UK to hold scrimmage Thursday to kickoff “second season”

­The UK football team will hold an intra-squad scrimmage Thursday as its last practice before the team breaks for the remainder of its bye week.

UK head coach Joker Phillips said the scrimmage is a chance for his coaching staff to see what some of the younger players can do as they evaluate talent for the second half of the season.

“We’ve got to develop some of these young kids also while getting this football team better,” Phillips said. “(The scrimmage) is a chance for us… we had two really good days of practice and tomorrow is a day we got to try to develop some of the young kids and get them up to speed.”

Some positions Phillips will be keeping an eye on during the scrimmage:

Running back: With freshman Josh Clemons out for the rest of the year with a torn meniscus and opening day starter sophomore tailback Raymond Sanders easing his way back into the lineup, Phillips, along with running backs coach Steve Pardue and running game coordinator Mike Summers, will be keeping a close eye on this position group. Junior tailback CoShik Williams has received the most reps of any UK back outside of Clemons and Sanders, and will likely get another chance to prove himself Thursday.

When asked if Thursday would be an audition for the playing time vacated by the injured Clemons, Williams seemed more focused on playing better football than with his playing time.

“Right now, every day at practice is an audition for the spot,” Williams said. “The scrimmage is a day for an audition, but every day at practice, that’s an audition for us.”

Phillips also mentioned redshirt freshman tailback Brandon Gainer as a back he will have his eye on throughout the scrimmage.

Wide receiver: The wide receiver position has been the most inconsistent position on the Cats’ depth chart in 2011, with dropped passes and a lack of aggression competing for balls over defenders causing fans to clamor for a change.

Phillips has tried to incorporate more of freshman Demarco Robinson into the offense, and with the passing game in dire straights, he could be a focal point on offense in the team’s scrimmage. He also mentioned that while senior Gene McCaskill continues to recover from back and knee problems, sophomore Brian Adams, who doubles as the baseball team’s starting center fielder, would also get more reps.

Both Robinson and Adams have a wealth of athleticism, and if they impress Thursday, could earn more playing time at wide receiver in the second half of the year.

Kick/punt returner: With the losses of Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke from a year ago, the Cats were left with an empty cupboard at both return positions.

So far in 2011, Sanders, Robinson, Winston Guy, Mychal Bailey and Randall Burden each have had at least one kickoff or punt return in a game, but with zero return touchdowns on the year and a struggling offense, Phillips and special teams coordinator Greg Nord hope a change in the return game could lead to more points and better field position for the offense.

Phillips said freshman defensive back Daylen Hall returned kicks in Wednesday’s practice and would have a chance to return more kicks in Thursday’s scrimmage. He also said Robinson would get more chances to return kicks leading up to UK’s next game in two weeks.

Following the bye, the Cats will begin the back half of their schedule, beginning with their homecoming game on Oct. 22 against Jacksonville State and finishing with five straight SEC opponents. Phillips says his team has learned from its mistakes in the first six games (of which UK lost the last four) and will now move onto its “second season” down the stretch.

“You have to reference things that happened in the first half (of the season), but we’re definitely treating it like it’s a second season,” Phillips said. “(We’re) trying to put that first part of the season behind us. It’s a halfway point, we still got a lot of ball to play.”