There are 184 days until UK football begins its season against archrival Louisville, but answering the questions that will determine the fate of Joker Phillips' third season as head coach begin this week. Spring practice begins on Wednesday and runs through April 21, concluding with the Blue/White game at Commonwealth Stadium at 6 p.m.
In the next month, Phillips and his staff will have 15 practices and scrimmages to start preparing for the 2012 season.
Perhaps no player is stepping into a new role like redshirt freshman Marcus Caffey. He sat last year out as a running back, but was moved to corner following the graduation of both of the Wildcats' starting corners.
Caffey, along with senior Cartier Rice, were listed as the starting corners on the pre-spring depth chart that was released Tuesday. Caffey was recruited by several schools as a corner in high school, but has not played the position since arriving at school.
"We feel like (Caffey's) best chance to help this team in a hurry, make us a better football team is at the corner position," Phillips said. "Gives us some size. You look out there last year, we were 170 pounds on both corners. Hard to hold up against the guys we have to play. This guy is 200 pounds right now."
Senior safety Martavius Neloms could also spend some time at corner in spring practice.
Cornerback isn't the only position decimated of experience on defense. All four of the Wildcats' starting linebackers are gone, leaving an entirely new crop of players in their place. Sophomore Alvin Dupree was expected to back up Ridge Wilson in his senior year, but ascended to the starting role when Wilson was dismissed earlier this spring.
Still, that doesn't worry Phillips. Dupree started the final two games of the 2011 season and impressed the staff with his production.
"He's got the size, speed, knowledge," Phillips said. " He's a guy we can line up at a lot of different positions. This is a true freshman we're talking about. This guy has a chance to be a really good player for us."
There's also the matter of replacing the departed Danny Trevathan on defense. Trevathan led the Southeastern Conference in tackles in 2010 and 2011.
Filling the hole left by Trevathan won't be easy, Phillips said. But that's what they'll have to do.
"We've got to replace him," Phillips said. "That's no knock on Danny because he's done an outstanding job, but we've got to replace him. Everybody is replaceable. Everybody better understand that. I understand that, and they better understand that. Everybody's replaceable."
Senior quarterback Morgan Newton will not throw during spring camp. He'll be available for some individual drills and be able to hand off, but is still recovering from surgery for a torn labrum in his right (throwing) shoulder.
That leaves only sophomore Maxwell Smith and sophomore Jacob Russell available for throwing drills. Smith will take snaps with the first team while Russell takes snaps with the second team. Video assistant Andre' Woodson might help with throwing in some drills.
Senior defensive end Collins Ukwu will miss all of spring practice as he also recovers from labrum surgery. The returning starter will not be available for any portion of spring practice.
Sophomore left tackle Tyler Davenport will miss contact as he works to return from a knee injury. Redshirt freshman middle linebacker Jabari Johnson will also miss contact drills as he recovers from a shoulder injury.
Sophomore tailback Josh Clemons, who missed the second half of the 2011 season with a torn meniscus, will be evaluated going forward. He was expected to be healthy for spring practice but could be held out of some contact as a precaution.
Senior wide receiver Gene McCaskill will be evaluated each day to monitor his knee. McCaskill missed the 2010 season with a knee injury and was day-to-day in practice in 2011 as a precaution to keep him healthy and allow him to play in games. He could miss some time to remain fresh.
Senior center Matt Smith will not practice on Wednesdays because he will be student teaching. Smith, a two-year starter, is the only player who will miss time in the spring because of class. Senior guard Larry Warford will move to center in his place on Wednesdays, allowing redshirt freshman Zach West and sophomore Teven Eatmon-Nared to take first-team reps at guard.
Junior kicker Joe Mansour will miss practice on Wednesday. He has strep throat.