UK football head coach Joker Phillips hasn’t been able to watch his incoming freshmen on the football field yet, but their teamwork recently impressed him in a different venue.
During a recent visit to Phillips’ house several of the freshmen decided to try their hand at fishing in his pond. After defensive back Zack Blaylock snagged a carp, several of his classmates chipped in to haul in the fish.
“The quarter back (Patrick Towles) gets in the dang boat and tries to reel him in too,” Phillips said while speaking to the media Thursday before an appearance at the Rotary Club of Lexington. “We see Towles in a paddle boat, he’s trying to get him up. We saw one of the other freshmen in the boat paddling so he could have his hands free. You saw Zack Blaylock, he was the one snagged it. You saw his brother (Daron Blaylock) holding the other so he could try to hold on, not fall in the pond.”
What on the surface sounds like a scene from a Three Stooges episode actually impressed Phillips.
“That right there told me that these guys really like each other,” he said. “They like working. They stayed over another two or three hours afterward.”
Joker Phillips looks on during 2011 fall camp.
(Photo by Jon Hale)
Fans are already wondering if Towles, a four-star quarterback prospect from Highlands High School, could break into the starting lineup early in his freshman season, and Phillips said nothing Thursday to suggest he would not be given a chance.
“Maxwell (Smith) will be the guy that gets the first-team reps when we run out on the field, the first day,” Phillips said. “We’ll gradually start trying to see who else can get in the mix to take some reps, who we think needs to be in the mix to take some of those first-team reps.”
Phillips said freshman Jalen Whitlow, a three-star athlete from Pratville, Ala., will also be given a look in the quarterback battle.
“We’ve gotten a lot of good reports about him,” Phillips said. “He’ll be in that quarterback battle also. That’s a name that keeps getting left out in this whole thing.”
Phillips encouraged by depth
While just four offensive players and five defenders were listed as returning starters on the pre-spring depth chart, Phillips thinks UK is in better shape in terms of experience than those numbers might indicate.
“In my opinion the guys who rotate every other series, I consider those guys starters, similar to Larry (Warford) as a freshman,” he said. “When Larry was going into his sophomore year, I considered Larry as a returning starter.
“If you’re rotating like Bud Dupree did, if you’re rotating like (Eric) Dixon, if you’re rotating like Cartier Rice, if you’re rotating like Avery Williamson, those are starters in my opinion.”
Phillips acknowledged those players still have work to do, but he saw at least one reason for hope.
“They’re not quite ready, but they’re talented enough to play,” he said. “They’ve probably got a little bit more talent than the seniors had in front of them.”
Newton healthy, ready for quarterback competition
Rising senior quarterback Morgan Newton missed spring practice with a shoulder injury after losing his starting job to Smith with three games remaining in the 2011 season, but Phillips said Thursday Newton is healthy once again and will compete with Smith, Towles and Whitlow for the starting quarterback job in the fall.
“I think he’s ready to go, just from the reports we’ve been hearing,” Phillips said. “He’s been out there throwing.”
Newton spoke to Phillips via phone on Thursday while he was on his way to work as a counselor at the Manning Passing Academy, hosted by Peyton and Eli Manning.