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As the 2014 calendar year comes to a close, the 2014 NFL regular season ended on a high note for former Kentucky football players now making a living at the professional level. Several NFL Cats concluded Week 17 with outstanding personal performances, while others prepare for their teams' postseason runs on the road to Super Bowl XLIX.

Cats in the Spotlight

Randall Cobb | #18 WR | Green Bay Packers (12-4)

After being shut out of the end zone since Week 11, Cobb exploded for two touchdowns in Green Bay's division-clinching 30-20 win over the Detroit Lions. Cobb caught four passes for 80 yards, and rushed for six more on the ground.

Avery Williamson | #54 ILB | Tennessee Titans (2-14)
With four tackles (two solo, two assisted) on the day, Williamson broke former Titan Alterraun Verner's four-year record for most tackles by a rookie in franchise history. Williamson recorded 105 tackles on the season, but the Titans dropped their 10th straight with a 27-10 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

Wesley Woodyard | #59 ILB | Tennessee Titans (2-14)
In Woodyard's final game of his seventh NFL season, the former Walter Payton Man of the Year recorded four solo tackles and one assist in the Titans' loss to Indy.

***

Cats in the Playoffs

NFC

(5) Arizona Cardinals at (4) Carolina Panthers -- Saturday, 4:35 p.m.
Though the Panthers finished the regular season with a losing record, 7-8-1 was good enough to clinch the NFC South and home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Former Wildcat Garry Williams is still part of the Panthers' roster, though the offensive tackle has seen only limited playing time thanks to serious injury.

(6) Detroit Lions at (3) Dallas Cowboys -- Sunday, 4:40 p.m.
After recovering from a left knee injury that caused him to sit out from football for the first time in his playing career, Lions right guard Larry Warford was carted off the field with a right knee injury in Detroit's Week 17 loss to the Packers. Warford is listed as day-to-day and hopes to contribute at some point to the Lions' postseason run.

(1) Seattle Seahawks -- January 10, 8:15 p.m.
The defending Super Bowl champions will face the remaining team with the lowest seed after receiving a bye in the first round. Former Kentucky wide receiver Chris Matthews was signed from the Seahawks practice squad earlier this month, but has not seen the field with Seattle since.

(2) Green Bay Packers -- January 11, 1:05 p.m.

Like Seattle, Green Bay received a bye in the playoffs' opening round. The Packers, however, feature two former UK standouts as prominent members of the NFC North champions. Punter Tim Masthay and Cobb--who does a little bit of everything for head coach Mike McCarthy--look to be major factors in the Packers' sixth straight postseason appearance. Green Bay will face the highest seeded NFC team (save for the Seahawks) on January 11.

AFC

(2) Denver Broncos -- January 11, 4:40 p.m.

After losing a shootout to the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday Night Football in Week 16, last year's AFC champions bounced back with a 47-14 drubbing of the Oakland Raiders last Sunday. The Broncos feature tight end Jacob Tamme and injured defensive standout Danny Trevathan. Like the Packers, Denver will face the higher seeded winner of this weekend's opening slate of games.


Like most of the league, the majority of Kentucky's NFL Cats' postseason fates had already been decided before the NFL's penultimate slate of 2014 regular season games. However, several UK alumni and their teams are still fighting for playoff berths, while others are using the season's final two weeks to cap off successful individual season-long performances. Here are the former Wildcats who shined in Week 16:  

Cats in the Spotlight


Randall Cobb | #18 WR | Green Bay Packers (11-4)
Cobb led all receivers with 11 catches and 131 yards in Green Bay's 20-3 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Packers have already clinched a postseason berth, but will face the Detroit Lions in Week 17 for the NFC North crown.

Corey Peters | #91 DT | Atlanta Falcons (6-9)
Despite a guaranteed losing record, the Falcons still control their own playoff destiny. Week 17 will pit the Dirty Birds against Garry Williams' Carolina Panthers (who will also finish with a losing record) for the NFC South title. In Week 16's 30-14 defeat of the New Orleans Saints, Peters recorded his first quarterback sack since Week 3. The former third-round pick finished with two solo tackles on the day.

Alfonso Smith | #38 RB | San Francisco 49ers (7-8)

Though the 49ers will not make the playoffs for the first time in the Jim Harbaugh era, late-season injuries have opened the door for playing time for Smith. In San Fran's 38-35 (OT) loss to the San Diego Chargers, Smith attempted two rushes for 14 yards and caught two passes for nine yards.

Wesley Woodyard | #59 ILB | Tennessee Titans (2-13)

For the 13th time in 15 tries this season, the Titans came up short of victory. From an individual standpoint, however, Woodyard has continued to shine his entire first season with the franchise. In Week 16's 21-13 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, Woodyard tallied two solo tackles, three assists, and one sack on the day.

Dawson's system, personality the right fit for UK

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It should come as no surprise that Mark Stoops had a plan when he learned he would have to replace Neal Brown.

The interest in Kentucky's open offensive coordinator job came from far and wide and speculation about when Brown's successor would be named swirled immediately. Stoops, meanwhile, kept a narrow focus, unaffected by everything going on outside his own head.

"I really took my time, evaluated to find what I wanted, and set out to find that person rather than just get all kinds of great people with great credentials and then try to change what we're doing and so on and so forth, and what direction I wanted to go," Stoops said.

Once Stoops had an idea on direction, he set about finding the best fit. Ultimately, current West Virginia offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson was the pick.

"With that, that led me to Shannon, and could not be more happy with that hire," Stoops said. "I think the more and more research I did, the more and more I talked to him, it was evident that he was exactly what we're looking for here at Kentucky to lead our offense. Very, very proud to have him."

First, Dawson's hire ensures continuity from the system Brown ran the last two seasons, though Stoops shied away from calling it the "Air Raid."  

"It's the same system, however you want to define it," Stoops said. "It's very similar."

Dawson got his coaching start at Southeastern Louisiana under Hal Mumme, a fact that Stoops didn't come across until late in the game.

"I also think it's kind of unique that some of his roots go back to Coach Mumme in the days of--it all goes back, right?" Stoops said. "I didn't even really realize that until we were far into the process, but I think it is kind of unique that what I'm looking for and what we're trying to be here offensively, a lot of it does tie into the culture and to the history of this program."

The history of the program may have a lot to do with the pass-happy system Mumme pioneered, but Stoops is quick to point out that its future will be defined in large part by running the ball. Playing in the Southeastern Conference, he doesn't see any other option.

"You've heard me talk about it all the time, and people may wonder where I'm going all the time with balance and things like that, but the bottom line is I believe to compete in this conference you have to be physical," Stoops said. "You have to have some balance."

Once again, Dawson fits the bill on that count.

Though West Virginia is ninth nationally in passing and 11th in total offense, the Mountaineers actually attempted more runs (531) than passes (489) this regular season.

"They're very effective at running the ball, even out of the spread, and that's what I want to look like," Stoops said. "I want to threaten people and make them accountable to stopping the run game. If you don't, really you're not going to win a lot of games."

Getting past system and run-pass balance, Stoops sees in Dawson the kind of coach who will fit into a blue-collar staff that, by and large, has been together for two years now. He sees a coach who will capitalize on the opportunity in front of him.

"The most important thing was leadership, but other things I really liked about him was I felt like he's always done more with less," Stoops said. "I like the way he's worked his way up the profession. I like the way he grinded from a young coach and really made a name for himself, working with Hal Mumme, the roots of his system."

Stoops also mentioned Dawson's evolution as a coach. The 37-year-old has come a long way since those days with Mumme and even in his three seasons working under Dana Holgorsen at West Virginia, going from relying almost exclusively on the pass to displaying the balance so important to Stoops.

That's now positioned him for this chance to run his own offensive show.

"I think if you ask him when he gets here, I'm sure one of the things that appealed to him about coming here was working for a defensive coach because, you know, sink or swim, here's the keys, you do it," Stoops said. "Sink or swim. That's what it was like when I went to Florida State (as defensive coordinator), and I wanted it that way."

Stoops in no rush to find Naivar's replacement


Stoops confirmed on Monday that special teams coordinator and safeties coach Craig Naivar has accepted a position at the University of Houston. With the decision to hire Dawson now made, Stoops is turning his attention to filling the vacancy left by Naivar.

Just as he did in searching for an offensive coordinator, Stoops won't hurry.

"I want the best football coach I can get," Stoops said.

He also wants a coach who will be a major asset on the defensive side of the ball.

"I would really like to bring in as much defensive experience as we can get," Stoops said. "I think if you just look around this league, and some things that are going on now and guys that I'm talking to and different things, different hires, it's serious business. There's guys hiring an awful lot of good football coaches. You look at certain staffs, and there's two or three coordinator types on each side of the ball, and really that's what you have to get to."

Video: Stoops talks OC hire, start of offseason

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Video: UK football's biggest moments in 2014

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Video: UK football game day 2014

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Former Wildcat John Conner scored his first NFL receiving touchdown on Sunday. (UK Athletics) Former Wildcat John Conner scored his first NFL receiving touchdown on Sunday. (UK Athletics)
While injuries plagued former Wildcats and current Denver Bronco teammates Jacob Tamme (whose ribs kept him out of Sunday's win over the San Diego Chargers) and Danny Trevathan (who left the game in the second half with a dislocated kneecap, forcing him to miss the remainder of the season), injuries to San Francisco 49er running backs Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde freed up some playing time for UK alumnus Alfonso Smith. Smith registered his first four carries of the season, rushing for six yards in the 49ers' 17-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Smith's teammate, former Kentucky wide receiver Stevie Johnson, sat out the game due to an injured knee.

Cats in the Spotlight

Randall Cobb | #18 WR | Green Bay Packers (10-4)
In the Packers' 21-13 road loss to the Buffalo Bills, Cobb made seven catches for 96 yards. The former Kentucky quarterback-turned-wide-receiver also had three rushing attempts for 15 yards on the ground.

John Conner | #38 FB | New York Jets (3-11)
While the Jets emerged victorious for only the third time all season, Conner found added reason to celebrate after making the first touchdown catch of his NFL career. "The Terminator's" TD score came by way of a nine-yard pass from Geno Smith. New York defeated the Tennessee Titans, 16-11.

Ricky Lumpkin | #93 DT | Oakland Raiders (2-12)
In the Raiders' 31-13 road loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, Lumpkin recorded the first sack of his NFL career. The 6-foot-4, 300-pound defensive lineman totaled five tackles (four solo, one assisted) on the day.

Tim Masthay | #8 P | Green Bay Packers (10-4)

Masthay tied a season-high with six punts in Green Bay's loss at Buffalo. The former First Team All-SEC performer averaged 42.8 yards per punt, with Sunday's long coming in at 63 yards.

UK in the NFL: Warford makes his return

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Larry Warford returned to active duty for the Detroit Lions this weekend after an absence due to injury. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics) Larry Warford returned to active duty for the Detroit Lions this weekend after an absence due to injury. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
By Connor Link, UK Athletics

This week in the NFL, Detroit Lions right guard Larry Warford returned to the playing field after spending the last three weeks on the sideline with a sprained left knee. In a rematch with First Team All-Pro defensive tackle Gerald McCoy--of whom Warford got the better in their one-on-one matchup as a rookie last season--the former Wildcat emerged victorious. The Lions defeated McCoy's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 34-17.

In addition to Warford's successful return from the first injury of his entire football career, Week 14 marked former Kentucky wide receiver Chris Matthews' first official game as an active NFL player. The 6-foot-5 Los Angeles native was promoted from the Seattle Seahawks' practice squad on Saturday after two seasons in the Canadian Football League (where he was named most outstanding rookie in 2012). The defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks defeated the Philadelphia Eagles, 24-14.

Cats in the Spotlight

Randall Cobb | #18 WR | Green Bay Packers (10-3)
In a tight 43-37 win over the Atlanta Falcons, Cobb caught four passes for 58 yards. With Cobb held without a touchdown for the past four weeks, Kentucky's all-time total TD leader has seen his 2014 receiving touchdown total stagnate at 10 (tying him for fourth in the NFL).

Jacob Tamme | #84 TE | Denver Broncos (10-3)
Despite a rib injury that left Tamme questionable for Sunday's game with the Buffalo Bills, the Danville, Ky. native caught one pass for 10 yards. However, Tamme also lost a fumble in the Broncos' 24-17 win over Buffalo.

Avery Williamson | #54 ILB | Tennessee Titans (2-11)

In yet another loss by the Titans, Williamson totaled six total tackles (three solo, three assisted) against the New York Giants. Tennessee fell to New York, 36-7.

Wesley Woodyard | #59 ILB | Tennessee Titans (2-11)
Kentucky's veteran half of its Titans linebacker duo outshone its rookie half by a two-tackle margin on Sunday. Woodyard combined for four solo tackles and four assists in Tennessee's blowout loss to the Giants.

UK in the NFL: Lumpkin moves to active roster

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via Raiders.com via Raiders.com
By Connor Link, UK Athletics

This week in the NFL, former Wildcat Ricky Lumpkin rejoined the ranks of Kentucky's active NFL alumni with a promotion from the Oakland Raiders' practice squad to their 53-man roster for the second time in two seasons. The 6-foot-4 defensive tackle went undrafted in 2011, but spent time with the Raiders and Arizona Cardinals over the past three seasons.

With NFL standouts Danny Trevathan and Larry Warford still sidelined by injury, Kentucky's NFL Cats went a combined 4-7 in Week 13.

Cats in the Spotlight

Randall Cobb | #18 WR | Green Bay Packers (9-3)
Cobb caught seven passes for 85 yards in Green Bay's monumental 26-21 win over the New England Patriots. Even without scoring a touchdown, Cobb is still tied for third place among league leaders with 10 receiving touchdowns on the season.

Stevie Johnson | #13 WR | San Francisco 49ers (7-5)

Despite his team's offensive struggles, Johnson finished with three catches for 28 yards (posting a 9.3-yard-per-catch average) in the 49ers' 19-3 Thanksgiving loss to the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.

Wesley Woodyard | #59 ILB | Tennessee Titans (2-10)

Despite another solid defensive performance from Woodyard, the Titans dropped their sixth consecutive game of the season. Woodyard totaled four tackles (three solo, one assist) in Tennessee's 45-21 loss to the Houston Texans.

Brown accepts head-coaching position at Troy

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Neal Brown (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics) Neal Brown (photo by Chet White, UK Athletics)
After two seasons as offensive coordinator at Kentucky, Neal Brown was officially named head coach at Troy University, where he served as an assistant from 2006-09. UK head coach Mark Stoops issued the following statement congratulating Brown.

"I am very happy for Neal to earn a head coaching job and believe Troy has made an outstanding hire," Stoops said. "Congratulations to Neal and his family and I appreciate his hard work at Kentucky."



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