted his release from Kentucky and will transfer. The 5-10, 215-pound Taylor was a three-star recruit from Atlanta in the 2012 recruiting class. He originally committed to Alabama before a knee injury his senior year led to Alabama asking him to delay his enrollment. When that happened, he signed with Kentucky.
However, he was redshirted last season and came out of spring practice fifth on the depth chart. There had been rumors earlier this spring he left the team, but UK officials denied those reports.
Taylor has not said where he will transfer to, but reports have indicated it could be South Carolina State.
By LARRY VAUGHT
One true freshman who will start is punter Landon Foster, who was expected to step into a role Tim Masthay and Ryan Tydlacka successfully filled in past year.
“He can handle the pressure. He’s a different breed. We’ve had two freshmen (Masthay and Tydlacka) out there at that position since we’ve been here. He’s no different than those guys,” Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said. “He’s a relaxed guy. He’s been an athlete in games. So I feel good about him. He’ll do well for us. Need him to be consistent in punting, punting the right direction.”
True freshmen running backs Dyshawn Mobley and Justin Taylor are not on the two-deep chart, but with sophomore Josh Clemons out with a knee injury for at least this game Phillips admitted both should play.
“I’m very confident and comfortable about the running back position. Again, those two young guys give us the ability to have even more depth than we originally thought we’d have before the season,” Phillips said. “Again, there are four guys that have played significant roles since they’ve been here at the tailback position. Just adding those two guys gives us even more depth.”
Freshmen receivers Demarcus Sweat and A.J. Legree are not on the depth chart, either, despite being the talk of preseason camp. Instead, seniors E.J. Fields, Gene McCaskill and LaRod King are listed No. 1. Even sophomore Demarco Robinson, the receiver Phillips has raved about the most during August, is second on the depth chart behind King. Seldom-used senior Aaron Boyd is also No. 2 behind Fields and above Sweat and Legree.
However, Phillips said the freshmen would play.
“You worry about those guys getting big‑eyed right off the bat. But they’ll play. They’ll play a lot,” Phillips said. “But those three guys have done a really good job and deserve to be the guys that run out there first. I’m really proud of Aaron Boyd. He’s done a really good job. Really proud of E.J. Both those guys we’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting, and now I think the time has come for those guys to play big roles for us. They’ve done a really good job of helping the young guys also.
“Then Gene McCaskill, it’s been two years that he’s been battling injuries. Really happy that he’ll have an opportunity to play this season also. I mean, Gene is a guy we had really high hopes for, especially after year two when we thought he would be our number three receiver with Randall (Cobb) and Chris Matthews. He hurt his knee. Hasn’t gotten back to form until this year.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
LEXINGTON — Senior offensive guard Larry Warford, a preseason all-Southeastern Conference pick, shared these insights after Saturday’s scrimmage.
Question: What was it like to be part of that 98-yard, 14-play scoring drive in Saturday’s scrimmage that coach Joker Phillips liked so much?
Warford: “It was great. I thought we were going to pass more. It was pretty good to get that accomplished. It shows that your team is coming together. It was really good. I thought it would be tough coming out from the 2 (yard line) and just to know we accomplished that with basically all of them being run plays shows the toughness of our line and the confidence the coaches have in us to call those run plays. It shows the trust they have in us.”
Question: How are the new guys coming along in the line?
Warford: “They are great. Zach West is doing well. He struggled a little bit early, but he has come along really well in the last few days. Darrian (Miller) is just as good as anybody. He will be an all-SEC guy. I promise you that. He is a smart player, really fast, really strong. Kevin (Mitchell) is hurt right now, but he is doing really well. Trevino (Woods) is picking everything up really well, too.”
Question: Are you confident the play at quarterback will be better this year?
Warford: “Definitely. They have been working hard all camp, and even in the offseason. The competition between each other really got them both (Maxwell Smith and Morgan Newton) better. We are throwing it better and catching it better. I am very impressed.”
Question: How much has it helped to have so much continuity in the offensive line during preseason camp?
Warford: “It is always good to have chemistry between us and just getting to know each other helps us out. It makes it a lot better.”
Question: What dimension does freshmen running backs Dyshawn Mobley and Justin Taylor add with their size?
Warford: “They are big guys. They are really big backs. They run hard and they are not scared to hit. I like that about them. I am looking forward to seeing what they can do for our team here soon. I am real excited about that.”
Question: Will they run over you if you don’t open a hole for them?
Warford: “I have been hit in the back a couple of times. Yeah, they will. They are not scared to hit the hole. They are really good backs. I am really glad to have them.”
By MIKE MARSEE, Advocate-Messenger
Freshman Dyshawn Mobley knows he’s running with a faster crowd these days, but he also believes he can keep up. Mobley is finding his place within the stable of running backs at Kentucky, where he is both impressed by the talent that surrounds him and convinced that he belongs among it.
Like many freshman runners, he has gone from being the fastest player on the field to being just another guy who can run. And he said he realized that right away once the Wildcats’ seven-on-seven workouts began earlier this summer.
“That woke me up, because everybody out there — I thought I was fast before I came up here, but now everybody’s fast, and everybody’s big. There’s a bunch of fast athletes and big athletes that can play football,” Mobley said.
Mobley said he’s not just competing against the other talented players at his position, but also learning from them.
“It’s definitely a great opportunity to be able to play with these guys, Jonathan George, CoShik Williams, they’re some great backs. I look up to these guys because I’m a freshman and they’re older than me, so I’m going to take some of their style of running and mix it into mine, see if they can teach me a lesson,” he said.
For starters, he has taken note of the veterans’ work habits.
“They just work hard. I’ve never seen a group of people work as hard as our running back group does,” he said.
While he has gotten to know all of his fellow running backs over the last few weeks, he might be closest to Justin Taylor, the only other back in Kentucky’s most recent recruiting class.
“We definitely hang out a lot,” Mobley said. “Our rooms are right next to each other. I always go over to his room, play around and kid up with him, play games, study film.”
He said it became clear to him early on that he and Taylor and all of the other backs are working toward the same goal, even if not all of them can have it.
“We just really want the best player on the field,” Mobley said. “We just want to win football games. It really doesn’t matter who starts; we just want to win football games.”
He said he also likes to work hard and said he thinks that’s he’s up for the competition that is taking place now in the Wildcats’ preseason camp.
“I like to compete, and anything they can do I’m pretty sure I can do,” he said. “I’ve definitely got to learn the system. Once I learn the system, I hope the coaches trust me enough to get a couple reps on offense.”
Mobley has worked to earn that opportunity by adding weight — mostly in his legs, he said — going from about 205 pounds last summer to 219 when he came to Lexington to 226 last week and becoming a poster child for the benefits of a good breakfast.
“I never ate breakfast before, now I eat breakfast, and that really put the weight on,” he said. “I didn’t think I was going to put that much weight on, but eating breakfast is definitely a part of growing.”
Of course, he increased his work in the weight room as well as his caloric intake.
“Just working out, lifting weight that I know I can’t lift, but just having somebody spot me, that gets me stronger,” he said. “It’s definitely good to be a bigger back in the SEC. Everybody that I’ve seen play college ball, they’ve got some big backs that can run the ball.”
Mobley, who calls himself “a power back” who says he prefers to run between the tackles but can also go outside, comes to Kentucky with impressive high school credentials. He set Tennessee single-season rushing records with 3,068 yards and 44 touchdowns in his senior season and leading his Powell High School team to the state finals. He finished his prep career with 5,849 yards and 76 touchdowns, then signed with Kentucky last winter.
“Family is a big part of this Kentucky team, and that’s what I like about it,” he said. “(The coaches) really told me it was just a family thing, and that’s what I’m really big on is family. They told me, ‘You come down here and you’ll love it, and that’s why I’m here now.”
He came to Kentucky from the long shadow of Tennessee — his hometown is just 10 miles or so north of downtown Knoxville and the Volunteers’ Neyland Stadium — and he said many of his friends are Tennessee fans.
“Oh, yeah,” he said before adding that he has managed to win some of them over. “A lot of them are Kentucky fans now, though.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky offensive coordinator Randy Sanders is counting on freshman running backs Dyshawn Mobley and Justin Taylor, who both weigh about 220 pounds, to give UK a new dimension this season.
“They are both, big physical guys. From what I saw today (in Saturday’s scrimmage), usually when they hit in there, the pile falls back,” said Sanders. “You didn’t see them getting knocked back.
“It will be interesting to see how much better they are in the next scrimmage from what they were this scrimmage. The first scrimmage it is always a case with me that running backs you work on their footwork and everything else and they get out here and start running and they usually just take off. They are not executing their reads. They are just running like they always have.
“Once they get disciplined and really executing their footwork, they get better. And these two guys have the talent and strength to really do some different things for our offense.”
By MIKE MARSEE
As Kentucky’s strength and conditioning coach, Ray “Rock” Oliver doesn’t get involved much in recruiting. But he surely had much to do with why Justin Taylor is a Wildcat.
Taylor reopened his recruiting last winter after a knee injury earlier in his senior year led to a change in plans, and he opened the door to Kentucky because of a relationship between his high school coach and Oliver.
When the Wildcats saw that opening, Oliver was one of those who went to Atlanta to try to convince Taylor, a running back who had previously committed to Alabama, to come to Kentucky.
And he brought friends. Head coach Joker Phillips and assistant coach Steve Pardue also made the trip North Atlanta High School to see Taylor, and the three apparently made an impression.
Taylor said he was surprised to see all three of them at his school.
“Yes, I was,” he said. “Then they came to my house. I was real surprised.”
Taylor said he had never met Oliver before that day last winter, but Oliver and Taylor’s coach/guardian, Stanley Pritchett, go way back. Before Pritchett’s nine-year career in the NFL, he played at South Carolina when Oliver was on the staff there.
“When Kentucky came, it was like I fit right in,” Taylor said. “We’re a family here, and I just worked hard and I got here.”
Kentucky certainly isn’t where Taylor thought he would be just a year ago, but he said he’s grateful that the Wildcats offered him a second chance after the injury changed his college plans.
“Everybody don’t get a second chance,” he said.
Taylor committed to Alabama in February 2011 after rushing for about 1,500 yards as a junior at Atlanta Washington, where Pritchett coached before moving to North Atlanta last year. Then he was injured in September of his senior year, and in January the Crimson Tide asked him to grayshirt, meaning he wouldn’t have a scholarship available until January 2013.
Enter Kentucky, which moved quickly to add Taylor to its class. He is one of only two running backs the Wildcats signed last winter at a position where they could use a little help. Four returning players split time at tailback last season thanks in part to injuries, but none ran for 500 yards.
Taylor said those veterans welcomed newbies like him into the fold quickly, and he said the group of backs has jelled well.
“When we first got here we were questioning each other, but we all connected very well,” he said. “(The veterans) told us, ‘It’s not easy, we need help.’ They told us that, so we’re here to help them.”
Like most freshmen, Taylor finds himself in an unfamiliar position of being surrounded by more talent than he has seen in one place.
“I’m not used to playing with so many running backs, but I know I’m in college, and this is the SEC. You can’t do it by yourself,” he said. “The way we put forth effort on the field is crazy. We’ve got a good group of talented kids.”
He said he’s giving his best effort to learn the offense and learn his teammates so he’ll be ready when he gets his chance.
“I just want to work hard when I get the ball in my hand. I want to get those 4 or 5 yards if I can, even more. I just want to help the team win,” he said.
Taylor said he believes that not only did he get a second chance when Kentucky came calling, but his most important asset as a running back — his legs — have a second chance as a result of his knee injury.
“I could’ve really messed up my knee. It could’ve been the end of my career. It actually helped me get my knees better,” he said. “I just did it on a tweak, I just twisted, it’s that easy. I just had to get my legs stronger, so now when I make that cut it won’t be that easy for me to tear my ACL.”
The 5-10, 200-pound Taylor said he knew it wouldn’t be easy for him to get his knee back in shape after the tear, but he knew what he had to do.
“I just talked with plenty of people who had knee surgeries, and they said, ‘Man, it’s a mind thing. If you’ve got it in your mind that you’re going to recover, then you’re going to recover,’” he said. “And I did that, and I’m 17 percent stronger (in the repaired knee) than my ‘good’ knee, and I’m ready for the fall.”
More than ready, actually, especially after he didn’t get to play last year.
“I’m so hungry. I’ve been playing football for a long time, and to sit out a season, it was so tough. I just had to push forward and I had to work, and now I’m here,” he said.
He has even been looking forward to the rigors of preseason camp, which started Friday.
“Since I first got here, everybody’s been talking about it: ‘God, it’s going to be tough,’” he said. “But this is where you show whether you want to play or not. It’s time.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky’s brightest offensive performer early last season was freshman running back Josh Clemons — and then he tore his meniscus in game six at South Carolina and had the knee injury end his season.
He was leading the team with 279 yards rushing and both of his touchdowns were game-winning plays, a 14-yard run against Western Kentucky and 87-yarder against Central Michigan. That 87-yard run was the longest by a UK player since 1979.
Clemons established himself as a legitimate threat when he ran for 69 yards against LSU, which used its defense to reach the national title game.
“(Trainer) Jim (Madeleno) thinks he will be ready for training camp. He will be one of those guys that goes two days, off a day, then goes two more days, then off,” Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said during the Southeastern Conference Media Days. “We are just hoping that everything that goes well for him because he is such a good kid and such a good player for us. He is one of the leaders of this football team and we need him on the field for us.”
If Clemons is not 100 percent early in the season, Phillips says the coaching staff might have to at least consider redshirting him rather than having him available for only part of the year.
“That is in the back of our mind that we will have to consider if he is not ready, but we and Jim think he will have a chance to be ready for us,” Phillips said.
One reason Phillips might even be able to consider a redshirt for Clemons if he’s not ready early is the depth the Cats have at running back.
Junior Raymond Sanders is healthy and has rushed for 409 yards. Senior CoShik Williams led the team with 486 yards and three scores last season after injuries to Clemons and Sanders gave him a chance to play.
“We have four running backs (Clemons, Raymond Sanders, CoShik Williams, Jonathan George) who have already played and are bringing in two quality backs (Dyshawn Mobley, Justin Taylor),” Phillips said. “Now we are going to have two 220-pound running backs (Mobley, Taylor) in the program.
“This is a grown man’s league. If you have 185-, 190-pound backs, it takes five or six of them to get through a season. Now we have bigger backs. That gives us a chance to have guys who can play every down. Dyshawn Mobley dead lifted 630 pounds three times. That is pretty dang good for a freshman coming in who has not been in the program but for a few weeks.
“Again, the quarterback position and the running back position I think will be the two positions that will have the most competition. Mobley and Taylor add quality depth to a position that already has some experience.”
By ASHLEY SCOBY
For the rest of the football offseason, I’m going to be doing some previews here on vaughtsviews.com for the UK football season – incoming players, position battles, etc. Want to learn more about a particular signee or want a preview of the long snappers next year? Shoot me an email with any ideas/suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until then…
The Kentucky football team might just have the SEC to thank for one of its 2012 signees – Justin Taylor, an Alabama decommit, was affected by the new SEC rule only allowing 25 players to be signed per class. With this number hanging over his head, Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban told Taylor, who suffered a knee injury during his senior year, he would have to wait until 2013 for a scholarship. Taylor spurned the Tide and signed with Kentucky instead – an enormous steal for Joker & Co.
It won’t be a surprise if Taylor will work even harder than he normally would have, in order to prove to Nick Saban and anyone else that he was indeed good enough to play for Alabama, knee injury or not. He was committed to the school for nearly a year and was still thrown onto the back burner, so to speak, after getting hurt. Taylor was obviously hurt emotionally as well, telling the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “As far as pulling the scholarship, I think they did me wrong. I was the No. 7 to commit, that’s all I’ve got to say. I was committed to them for a year. They could’ve handled it better.”
Taylor was rated a 3-star by Scout and Rivals – at 5’10 and 205 pounds-plus, he’s a bruising running back who is considered by most services to be a “downhill” kind of guy. He’s the kind of back that will want to ram it up the other team’s throat rather than dance in the backfield and make the defense miss. It’s an exciting possibility for Kentucky football to have a guy like this in the future backfield.
The Cats have had more of a running back-by-committee approach the last couple of seasons with no one standing out as a true, bona fide SEC starter. For example, the most recent depth chart for the upcoming season came out this week, and there are three guys atop the running back position: “CoShik Williams, or Raymond Sanders, or Josh Clemons.”
This is not to say that Taylor will be sure-fire starter from day one – heck, he may never be a starter. Absolutely anything can happen. But Taylor has the potential to be a bruising back in the league, and having him on the Kentucky side of the next UK-Alabama game will bode well for Cat fans.
Some may voice concern over how candidly and openly Taylor spoke about Alabama after the way his recruitment was handled. But I feel that that was one of those one-time situations where he had been truly hurt by a situation and was voicing the unfairness of it all. There is no need at all to worry that Taylor will be outspoken or in trouble on social media.
Unless a bizarrely unfortunate streak of injuries happens to Kentucky’s running back stable this year, Taylor most likely won’t get much playing time during his freshman season. With four guys who have had game experience (the aforementioned three, plus Jonathan George) ahead of him on the depth chart, Taylor will have a ways to go. However, anything is possible: Josh Clemons had several guys ahead of him last year, but made a name for himself as a true freshman. Without being sidelined by an injury midway into the season, Clemons could have shown a lot more talent. The same kind of situation is not completely out of the question for the 2012 signee Taylor, but expect greater things from the running back in a couple years.