Brooks ahead of the game with spring exhibition

Column by Jonathan Smith

Rich Brooks is the oldest head coach in the Southeastern Conference. But he’s finding new ways to try to outsmart his younger opponents.

For the first time in his six seasons as UK’s head football coach, the Cats will draft evenly matched teams and play an actual game in the Blue/White Spring Game. Offensive coordinator Joker Phillips has the first pick and will run one team, while defensive coordinator Steve Brown will manage the other.

It’s a great idea. This game is normally for the fans, not the players. But this year, the guys will have something to play for — their team and their playing time next year.

Now I’m certainly not saying this move alone makes Brooks the best coach in the league and that it makes the Cats the favorite going into next season. I’m just saying it shows how progressive Brooks is by attempting to take a usually boring event and making it exciting.

“It should be a relatively close game, I would think. It will be interesting to see how it plays out,” Brooks said. ”It gives you a more competitive game and a better evaluation of your players in a more competitive situation than we’ve been able to do in past years.”

Evaluation is right. Brooks nailed it on the head. Playing an actual game is so important this year because the Cats lost so much from last year’s team, especially on offense. It gives the new guys a chance to show if they’re going to be able to contribute on Saturdays in the fall.

Gone are Andre Woodson, Keenan Burton, Steve Johnson, Rafael Little, Jacob Tamme, Dominic Lewis and Wesley Woodyard. But you knew that.

What you might not know, but will have a chance to find out this weekend, are the players that are likely to take over for them this season.

Who’s going to win the quarterback job? It seems like Mike Hartline and Curtis Pulley are about even right now. One of them could take the lead going into summer and fall with a good, or bad, performance this weekend.

Will anyone create any separation for themselves at the running back position? Tony Dixon, Alfonso Smith and Derrick Locke have all made significant contributions to the team in the past, and all three will most likely get a lot of touches Saturday.

Dicky Lyons Jr., is just about the only returning pass catcher on the team, so Saturday will be a chance for young guys like Kyrus Lanxster and Anthony Mosely to step up.

All of those guys are unproven. And that’s why this new format is so smart.

Being assigned to a team will push each player to try to get a victory, which in turn will boost their individual performances. And just about every player has a lot at stake this weekend.

Hopefully it’s like this every spring. Brooks, and then Phillips when he takes over as head coach when Brooks retires, should use this format for years to come.

Jonathan Smith is a journalism senior. E-mail [email protected]