LEXINGTON, Ky. – When UK head coach Joker Phillips took over the Wildcats’ program three years ago, he changed the name of UK’s special teams to “special forces,” due to his passion for the military. And after the team’s fourth practice of fall camp on Tuesday, Phillips talked a great deal about those “special forces” and the differences from last season.
“We have a lot more athletes that can run, block and do the things we need to do up front,” Phillips said about the special forces’ drills thus far. “That is really all we have worked so far is our punt team. We have more skilled guys that can play it and the punt team has become a skilled-man team. It used to be that you put offensive lineman and linebackers (up front), but now it’s become more skilled guys and more speed guys on there.
“This is our third year in the system in the shield punt and they understand it a little better. Some of the guys have been on it a long time in Malcolm (McDuffen), Avery (Williamson), Bud Dupree. Those guys have been on it a long time and we feel better about that. We need to continue to develop some backup guys because those guys are starters. We would like to have a whole new unit go in there and start learning those positions. But we are not against putting starters on there. Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy played every snap on special teams last year.”
Specifically, Phillips said the team has worked on some kickoff and punt return and overall he has been pleased with what he has seen. One name the head coach mentioned was sophomore Demarco Robinson, who Phillips said is more confident catching the ball this season compared to last.
On the opposite side of returning, Phillips talked highly about punters Landon Foster and Joe Mansour. In particular, Phillips said Foster, a true freshman out of Franklin, Tenn., is getting the punts off “as fast as we have ever had” at Kentucky, while Mansour has some collegiate game experience in handling kickoffs much of the last two seasons.
Phillips also touched on the wide receivers after practice Tuesday, saying he has seen some positive signs from the wide receiving corps in the first few practices. The head coach again echoed the same theme as Monday, noting he wants to see how they play in full scrimmages with full pads as compared to the first few practices of camp.
“We have gotten better at that (catching the ball)," Phillips said. "A couple of the young guys are starting to show that they can do it consistently. Now, it is only a couple of practices and we are not going full speed or in a scrimmage situation. Again, I want to hold judgment until I see that in a scrimmage. I have seen it out on the field before but when we get in those game-like situations I don’t see it. I want to see it done in the stadium.”
Along those lines, Phillips said the depth chart will not see too many changes in the first week or so.
“It is not fair to the guys that are lining up (on the field) after four practices, and none of them in full pads, to set a depth chart,” Phillips said. “We have to have one to set up who is going out there first, second, third and fourth, but it is so hard to set a depth chart and say, ‘This is how we are going to line up against Louisville.’ It’s just too early.”
Overall, Phillips was pleased with practice as the Wildcats continued to increase their tempo under picture-perfect weather conditions. The team will look to rest tonight in anticipation of the first full-pads practice of fall camp on Wednesday and a two-a-day practice schedule for Thursday.