As the UK football team’s spring practice season draws closer to an end and the annual Blue/White game draws closer to kickoff, head coach Joker Phillips’ offense is still searching for a way to replace its starting quarterback, starting running back, and two starting receivers from a season ago.
Quarterback Morgan Newton will be entering his third year at UK, but his first as the Cats’ outright starter under center. New tailback Raymond Sanders also has experience on the field, but never as the team’s No. 1 guy. The receiving core remains a mystery, with plenty of question marks on the depth chart under La’Rod King’s name, including Brian Adams, Matt Roark and E.J. Fields.
With all of the new faces taking the field for the Cats this spring and all the attention they have gotten over whether or not they can match the stellar production of last year’s offense, it’s uncertain how the new offense will look.
Newton has taken on more of a leadership role as the team’s field general, and although it is a new role for him, he has embraced it both on and off the field.
“It’s not easy,” Newton said. “I’m not really a loud guy, I’m not a guy that talks a whole lot, but you come out here on the field, you have to step out of yourself and you have to be loud. You have to be a leader of the offense.”
In addition to Newton’s leadership, the Cats have also benefited this spring from having time to play together and feel each other out. Many of UK’s starters on offense feel that they are starting to develop chemistry with one another and that the offense is starting to find its rhythm.
“There are days where the offense looks like it’s in really good rhythm, and there’s days where it doesn’t,” Newton said. “We just try to come out here and be in rhythm more times than not, and we are trying to get to the point where we are in rhythm all the time.”
“We’re improving; every day we’re improving,” tailback Raymond Sanders said after a spring practice session over the weekend. “Last Saturday we were disappointed, we didn’t move the ball as well as we wanted to. Today, we came out and I feel like we did a very good job. Receivers were catching balls, running backs were making the right cuts and running the right reads. I feel like today was a very productive day.”
One concern on offense is the lack of depth on the roster. The Cats feature only one scholarship quarterback, freshman Maxwell Smith, behind Newton on the depth chart. They have four running backs in their backfield, but beyond Sanders there is little to no game experience.
“We are a little thin right now just with numbers,” Newton said, “so we just have to work on everybody just continuing to improve and continuing to get better. If that happens, we will be solid all the way through.”
When asked if Newton was satisfied with the strides the offense has taken recently, he remarked that he was pleased to see improvement but certainly was not satisfied. There is still work to be done as the offense continues to try and find its rhythm.
“Like I said, it’s still early,” Newton said. “It’s April, and everybody is just trying to get better. That’s the important thing at this point, is coming out here and doing things right and creating good habits. If we do that and continue to have a good summer, then come fall we will be ready to make plays.”