December 14, 2011

Smith has room to grow in second year

This is the first in a series previewing the Kentucky football team's 2012 roster by examining players who made their mark this season. We'll start with quarterback, where a true freshman stepped in down the stretch to breathe life into the Kentucky offense.

Name: Maxwell Smith
Rivals 2011 recruiting rating: 3-star (5.5)
Height: 6-4 Weight: 220
2012 class: True sophomore

What he did in 2010:
Smith struggled mightily in the early goings of the season. Against LSU and South Carolina, Smith relieved junior quarterback Morgan Newton with disastrous results. In those two games combined, he completed 1-8 passes for nine yards while throwing two interceptions and giving up a fumble that was returned for a touchdown.

But he took the reins of the offense when Newton injured his shoulder and ankle against Mississippi State on Oct. 29, going 26-33 for 174 yards. He earned the start again the next week and led Kentucky to its first Southeastern Conference win of the season against Ole Miss, going 19-36 for 283 yards and two touchdowns. He wouldn't equal that success again, though, and was injured two weeks later in the fourth quarter of Kentucky's 19-10 loss at Georgia.

He missed the final game of the season with a sprained throwing shoulder. But his performance four games down the stretch of the season sparked the offense. Smith improved noticeably from his earlier game action and showed strong potential as a drop back passer and as a leader in the huddle. He earned SEC All-Freshman accolades from several outlets, including from the league coaches.

Final statistics: 84-153 (54.9 percent completion percentage), 819 yards, four touchdowns, four interceptions, 16 sacks.

What he'll do in 2011:
Newton will still be recovering from shoulder surgery in spring camp, giving Smith the opportunity to take all of the snaps with the first team offense. It's difficult to imagine he'll be handed the started job in the fall, but his game experience and the time in spring should give him an inside track to open the season as the starter.

Newton, along with incoming freshman Patrick Towles, should also be in the mix. But Smith showed strong rapport with his receivers and the offense seemed more comfortable with a traditional quarterback when he played. If Smith can build on his performance late last season, he should be a solid starter in his second year. Smith has almost no mobility, but has good touch on his passes and a frame that gives him great arm strength. He has a quick release also, though he can hold on to the ball for too long at times.

He'll have far more competition in the fall than when he took over for Newton, though he'll have a head start on all of the other quarterbacks. Smith, in all likelihood, controls his own destiny for 2012 - and perhaps the destiny of the team with it.

Also look out for:
True freshman Bookie Cobbins redshirted and spent the year on the scout team, though he did travel with the team as an emergency third option at quarterback. Cobbins is a dual-threat signal caller who should compete for the backup spot in 2011, though his athletic ability could force the coaches to find him a spot on the field. Cobbins has said he'd like to remain a quarterback, but he might also have a future at wide receiver if he's open to a position change

Jacob Russell will have nearly 18 months at Kentucky when the season rolls around and he becomes eligible. He transferred to UK in Spring of 2011 but sat the year out due to NCAA transfer rules. He'll be a redshirt sophomore at the start of the 2012 season. At Eastern Kentucky in 2010, he played in seven games as a true freshman, completing 12 of 26 passes for 125 yards while using his 6-foot-4, 223-pound frame to bulldoze his way to 84 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Newton, a senior-to-be who could conceivably win the starting job back, will miss all of spring practice while he recovers from a torn labrum. That will leave Cobbins, Russell, or both will to take all of the second-team repetitions.

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