The UK football program began its 2012 season on Friday with its annual media day at Commonwealth Stadium. Head Coach Joker Phillips addressed the media in a press conference to start the morning, followed by player and assistant coach availability.
Among the storylines at this year’s media day were the competition for the starting quarterback job, depth in the secondary and the impact of new freshmen on the squad.
Phillips began his press conference by announcing that promising freshman cornerback Shawn Blaylock would undergo season-ending knee surgery on Tuesday. Blaylock reported to camp on Friday, but will have to take a medical redshirt this season, much like wide receiver Darryl Collins did last season as a freshman when he hurt his knee during training camp.
“(The injury) occurred in high school, after his commitment to us,” Phillips said. “He missed a couple games, came back, played a couple games after that, but after getting here on campus he requires surgery that will end his season.”
Phillips followed that news by announcing that fellow cornerback Marcus Caffey would also miss the 2012 season due to academic issues. Caffey, who Phillips called an academic casualty during his press conference, will still be allowed to practice with the team this season, but will not be able to compete in any regular season games.
Caffey was the top cornerback on UK”s post-spring practice depth chart, and was referred to by Phillips as a “budding star” during spring practice. Phillips declined to comment further or field questions on Caffey’s situation.
The Cats’ head coach also announced that senior Martavius Neloms would be moving from safety, where he lined up last season, back to cornerback, the position he played when he began his career at UK.
“Our solution to this matter will be Martavius Neloms,” Phillips said. “Martavius Neloms, two years ago, three of our best players in the secondary were lined up at corner. You want to try to get your best players on the field.”
Sophomore Maxwell Smith was listed as the starting quarterback on the Cats’ depth chart to start fall camp, followed closely by the words “or Morgan Newton.” Newton, a senior, was UK’s starting quarterback last season after two years of backing up former UK quarterback Mike Hartline. Both Smith and Newton will be competing this month for the starting nod week one against Louisville. Phillips also said freshmen Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow would factor into the competition.
“You kind of have to take it as a challenge,” Newton said. “I was Patrick Towles three or four years ago, Max (Smith) was, (Mike) Hartline was, Andre (Woodson) was, and Randall (Cobb) was, but Randall is still Randall.
“You got to take it in stride, and I wish Patrick the best and I will help him out the best I can. The guy you all are overlooking is another quarterback in Jalen Whitlow who is just as good and a guy who can really play.”
The Cats’ offense lined up primarily in a spread formation during the team’s annual Blue/White scrimmage in April, and utilized a no-huddle attack for most of the game. When asked if fans in the Bluegrass can expect to see a similar look on offense this fall, most players said they will have to wait for the Louisville game to see for themselves. But a few said they expect the offense to remain more opened up this fall, just another variable that will factor into position battles on the offensive side of the ball this month.
“I’m sure we will see a lot of (spread formation) in the fall,” sophomore wide receiver Demarco Robinson said. “We have a lot of receivers coming in, so I’m guessing we are going to build the offense around all the new playmakers, whoever can step it up and make plays in camp.”
With one month remaining until the start of the regular season, the team says it will remain focused on improving and building chemistry and won’t let the Louisville game distract them this early into training camp. Phillips praised the leadership of Neloms, senior defensive end Collins Ukwu and junior defensive tackle Donte Rumph, who had a history of off-the-field issues early in his career. Other players like Whitlow and redshirt freshman wide receiver Darryl Collins cited the leadership of veterans like Smith, Newton and senior wide receiver La’Rod King for aiding their development in the offseason.
But as the pieces continue to come together, and the work continues to be put in, the team hopes to exceed the low expectations of the national media and return to bowl eligibility and viability in the always-tough Southeastern Conference.
“I think I heard 3-9, that’s not what I want to go, none of us” Smith said. “We want to get to a bowl game and compete for the SEC East.”