Live chat took place April 13 at 12:00 p.m. ET.
Elisabeth : Who do you see as being your strongest returner on the special teams unit? Will Hopewell still be on special teams or is he going to get a chance at tailback? Keep up the good work coach!
Steve Ortmayer : When talking about returners, there's a difference on our team in that we will probably have kickoff returners and punt returners. Our strongest punt returner should be Keenan Burton. Keenan will be in the mix as a kickoff returner but we also think very highly of Draak Davis and John Logan. Arliss Beach and Andrew Hopewell are also potentials in the kickoff return mix. As far as Hopewell getting an opportunity at tailback, that will work itself out during spring ball. But whether or not that will become a role for him, he will continue to be a feature player on special teams.
Tyler Haertzen : Who will most likely replace Derek Abney at the kick return/punt return spot and how do you replace a guy like that at that posititon.
Steve Ortmayer : It will be very difficult to replace Derek Abney. But I say we have been high the past year on Keenan Burton as a kick returner. We also have an incoming freshman punt returner who is in the Derek Abney mold.
bigsliom : What do you think about the redshirt freshamn Travis Day
Steve Ortmayer : Travis has been a very impressive performer during his redshirt year, leading us to believe he has the potential to step in and help our defense this season. There is not a player on our team that practices any harder than Travis Day.
Wildcat#1Fan : How is the kicking game shaping up for this upcoming season?
Steve Ortmayer : We have worked extremely hard this spring and the offseason to improve both the performance and performance skills of our punt team players. We MUST be better to be a better team in 2004. I look for our return game to be comparable although it is very hard to replace a Derek Abney in the respect that he lent so much credibility to our own players and struck such fear into opponents that it seemed to always work to our benefit. The field goal game should be comparable with both Begley and Ruth back and I feel very certain that our field goal block game will increase as dramatically as our punt game needs to.
ashley : Hey Coach O! You were at our schools football banquet a few months ago (Mercer County High School) and I am one of the managers and I would like to thank you for coming. Out of everyone there, I think I loved your speech the most, since I am the biggest Derek Abney fan. It made my day! My question is: How did you come into the UK foobtall organization and if you had the chance to take the oppurtunity back, do you think that you would (to go to another school)?
Steve Ortmayer : Ashley, I came into the UK program from a previous 25 years in the NFL. I was never considering any other college program and I'll give you the reasons I selected Kentucky. I knew Jerry Claiborne very well and he always had tremendous respect for everything UK stood for. When UK hired Rich Brooks whom I had been with at the L.A. Rams, the football aspect of the University in my opinion gave great credibility and when Rich asked me to come over and look at the facilities and physical aspects of the football program, I was tremendously impressed. As I learned who Rich was going to put on his staff, it became apparent to me that this program will become, very soon, a real contender in the SEC. And the capper for me was that at the University of Kentucky, being in the SEC East, when you win that division, you are automatically a national championship contender and quite frankly that is a major goal for me.
Joe Crabb : Is there any hope for the Offensive Line this year or must we wait another year
Steve Ortmayer : There is hope and excitement around the young players that we are working with around our offensive line. They are young, they lack experience, but they don't lack enthusiasm and ability. Combined with the four young linemen who will join us in August, we believe we can bring this group along by the time we play on Sept. 5.
Kevin Fleischmann : Coach Ortmayer, who is emerging as a return threat to replace the loss of Derek Abney? Also, do you think Dicky Lyons, JR will add competition for that job in the fall or do you expect to redshirt him? Thanks for your time.
Steve Ortmayer : We believe young Mr. Lyons is a significant addition to our team both as a reciever and perhaps even much more as a returner immediately. He has some of Derek Abney in him, that's what we saw when we recruited him, and we are anxious to take a look when practice starts in August.
Todd Schumacher : Why are so few passes thrown to the TEs, both last season, and so far this Spring? It seems like that would keep the LBs in check (from blitzing), and help the O-Line.
Steve Ortmayer : We are working with our tight ends to become a more integral part of our passing game even as we speak. Though, of our six tight ends, most seem to be more suited to the run game and are further ahead in their development as run game players, obviously we must do a considerable amount of improving in our pass game so that we can accomplish some of the things you mentioned. We will get that done.
Frank Pruitt : The tight end position has seemed to be snake bit for us the past several years with injuries, etc. Tell me the good news about our TE's for this year and how they will help our offensive schemes. Also, congrats on signing Dicky Lyons Jr. His dad was my first UK football hero,and as a matter of fact I "was" DL Sr. in our front yard playing football with my older brothers. I apologize for asking you to comment on a player who isn't even at practice yet, but do you see DL Jr making a contribution this year on special teams (as a returner) or is a RS a good possibility? Thanks Coach!
Steve Ortmayer : You are correct when saying that we had a hard time staying in one piece a year ago at tight end. This is the SEC, and as you know, these tight ends run up against the cream of the country's linebackers on a weekly basis. Injury is part of the game but the work that our people have done in the weight room and offseason program indicates to us that they will be more physically proficient in 2004. Let's keep our fingers crossed.
Johnny Kenson : Coach: re: tight ends... I would like to hear your thoughts on the difficulty of our young guys picking up blocking assignments while also having to memorize their routes. Thanks, JK
Steve Ortmayer : Obviously the learning curve increases dramatically both from high school and junior college to what we are asking of our tight ends in the best conference in the country. They spend hours of their day each week familiarizing themselves with the many alignments and situations they will face. When they become familiar enough that executing their assignment is second nature, we will become a team who can count on the tight end position to be a major part of the plan. As we speak, we are probably 70 percent of the way to where we need to be, but these guys are working very diligently and progressing faster than we might have thought. We have currently six tight ends, four of whom are very young to what we are doing. It takes patience on our part but I know that patience is not part of the repertoire of the fan and we will try to shorten that as best we can.
Henry : Status of punters and field goal kickers?
Steve Ortmayer : Currently our punters are the two we had last year whom we believe with a year under their belt will be more proficient. We are working with Anthony Thornton to become better in the red zone which would be a major help to our defense and as you remember from last year, we are working with Sevin Sucurovic on his mechanics and execution as he truly has the ability to be a top-notch punter. Our punt game will improve dramatically as our deep snappers improve and we are well ahead at this point with Jason Dickerson, B. Jay Parsons, and Matt McCutchan than we were a year ago. On the kicking front, we return both Taylor Begley and Clint Ruth. Taylor was excellent inside of 45 yards last year (again, we will dramatically improve because our snapping will be better). Ruth was the major part of a kickoff coverage unit, that although the NCAA does not keep this statistic, we believe led the nation in kickoff coverage last year.
Todd Schumacher : Hi coach, second question, I know Drobney missed most of last spring ball, and had a broken hand through most of the season last year. How is he doing now? I watched him play in HS, he did a great job for us up here. Thanks!
Steve Ortmayer : Jeremiah Drobney has fortunately stayed very healthy this spring and in fact, has had an excellent spring for us. He is quicker and faster with his offseason program than he was a year ago. Though he is never going to make a living with sheer size and/or speed, he makes up for any shortcomings with a very thorough knowledge of the game, a tenacity that is second to no one on our team, and a desire to be a part of something special which makes him one of our offensive leaders. We look for him to have a very solid year.
ukathletics.com : We would like to thank Coach Ortmayer for taking the time to answer these questions. Please come back next week when defensive line coach Michael Gray will join us for our weekly chat.
Steve Ortmayer : We will look forward to seeing many of you at our spring game, but certainly on Sept. 5 when we kickoff our 2004 campaign. We will use our special teams as an integral weapon of both our offense and defense in 2004. I believe we'll create many big plays.