As the head coach of the UK football program, Joker Phillips meets daily with media members who show up at the end of every practice to give his assessment of each day’s practice so that fans across the commonwealth and abroad can get some type of an idea of what to expect once the season starts.
Why is this a ritual or timehonored privilege of the UK head coach you ask? Because by Phillips’s orders no one is allowed to watch pre-season camp or in-season practices other than a few of the players’ family members and insiders of the UK football family and UK athletic department. The general public and media are off limits. To be fair and honest this is a method used by the majority of all Division 1A football programs and not just UK.
But occasionally when prodded long and hard enough an assistant coach will leak a little inside information, but only if you delicately read between the lines. In this particular case it is Randy Sanders the UK offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach who spilled a few beans on the UK quarterback race. After Saturday’s first official 11 on 11 team scrimmage, Jennifer Smith, the Lexington Herald- Leader UK football beat writer, got Sanders to if nothing else reveal his personal thoughts on how the QB position was playing out after one week of camp.
When ask to explain how each candidate’s camp was going Sanders responded with these comments to the Herald-Leader:
Senior Morgan Newton — “Morgan is working hard, doing pretty well, but it is obvious he is coming off shoulder surgery.” According to Sanders, labrum surgery to a quarterback is like Tommy John surgery to a baseball pitcher or ACL surgery to a running back. It takes time to build up strength and muscle memory in the throwing shoulder and then the confidence level must be rebuilt to before surgery status.
Sophomore Maxwell Smith — “Max has done a really nice job,” said Sanders after Saturday’s 140- play scrimmage in picture perfect weather. Special note: Maxwell Smith was the No. 1 QB the entire spring practice and for all the summer seven on seven workouts. Plus, Smith was the starter for the remainder of the 2011 season after Newton went down until Smith’s own injury in the Georgia game which resulted in Sanders making wide receiver Matt Roark the emergency QB for the historic win over UT in the finale of 2011.
Freshmen Patrick Towels and Jalen Whitlow — “I like what the freshmen are doing, but they’re freshmen,” said Sanders. “Sometimes they revert back to things they did as a sophomore in high school and you wonder, where did that come from?”
Standing just a few yards away from Sanders after Saturday’s initial scrimmage was the lead Wildcat, Joker Phillips, and his assessment of the QB position was not as definite and individually accommodating in Smith’s favor.
Phillips painted a QB position that was still very much up in the air. What should one make of all this drama being slowly built? Absolutely nothing.
Although one should keep in mind even though UK’s offensive philosophy is pretty much the same for both Smith and Newton if you sift through the video tape on each player you will see there is a somewhat different package of plays for each player within that offense.
In the famous words of the old Major League Baseball pitcher Dizzy Dean, “Keep ‘em guessing. It may be your only advantage.”
More UK-UofL drama
I hate to correct or critique the professional media folks in this state since I’m just a novice at this profession, but sometimes I just can’t help myself. This goes under the category of I’m tired of beating that dead horse of when to play this game so I’ll jump on the “ticket bandwagon” this year.
Last week, most media outlets collectively reported that UK sent a little over 2,000 unsold tickets back to Louisville for that school’s use like the contract calls for, and of course in the process put another negative twist on Joker Phillips and UK football.
There was no mention to my knowledge that Louisville sent back to UK a little over 1,500 tickets last year when they were the underdog heading into game day.
Oh yes, and nobody wants to bring out the fact that Louisville is mandating their home game be played first each season, which is annually on the calendar as Labor Day weekend — the last big threeday holiday weekend in the work calendar before Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Families can and do choose to spend time together during these holiday vacation periods in places other than around a large drunken gathering in a football stadium where the state’s finest are told to keep the drunk fans hemmed in like chickens in a coup instead of arresting them like they would do in any other public setting.
Last, but maybe the most important and true reason Big Blue Nation decided to stay away from Papa John’s Stadium this particular season which forced UK to send ticket’s back: Our friends at UofL put a price tag on this year’s game ticket of $78.00.
According to my short but accurate research, you could have seen 19 different college bowl games for less money last year not to mention a pretty good seat at several different NBA or NFL venues and a prime seat at virtually any professional baseball stadium.
UK places a premium on their home game as well, but Louisville quite possibly might have finally priced the commonwealth’s football fan out of the market with this year’s ticket.
Ira Combs lives in Jeff in Perry County, where he operates Tri State Media and Promotion Services with his brother Harold.