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By LARRY VAUGHT
HOOVER, Ala. Ã¢â‚¬â€ Kentucky coach Joker Phillips says it was an easy decision to bring junior quarterback Morgan Newton to the Southeastern Conference Media Days here with him Thursday.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s one of our leaders on offense, and itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s easy to tell. It was easy to tell at the beginning of the spring, middle of the spring and end of the spring. Then the things he has done this summer and reports IÃ¢â‚¬Ë†have been getting about how he is organizing workouts and called other teams and got guys there,Ã¢â‚¬Â Phillips said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“He reminds me a lot, and IÃ¢â‚¬Ë†am hoping we get the same results, of the story of a kid we used to have in (quarterback) Andre Woodson. He deserves the right to be here.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We sold Andre Woodson when we were recruiting Morgan Newton. Morgan had a chance to go to some powers in this league but chose Kentucky and a lot of it had to do with Andre Woodson. Now Andre being back on our staff and part of this program has been big for MorganÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s development. The guy walks different, talks different. That is important for a quarterback to have confidence and for our kids to know that our quarterback has confidence.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Newton made eight starts in 2009 when quarterback Mike Hartline was injured and went 5-3. Last year he played sparingly until Hartline was suspended for the Compass Bowl and he was the starter in UKÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s loss to Pittsburgh. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s thrown for 971 yards and six scores in his career.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I have gone from a backup position to a leadership role. It is a different approach, but guys have responded. The offensive line is great. We have a great group of young receivers and guys willing to step in and make plays,Ã¢â‚¬Â Newton said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“We are going to be fine.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Phillips also brought linebacker Danny Trevathan and offensive guard Stuart Hines, both seniors and preseason all-SEC picks, with him. He could have brough senior safety/linebacker Winston Guy, but opted to show his confidence in Newton by bringing him to talk in front of about 900 media members.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“IÃ¢â‚¬Ë†am humbled to be here. I am excited about the experience to represent this team. IÃ¢â‚¬Ë†feel like from a leadership perspective IÃ¢â‚¬Ë†am well equipped to do so. Coach Joker has put a lot of trust in me as a quarterback and leader and IÃ¢â‚¬Ë†am excited to go out and lead the guys,Ã¢â‚¬Â Newton said.
He insisted being invited to SEC Media Days did not mean this was his team.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“IÃ¢â‚¬Ë†donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know if it is validation. Anything can happen at any time. That is how you go about preparing. You prepare like every day could be your last. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the approach you have to take. I am excited to be here and represent the University of Kentucky, but thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s it. I am not reading more into it than that,Ã¢â‚¬ÂÃ¢â‚¬Ë†Newton said.
He shouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t. But it is okay for teammates to notice.
Hines said the biggest difference in Newton versus last year is Ã¢â‚¬Å“how he has become a leaderÃ¢â‚¬Â every day.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“He is the guy who has embraced his role as the quarterback and has stepped up and become the leader not only of the offense, but the entire team and is working extremely hard to bring other guys with him to do that,Ã¢â‚¬Â Hines said.
While itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s nice to see a lineman label the quarterback as the overall team leader, Phillips certainly would settle for him being the clear leader of the offense and Hines says he is that.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I would say he is that without a doubt. I think it is very important, especially for a quarterback, to establish that early. A quarterback should be the leader. When we get in the huddle, he is the guy we look at. We want to see a guy confident and ready to take on anything that happens in a game. Now we see that in Morgan,Ã¢â‚¬Â Hines said.
Maybe others do, too. He was surrounded by media members for most of his time here and did more interviews than Hines or Trevathan. He seemed to handle them with the same ease Phillips would like to see him handle SEC defenses.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Consistency in my play definitely has to improve and will. We have a wide range of things in the playbook. IÃ¢â‚¬Ë†am just excited about the opportunity we have and the work we have done this summer,Ã¢â‚¬Â Newton said.
Being back at the WynfreyÃ¢â‚¬Ë†Hotel was a bit bittersweet since thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s where UK stayed when it lost to Pittsburgh even though Newton was 21-for-36 passing for 211 yards and ran for 18 yards.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It is like deja vu walking into this hotel again. It leaves a little bit of a sour taste in our mouth from the bowl game. We have seen where we just lost and that has put things in perspective for the season coming up and how much harder we have to work to do the things we want to do this year,Ã¢â‚¬Â Newton said.
He still remembers the talk Phillips gave the team after the Pitt loss.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The talk was almost embarrassing. Going 6-7 in our books is not acceptable and canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be acceptable for the guys we have. We have a lot of competitive guys and we want to put more wins together. That loss still motivates us, especially with being back down here today,Ã¢â‚¬Â Newton said.
It seemed a bit strange to listen to him plead for patience for KentuckyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s true freshmen, too, considering the high expectations he brought with him from Indianapolis as a four-star recruit.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“You have to start slow and give them different things and really support those guys. Try to teach them how to go out there and really work and prepare and those things will carry over to later years but realize they are only freshmen,Ã¢â‚¬Â Newton said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“As you get older, you get wiser and become a little more realistic. You start to understand how things work leading up to camp. There are guys who can go out there from day one and play. But you have to have reasonable expectations for 17, 18, 19 year old guys who have not played before.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“IÃ¢â‚¬Ë†have been thrown into the fire. Sometimes it burned. You just have to learn from every experience and pick it up on the run.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Newton hopes having eight months to fully prepare to be UKÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s No. 1 quarterback rather than thrust into the role due to an injury or suspension helps him, too.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It is definitely different to kind of be able to take your time and then really go through things and assess your skills and watch yourself on film,Ã¢â‚¬Â Newton said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“That has to help, or should. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m confident in this offense. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m confident in the guys lining up with me. I know we can be productive. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just up to us to go out and show it.Ã¢â‚¬Â