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By LARRY VAUGHT
In SaturdayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Blue-White game that matched UKÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s starters against the second team, starting quarterback Morgan Newton was 23-for-44 passing for 256 yards. He had three touchdowns throws Ã¢â‚¬â€ 2 and 34 yards to Brian Adams and 1 yard to E.J. Field Ã¢â‚¬â€ but also had one throw picked off and returnred 33 yards for a score by Josh Gibbs. He also had at least seven passes dropped by what could be starting receivers.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I think our quarterbacks proved they can be efficient passers in this league,Ã¢â‚¬Â Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said. That is key. We did have that one interception, but we kind of had a couple of receivers in the wrong spot and it was kind of hard to determine who to throw it to and it got away from him (Newton).Ã¢â‚¬Â
Still, Phillips said the difference in NewtonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s play from his freshman year to now is like Ã¢â‚¬Å“night and dayÃ¢â‚¬Â and he expects him to continue to improve.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“He is one of the few guys that has come through the program and played and started in two bowl games, and he still has two years left,Ã¢â‚¬Â Phillips said.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Now heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s changing protections. He could not have done a lot of those things his first year. I am really pleased with the way he is handling himself in the huddle and at the line of scrimmage. I want to see his body language after something good or bad happens. One time, and one time only, I had to pull him aside and talk to him about his body language. I am pleased with the way he is progressing.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Here’s more with Newton on his thoughts about his play and future.
Question: Is it different going into the summer knowing you are the No. 1 quarterback and it is your job to keep?
Newton: Ã¢â‚¬Å“It is different, but I have pretty much had that mindset since I started playing ball. I expect to be the guy and that is the only mindset that you can really have. It is a little bit different not having guys like Mike and (Will) Fidler around (at quarterback). I am the older quarterback now and I have to be the leader in that quarterback group and the offense.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Question: Does it help you become a better quarterback when you are mentoring younger quarterbacks?
Newton: Ã¢â‚¬Å“It most definitely does. I have tried to help (freshman) Max (Smith) as much as I can anytime I have the opportunity. It only helps me being able to kind of see things for Max kind of like Dre (graduate assistant coach Andre Woodson) is for me now. That is just making my game that much better.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Question: What do you feel like you must improve on personally by September?
Newton: Ã¢â‚¬Å“Picking up all those crazy blitzes the (Kentucky) defense has will make me better, but even then we donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t see a team blitz like that during the year except maybe Mississippi State. We can get better at picking up blitz and making the plays we are supposed to make every time. That is something we have to get better at it. Until we do that, then the whole offense, including me, has a lot of work to do but I am excited about it.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Question: What is the most noticeable change people will see in Morgan Newton in the 2011 season versus the last two years?
Newton: Ã¢â‚¬Å“I am the same person. Same skill set just sharpened up on a lot of things. Definitely a leader of the offense. It is going to be different for people who paid attention to Kentucky football the last couple of years. There will be a lot of different names and faces, but a lot of guys who can still step up and make plays and I hope I can make a lot more consistent plays, too.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Question: How are mentally was last year for you as a backup quarterback considering you not only have always been a starter, but also a key player for any team in every sport you have played?
Newton: Ã¢â‚¬Å“It was different. I see myself as a competitor, but in a situation like that you just have to make the most out of every day and every opportunity. There were times I could get out there and show what I could do in practice and thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s what I tried to do. If I was not out there competing, then I was watching Mike and seeing some of the things he did to make me better. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s all I could in that situation.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Question: Do you feel the pressure is on you now as the starter or does being the starter take pressure off you?
Newton: Ã¢â‚¬Å“I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think there is any pressure on me. I am a college kid, 19, out here going to school, practicing every day and doing things that I love. I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t really see that as much pressure. If things go wrong, we will fix it. If things go good, then we are excited.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Question: Have you changed as a person during your two years at Kentucky?
Newton: Ã¢â‚¬Å“It is human nature. Everybody changes. Some for the better, some not for the better. I would like to think I have become a little more mature and a better leader and person because of it. I think everybody changes.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Question: How important will summer workouts be for you and the offense to get ready for the season?
Newton: Ã¢â‚¬Å“This summer I just have to make sure I see tapes and visualize being in game situations and continue to work on foot speed, strength and my overall speed and delivering the football. Definitely come out here and imagine yourself hitting the guys (with passes) and go through progressions and stuff like that. That is only going to help.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Question: Can the summer work with the receivers make a big difference during the season?
Newton: Ã¢â‚¬Å“That is going to make a huge difference. Having defensive guys here to apply some pressure on those receivers and making things as much like game situations as possible when we have the opportunity is going to be key in getting this continuity we need. We have a lot of work to do but we are all excited to do it.Ã¢â‚¬Â