Published August 26, 2010 - 7:52am
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I had the good fortune to attend the UK Football Kickoff Luncheon held yesterday afternoon in Louisville, KY. First-year head coach Joe “Joker” Phillips spoke at length to a large gathering of the Big Blue Nation on his plans for the program, both on and off the field, discussing topics such as recruiting, expectations and his goal of winning the SEC East. Here are a few notes on what Coach had to say:
Coaching – Coach Phillips spoke briefly about the hiring of a few new staff members: Mike Summers (Offensive Line), Tee Martin (Wide Receivers), Greg Nord (Tight Ends & Special Teams) and David Turner (Asst. Head Coach, Defensive Line). Other new additions include Rock Oliver as the Director of Strength and Conditioning (previously S&C coach with the Cincinnati Bengals) as well as former Kentucky WR Tommy Cook as a graduate assistant.
Recruiting – While unable to discuss specific unsigned players, Coach Phillips praised his assistants for the job they had done over the summer in securing 18 quality commitments for the Class of 2011. He also stated that the long term goal is a Kentucky squad that is a deep, fast and physical team, and recruiting players with these attributes is a top goal for every one of his coaches.
Quarterback Situation – Coach Phillips addressed the choice of Mike Hartline as the starter, citing his SEC experience and the crispness\accuracy of his throws in fall camp. Joker noted that the decision was delayed so that Morgan Newton and Ryan Mossakowski were given a fair shot at the #1 spot, given their respective talents.
Offseason Most Improved Unit – Offensive Line. Coach credited the ability of first-year coach Mike Summers in bringing this unit together that lost four starters from last year’s team. Coach Summers spent the last seven years working with Bobby Petrino at Louisville, in Atlanta with the Falcons and at Arkansas. He brings almost 30 years of coaching experiences as well as numerous All-conference selections in both the Big East and SEC.
Contributions of First Year Players – Coach stated that if the season started today, he expected the following first-year players to see time on the field: Mychal Bailey, Joe Mansour, Donte Rumph, Jewell Ratliff and Brandon Gainer, and a couple others I can’t recall. Phillips read the names from a list, and put no real emphasis on any specific players, with the exception of Bailey and Mansour. Mychal Bailey was singled out as a talented, hard-hitting DB that will be roaming the secondary at the start of the season. Mansour is a first-team All-America kicker from LaGrange, Ga that is the “real deal” and has the distance to hit 60 yard FGs with regularity.
My Two Cents – Over the past few years, Coach Brooks developed a solid foundation for the Kentucky program. Their ability to compete in the SEC year after year is not where it needs to be, but is night and day as compared to 10 years ago. Joker takes the helm of a program with quality starters in virtually every offensive and defensive unit, along with dynamic playmakers in Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke. When compared to perennial SEC powerhouses, one of the biggest issues that Kentucky continues to struggle with is depth. Several key contributors were lost from the 2009 Wildcats, and Joker must develop his young players throughout the year to ensure the season isn’t derailed because of a few injuries in key positions. How these young players progress from game-to-game is the key to the season, in my opinion. While I am not as confident in Hartline as some, I feel he is the right choice among the three QBs to start the season and support Joker’s decision. The Wildcats have a favorable schedule this year and can become bowl eligible for a 5th consecutive year by beating the teams they’re supposed to beat (Louisville, Western Kentucky, Akron, Charleston Southern, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State). I can see their final record anywhere from 6-6 to 9-3, but wherever they end up, just as long as they beat Tennessee, I will be happy.