Where there are question marks at the quarterback position, there are certainties in the backfield.
However, things were not always this uncertain. Following a stellar junior campaign that saw him rank sixth in the SEC in rushing yards, Derrick Locke surprised everyone by submitting his paperwork to the NFL Draft Advisory Board. Despite his strong season and his tremendous speed, Locke received late-round grades, mostly due to his lack of size, and ultimately returned to Lexington for his senior season and etched his name as the No. 1 feature back.
The Lock – Derrick Locke (SR, 5-9, 190)
Derrick Locke came to the University of Kentucky as a much-heralded track star, but it didn’t take long for him to show that he would be a force in the backfield as he rushed for 521 yards and led the team with five rushing touchdowns as a freshman.
After incurring a season-ending knee injury just seven games into his sophomore season, he responded with a junior season that ended with Second team All-SEC honors. He led the ‘Cats and ranked sixth in the SEC in rushing with 907 yards and six touchdowns. He had three 100-yard games a year ago, including a career-best 144 at Vanderbilt.
His All-SEC honors were as an all-purpose player and Locke does a little bit of everything for Kentucky. He is a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield and last year he caught 31 balls for 284 yards. His exploits as a kick returner are well-publicized. As a junior he was third in the SEC, and 14th nationally, in kickoff returns with a 27.8-yard average, including a 100-yard touchdown return vs. rival Louisville, that made him the first Wildcat in school history to have two 100-yarders in a career.
After Hartline went out last year and UK was forced to start freshman Morgan Newton, Locke really stepped his game up. He rushed for 510 yards in the final seven games as Kentucky finished with a 5-2 record. When needed, he carried the load and Kentucky is going to need him to do so again this year.
At just 5-9, 190-pounds, Locke is not big, but he makes up for that with his great burst and his tremendous strength. He is as versatile a back as there is in the SEC and he belongs in the upper-echelon group of backs in the best league in football. I will not be surprised at all to see Locke named as the First-team All-SEC running back at the end of the season.
The No. 2 Back I – Donald Russell (SO, 5-11, 209)
Sophomore Donald Russell made a name for himself after he starred in the 2010 Blue/White Spring Game. With Locke receiving limited carries, Russell took full advantage by rushing for 118 yards and two touchdowns on just nine carries.
He has great speed, a quick burst through the line and tremendous strength for a player his size. Sidenote: This is going to be an on-going trend for this Kentucky team. They are not big, but they are fast and they are incredibly strong courtesy of Rock Oliver’s beastly-like conditioning program.
UK fans got a preview of Russell’s breakaway speed last year versus Eastern Kentucky when he ripped off a 79-yard touchdown.
The No. 2 Back II – Jonathan George (RS-FR, 5-10, 204)
Redshirt Freshman Jonathan George also had a strong spring game for the Wildcats and is still battling Russell to be Locke’s backup. In the Blue/White game he rushed for 127 yards of his own, including a 73-yard scamper for a touchdown.
A season ago, it wasn’t the coaching staff’s original plan to redshirt George. In fact, he was positioning himself for game action until he suffered a high-ankle sprain, which led to his redshirt.
George is an explosive back who has the ability to break tackles.
Depth Provider – CoShik Williams (SO, 5-9, 180)
Sophomore CoShik Williams received action in four games last year, rushing for 50 yards. He has the ability to get through holes quickly and runs strong through tackles.
Turtle’s at Fullback – Moncell Allen (SR, 5-7, 232)
Replacing Big John Connor, aka “He Will Block You”, will probably be the most difficult task for the UK offense. Connor is an absolute beast and the New York Jets will find that out soon enough.
The task of replacing Connor falls at the feet, or shell if you may, of senior Moncell Allen.
Last season, Turtle played in all 13 games, rushing 47 times for 228 yards and two touchdowns. He is not a tremendous threat to catch the ball out of the backfield but he did have eight catches for 23 yards in 2009.
Allen, known as a tremendous blocker and hard runner, split time at tailback and fullback his first three seasons at UK. This will be his first extended action at the fullback position. His primary role will be to create holes for Locke, protect who is under center and to make occasional plays with the football.
Backup Fullback – Greg Meisner (JR, 6-1, 238)
Junior Greg Meisner moved from defensive end to fullback in spring because Kentucky lacked depth at the position. He played fullback in high school so he knows the position and the coaching staff sees him as a receiving threat in the backfield.