UK football to begin spring practices

The ushering in of spring Tuesday brought more than just warm weather.

UK football head coach Joker Phillips held his spring football practice press conference before players take to the field Wednesday morning.

The 14 practices, which will take place every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday leading up to the Blue/White Spring game on April 21, will feature many new faces to the upper tier of the depth chart.

After performing well in a loss against Georgia, and the historic win over Tennessee, Phillips said the performance of his younger players is reason for excitement.

“When you look out there, there was a ton of young, true freshmen making plays on both sides of the football, majority of defense,” Phillips said.

The one-time veteran UK offensive line now brings a lot more youth to the trenches.

The only returning seniors to the group are center Matt Smith and guard Larry Warford.

The Cats will now have sophomore Darian Miller at left tackle, redshirt freshman Zach West playing opposite of Warford and junior Kevin Mitchell playing the right tackle position.

Phillips said his offensive line, specifically Darian Miller, has worked toward getting in good enough shape that reflects the Cats’ opponents in the SEC.

“I feel really good with the way Darrian Miller performed for us last year. He’s now at 306 (pounds) and looks like a left tackle in this league is supposed to look like,” Phillips said. “Zach West is a guy that had a good offseason, gained 9 pounds, up to 305.”

Since the departure of Andre Woodson in 2008, UK has had many spring practices littered with questions of who will open at first-string quarterback.

The new offensive line mentioned above will be protecting a familiar face in sophomore Max Smith, who they guarded for in four of the last five games last season.

Due to the limited reps that the recovering senior quarterback Morgan Newton will receive, Joker Phillips said sophomore transfer Jacob Russell would get an opportunity to see some snaps from center.

“We really have three quarterbacks in spring, but only two of them throwing,” Phillips said. “Still got that (Andre’) Woodson kid, though.  He can still throw some drills for us.”

With the loss of Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy, the UK defense has some holes to fill. Aside from the three returning starting on the line, senior safeties Mikie Benton and Martavious Neloms will be the only returners to the linebacker or defensive back groups.

Though they didn’t start, junior linebacker Avery Williamson and sophomore linebacker “Bud” Dupree combined for 70 of UK’s tackles, with Williamson’s 49 being the second highest of returning players.

“Everybody is replaceable,” according to Phillips.

“We have to find out if Avery (Williamson), (Malcolm) McDuffen can replace Danny,” he said. “You remember, Danny didn’t play a lot of football before his breakout season as a junior. This is Avery’s junior season. Avery played a lot more football than Danny.”

Phillips added that “Bud” Dupree, now at 255 pounds, is what an outside linebacker is supposed to look like, and is “another one of those young guys we talked about, excited about in the last couple games, flying around, making plays.“

Joining Benton and Neloms in the secondary will be redshirt freshman Marcus Caffey.

The three-star running back out of the 2011 recruiting class was one of the bigger additions to Joker Phillips’ squad, but the return of junior Raymond Sanders, the emergence of senior CoShik Williams and success of sophomore Josh Clemons, Caffey was finding himself buried in the depth chart.

Phillips said Caffey’s best chance to see action, and help the team, would be as a cornerback.

“You look out there last year, we were hurting 70 pounds on both corners,” Phillips said. “Hard to hold up against the guys we have to play. This guy is 200 pounds right now, about six foot and a half, moves really well.”

On the injury front, Phillips said redshirt freshman Daryl Collins will be full speed during spring practice after receiving a season ending knee injury during last season’s training camp.

“He’s a guy we were excited about before the injury. The injury occurred late in camp,” Phillips said, but, he is “another guy also that needs to step it up at the wide receiver position, especially as an inside wide receiver for us.”

Joker Phillips said that senior quarterback Morgan Newton will go through quarterback drills, but not throw during the spring after having surgery on his shoulder in December.

Josh Clemons will also go through drills in order for coaches to get an assessment of his abilities following the tearing of his meniscus last season.

Phillips noted that senior defensive end Collins Ukwu will be out for all of spring practice rehabbing his labrum that he recently had surgery on.