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August 27, 2011
Special teams: Cats look for replacement returners
There's one position on the UK football team that head coach Joker Phillips hasn't talked about.
And to him, that's a good thing.
There are still position battles to be won and new pieces in the return game but Phillips is confident about UK's special teams.
"Our kicking game we seldom talk about, and we seldom talk about our kickers, and that's a good thing," Phillips said.
Junior kicker Craig McIntosh has been "very consistent," Phillips said. Backup Joe Mansour, a sophomore, "has a big leg," Phillips added, and needs to continue his improvement. And senior punter Ryan Tydlacka "has been unbelievable," Phillips said.
McIntosh made 11 of 15 field goals last season and was 34 of 35 on extra points. Tydlacka averaged 43.8 yards per punt last season, and Mansour led the Southeastern Conference in kickoff touchbacks.
Though Phillips expects consistency from the experienced kicking game, there remain question marks in the return game.
At first glance, it appears the inexperience from the offense will spill over to the kick- and punt-returning positions but despite UK losing returners Derrick Locke and Randall Cobb, the new starters are familiar with their roles.
Cornerback Randall Burden will step in as a punt returner. At LaGrange (Ga.) High School, Burden averaged 18.6 yards per punt return.
"Punt returning is a thing I did in high school; I had fun then and this is my first year since then," Burden said. "I might be a little nervous but it will be fun."
Replacing Cobb will be no easy feat, but Burden sees several similarities between himself and the Green Bay Packers rookie.
"I'm probably the same as Cobb (in trying to not call fair catches)," Burden said. "I want to get some yards but if I have to fair catch it I will. I'm not worried about getting hit. A lot of people don't like doing punt returns because you're back there by yourself and you're open to any collision, but I'm not afraid of that."
When it comes to kickoff returns, there are even bigger shoes to fill. Locke, who averaged 27.11 yards per return in 54 returns, is UK's all-time leader in that category.
But senior Winston Guy actually had better numbers than Locke when he took over the starting kick returner role in 2008 when Locke was sidelined with an injury.
When Guy started he averaged 29.1 yards per return in 10 attempts including a 96-yard return against Georgia.
"I'm real comfortable (with kick returns); it's nothing new to me," Guy said. "I did it my freshman year and I did some my sophomore year, and it feels good to get back there my senior year for my last year, and I'm going to do everything I can to break one for six points. I owe one to the program."
Guy has gained 20 pounds since signing with UK in 2007, but he wants to assure the fans, and opposing teams, he hasn't lost a step in his speed. A least not a big step.
"I might be a tad bit slower, when you pick up weight that happens," he said. "But I'm still fast and I still got it. I don't want people to underestimate my speed because I'm going to break one, wait and see."