December 15, 2011

Clemons will try to bounce back as sophomore

This is the second in a series previewing the Kentucky football team's 2012 roster by examining young players who made their mark this season. Today's installment in on running back. The backfield was racked by injuries in 2011, but no player was hit harder than the powerful back who is our focus today.

Name: Josh Clemons
Rivals 2011 recruiting rating: 3-star (5.6)
Height: 5-10 Weight: 201
2012 class: True sophomore

What he did in 2011:
It only took one game for Clemons to seize the starting tailback job. With redshirt sophomore Raymond Sanders injured early in the season, Clemons became the Wildcats' top tailback. He had 14 carries for 126 yards and a touchdown in just his second collegiate game, against Central Michigan. Included in that was an 87-yard touchdown run that accounted for 2.8 percent of Kentucky's offense on the entire year and nearly six percent of its entire rushing total in 2011.

He didn't show that kind of explosiveness again, but he had double-digit carries in four of the first five games while chipping in as a kick returner when Sanders was injured as well. Then he suffered a torn meniscus in the first half of Kentucky's 54-3 beatdown at South Carolina on Oct. 8. He underwent surgery and missed the end of the year.

His final numbers weren't gaudy, and the Central Michigan game was the only time he averaged more than 3.5 yards per carry. Still, he was running behind a banged-up offensive line while he was healthy, and defenses were able to stack the box on the Wildcats all season. He showed the ability to be an every-down back as his receiving and blocking improved as the year went on. His toughness was unquestioned, as he refused to let the coaches know he had injured himself against the Gamecocks, and that was visible every time he touched the ball.

Final statistics: 65 carries, 279 yards, two touchdowns, four receptions, 53 yards.

What he'll do in 2012:
Clemons should be healthy in time for spring practice and he'll be back in the mix to start at running back immediately. There will be a trio of backs with starting experience for Kentucky returning in 2011 (upperclassmen Sanders and CoShik Williams included), but there was a point in 2011 where he had beaten out both those players and he'll have every chance to do it again.

Losing Clemons hurt the offense greatly. Williams is an adequate player and Jonathan George filled in as well, but Clemons is probably the toughest player the Wildcats have to tackle. He runs low, is shiftier than defenders think, and has the speed to build up a head of steam and knock defenders backward. He might be the most talented player in the Kentucky backfield, though it's hard to judge based on half a season of production.

Clemons could easily be the starting tailback on opening day in 2012. It's not beyond the realm of possibility that Sanders and Williams could pass him up, but he's probably too talented for that to happen. Expect to see a lot more of him in 2012, and his production should increase if he can stay healthy and the offense improves as a unit.

Also look out for:
Fellow 2011 signee Marcus Caffey was expected to play early in the year, coaches said, but injuries slowed him in fall camp. Even as he recovered, there was no chance for him to play early in the season when Kentucky had close nonconference games against Western Kentucky and Central Michigan. He ended up redshirting, but drew rave reviews from teammates for his performance on the scout team. The backfield will be crowded in 2011, but he'll have a chance to make some noise.

Fullback D.J. Warren stepped in and became Kentucky's top fullback from the beginning of fall camp. He'll keep his starting job in 2012, and it's possible he'll see more time going forward. Warren was only on the field in specific situations as a true freshman as the offense featured two tight ends frequently, but the departure of senior Nick Melillo could help him see the field more. He was also learning a new position as a freshman. Warren spent most of his high school career as a tailback and defensive end, so he had a steep learning curve as he learned to become a lead blocker.

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