LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky football coach Joker Phillips has
spent the off-season picking up pieces on offense and defense.
The second-year head coach had to replace a lot of offensive
production: Quarterback Mike Hartline, running back Derrick Locke
and wide receiver Chris Matthews all graduated, and junior wide
receiver Randall Cobb left for the NFL Draft.
In all, the Wildcats had to replace all 26 touchdown passes, 19
of 26 rushing touchdowns and 18 of 26 touchdown catches.
The Wildcats' top 11 tacklers from 2010 return, including senior
linebacker Danny Trevathan, who led the Southeastern Conference
with 144 tackles last season. But new co-defensive coordinator Rick
Minter has taught the team an entirely new defense after a 6-7
season, which included a 27-10 loss to Pittsburgh in the BBVA
Minter was hired in December 2010, just a few weeks before the
school-record fifth-straight bowl appearance. He waited until after
the loss and into spring practice to start installing his new
schemes, which call for a number of different formations.
Several veterans even changed positions: senior Winston Guy,
second on the team with 106 tackles in 2010, shifted from safety to
a hybrid safety-linebacker; junior Martavius Neloms switched from
cornerback to safety; and junior linebacker Ridge Wilson switched
to a hybrid linebacker-defensive end.
Phillips wanted Minter to overhaul the defense, which finished
10th in the Southeastern Conference in scoring defense last year.
"All (Minter) talks about is turnovers and minus-yardage plays
and those things, and those are the things that we were looking for
when we went out and got Rick," Phillips said. "For us to be
successful ... you've got to play dominant defense. Not good, not
great defense, you've got to play dominant defense. That's the
mindset that Rick has brought to this football team."
Another important element for Phillips is new starting
quarterback Morgan Newton, a 6-4, 220-pound junior from Carmel,
Ind. Newton earned eight starts as a true freshman in 2009 when
Hartline suffered a knee injury, and he won five of those games.
But he struggled in the BBVA Compass Bowl during Hartline's
Newton said he could have been more prepared for his only start
as a sophomore. So he spent the offseason studying the playbook,
learning the nuances of the offense and working toward
understanding his protections with the offensive line.
"I remember coming in to my first camp two years ago and
basically not knowing anything, and then playing and still not
really knowing a whole lot," Newton said. "To be able to open
that playbook and to talk with my teammates and know what's going
on, that's pretty refreshing. I feel confident about what's going
Having such an experienced offensive line will help Newton
tremendously, he said. Four starters return from the line that was
second in the SEC last season with just 19 sacks surrendered. The
line not only will help Newton, Phillips said it also will
especially help his young running backs and wide receivers as they
adapt to expanded roles.
Phillips said a number of true freshmen could get a lot of
playing time, especially at wide receiver.
Relying on such youth can be dangerous. But Phillips is
comfortable with the improvements on offense, defense and on his
"We got some of our question marks answered in the spring.
Everybody has questions in the spring and maybe we had a few
more," Phillips said. "We'll get some more answered here in fall
camp and we'll be ready to go to battle with whoever lines up in
front of us."