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By LARRY VAUGHT
Since he didn’t always see eye-to-eye with every offensive coordinator he had, former Kentucky quarterback Jared Lorenzen had no trouble sensing there was a disconnect between freshman quarterback Patrick Towles and offensive coordinator Randy Sanders and even coach Joker Phillips this season.
“I don’t think they got along really well. The coaching change can only be good for him,” said Lorenzen, who helped coach Towles at Highlands.
Towles, Kentucky’s 2011 Mr. Football, came to UK expecting to contend for the starting job. Instead, he quickly found himself taking snaps with the scout team and eventually was placed fourth on the depth chart by sophomore Maxwell Smith, senior Morgan Newton and fellow freshman Jalen Whitlow. Only when Smith injured his ankle in the fifth game and Newton was ineffective due in part to last season’s shoulder injury did Kentucky offer to let Towles play. He gladly gave up his redshirt year, but got hurt his first game after directing an 80-yard scoring drive on his first series.
He finished the season completing 19 of 40 passes in five games for 233 yards and one score with one interception. Whitlow played in 10 games and was 87 for 161 passing for 801 yards and three scores with two interceptions and ran for 206 yards and three scores. In three games, Smith threw for 975 yards and eight scores by completing 103 of 150 throws with four interceptions.
Lorenzen often disagreed with offensive coordinator Brent Pease during his time at UK under coach Hal Mumme. Then two even exchanged Twitter taunts before this year’s Florida-Kentucky game (Pease is Florida’s offensive coordinator).
“I don’t know what happened with Patrick and Sanders. Based on what I could see on the sidelines and the way they interacted — or didn’t interact — it was obvious something was wrong,” Lorenzen said. “It was like a bad couple relationship and now they are each going their own way.”
Lorenzen laughed he had one coordinator (Pease) meet him before he got off the field to point out his mistakes. However, he said he had not seen an offensive coordinator walk away from quarterbacks the way Sanders did at times when he would go to one 30-yard line and leave Towles and other quarterbacks at the other 30 after Towles came out of a game.
“Brent and I would yell and scream and then it was done. I never had a coordinator walk away from me,” Lorenzen said. “We never let it carry over to the next series. That’s not fair to the team and why I’ve never seen coaches at one 30 and the quarterbacks at the other 30.”
Last week Sanders said there was “no question who the best one is” when asked about the quarterback and said he would have a “hard time believing” Smith would not be the starting quarterback next year unless the new head coach has a different offensive philosophy than Sanders and Phillips.
While Sanders’ comment upset some, it did not bother Lorenzen.
“I was hoping Max would play this whole year and then have a competition with Patrick next year,” Lorenzen said. “Even if he had to sit behind Max a year or two, he could learn and come in after he leaves. That’s the way it works at most SEC schools. Max was playing really well before he was hurt. Now it will be a three-person race next year for anybody that wants the job. It’s just who steps up the fastest and how Max comes back from that ankle injury. As much of a Patrick fan as I am, I think Max deserves his fair chance next year based on what he was doing this year.”
If Smith had stayed healthy, Towles would still have four years of eligibility instead of three. Lorenzen thinks he may “regret” not redshirting even though Towles, who missed the second of Saturday’s loss to Tennessee when he was “dinged up” after a sideline hit, made it clear he wanted to play.
“I thought it would be best for him to redshirt, and told him that adamantly,” Lorenzen said. “He got in a half a game, then got hurt. He probably does regret playing to some extent. But he did get some good experience and there is nothing better than game reps. He did learn, but I still wish he had a full four years left.”
Can he be a high level SEC quarterback?
“I know he can. We have talked about it. I just told him to put his head down and go,” Lorenzen said. “Heal that ankle and make sure you get 100 percent. Take time off to do that.
“But nobody will go into spring practice with a new coach with the job. Now it is a fight with Jalen also definitely in the mix. But I have full confidence in Patrick that he can be a great SEC quarterback. Nothing that happened this year changed my mind about that,” Lorenzen said.
By LARRY VAUGHT
On my way to Atlanta for the Kentucky-Duke game, I took time to stop in Chattanooga to see Signal Mountain quarterback Reese Phillips, a UK commit. I spent about 45 minutes with him and coach Bill Price and even watched video of his final game, a 42-41 overtime loss where his team trailed 28-0 before rallying to force overtime behind Phillips’ play.
Question: What was your reaction to coach Joker Phillips being fired?
Phillips: “It was disappointing because you get attached to guys and people who give you the opportunity to play in such a high conference, but at the end of the day it is the way the SEC is. If you are not winning, stuff like this happens. It was disappointing, but I understood.”
Question: Have you been in contact with anyone at UK since Phillips was fired?
Phillips: “I talked to (offensive coordinator) coach (Randy) Sanders the day of (the firing), probably two hours after I learned what happened to Joker. He told me he was disappointed and didn’t really know about his situation. He pretty much just told me how it was. He kind of expected it. I think everyone did, especially after Vanderbilt (a 40-0 loss). A loss like that is hard.
“People kept asking me did I not expect it to happen. And I did. It was not like I didn’t expect it, but it is kind of like a surreal thing. You don’t expect yourself to get attached to somebody and then they get fired. Then it is like, ‘Man, what am I going to do now?’ But I am not worried about it. It is still a good situation.”
Question: So is it just waiting to see who the new coach is knowing you still have a chance to play quarterback in the SEC?
Phillips: “You can’t control it. I can’t go out and hire somebody. Me and (Signal Mountain) coach (Bill) Price have talked a lot about it. The really good thing is people say if they don’t bring in a system that will fit me, it wouldn’t fit the other quarterbacks because I am the exact same as the other quarterbacks, which is a good thing. In the long run, I think it will benefit me the best, so I am not worried about it.”
Question: What qualities would you like to see in the next coach?
Phillips: “Like Joker. I loved the way he was. Maybe he was not the best coach, but he was a great person. He made you feel like family right away and truly the way he made me feel and the reason I committed early. It is in the SEC and Joker was a good guy and coach Sanders was always someone I loved. Just qualities of a family man and respects his players and enjoys being around them.”
Question: What do you think of the speculation that maybe Bobby Petrino could be UK’s next coach?
Phillips: “I don’t know. I have never met him. I would have to talk to him and see what he is like. I have heard stuff about him, but you can’t go off stuff people say about other people. I would have to learn about him and get to know him. That’s the only way to really dissect somebody.”
Question: Would his offense be good for you and UK’s returning quarterbacks?
Phillips: “He has done some good things, so that is positive. He would definitely bring a system I would look forward to.”
Question: At your age, do you mainly judge a coach on what he can do for you and your team and not things that have happened in the past or not?
Phillips: “It would come down to winning obviously. That is the reason you keep playing is to win. Everyone wants to win. The way he treats me and how he is going to do for my future is important. If he can do good things for me and also put the team in a good place because Kentucky deserves it and a winning team and winning environment.”
Question: Could an offensive-minded coach like Sonny Dykes of Louisiana Tech do the same thing?
Phillips: “Honestly, I have heard his name but don’t much about him other than statistics people throw at me.”
Question: Are you not really that consumed with all the coaching speculation?
Phillips: “Not at all. I am just enjoying my last couple of months of high school. I trust everything will be fine.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
The first word Kentucky offensive coordinator Randy Sanders used to describe freshman quarterback Patrick Towles Tuesday was “rusty.” Towles got the clearance to return to practice after injuring his ankle Oct. 6 during a loss to Mississippi State when he made his first appearance of the season and led UK on an 80-yard scoring drive on his first series. However, four plays later he sprained his ankle.
He had been scheduled for a redshirt season until starting quarterback Maxwell Smith was lost for the season with an injury and Towles practiced with the first team for the first time the week of the Mississippi State game.
“It’s easy to forget when he got hurt against Mississippi State that was really his first week of not being down running off cards on scout team. It was good to have him back out there (today),” Sanders said after Tuesday’s practice. “It was good to have him in the huddle just making the calls. I liked the way he handled things at the line of scrimmage and all that, but it’s pretty obvious that he’s rusty and needs work.”
The coach said it was hard to tell how his ankle actually was.
“He had so much tape on it, I don’t know. He got along OK today, but between the tape and the air cast and the high-tops (shoes), it would’ve had a hard time rolling over,” Sanders said.
Sanders did say Towles seems to understand the playbook better after spending last week studying it even when he could not play and that could enhance his chances of playing Saturday at Georgia.
“Understanding it on paper or understanding it in the meeting room or on film is still a whole lot different than executing it. I do think he’s put in a lot of effort in staying into it mentally,” Sanders said. “I tried to coach him just as hard while he was hurt as I was while I was trying to get him ready (to play). So I do think he is further along, but still executing it on the field, the fast pace, we’ve got to work on that.”
Kentucky’s passing game has struggled since Smith’s injury against South Carolina other than the one series Towles had where he was 5-for-5 on the scoring drive. Towles was a pure dropback passer at Highlands, something freshman quarterback Jalen Whitlow was not.
“He (Towles) threw the ball a lot (in high school) and he’s used to being in the pocket and seeing things. He’s not quite used to the speed of the rush. He’s not quite used to the speed of the routes or the defenders and how fast windows close, but he does have more reps in the passing game,” Sanders said. “And the thing he can do, he can throw the ball. There’s no question. Just getting him to throw it to the right guy all the time, that’s the biggest challenge.”
Whitlow has been the starter the last three games and played most of the game against South Carolina after Smith was injured early in the first quarter. Sanders thought he did “OK” in last week’s 29-24 loss to Georgia.
“For where he is, he didn’t have any major mistakes we had to go through from that game, didn’t have any turnovers. He didn’t have any mess-ups with communication, formations. He didn’t forget any motions or anything like that,” Sanders said.
He did miss the third quarter because of a migraine headache.
“I think that’s something that our trainers have to be prepared for, our doctors have to be prepared for. To me, a migraine’s no different than a sprained ankle or a broken shoulder pad buckle or something like that. They can happen at any time. You’ve got togo play the game and if it happens, you try to address it.”
Kentucky went with senior quarterback Morgan Newton as a red zone quarterback last week and twice he got UK into the end zone — once running, once passing. But if Towles is able to play, that could impact Newton’s status as the Wildcat quarterback inside the 20-yard line.
“Morgan still brings something into the equation for us. Having Jalen have the ability to step back and see things from the sideline I think has helped him. How much Morgan factors in is a little bit dependent on how Patrick’s ankle is. It’s hard to play three guys, but at the same time you can do it if you need to in special situations,” Sanders said.
Another problem Saturday could be that Missouri is averaging 8.5 tackles for loss per game.
“They’re good. They have a good front. They’ve got a lot of experience on defense. Their linebackers seems … they’ve been there a long time, seen a lot of football. They’re good players. Their front is good,” Sanders said. “It’s going to be a big challenge for us. It’s going to be a huge challenge to run the ball and there’s no question we’re still going to have to execute in the passing game. We’ll have to do a good job in protection and have to make some plays down the field.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders admits it has been a “tough ride” for senior quarterback Morgan Newton this year. He was coming back from shoulder surgery, lost his starting job to Maxwell Smith, did not play well when he got to start at Florida and dropped to No. 3 on the depth chart behind true freshmen Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles.
“Tremendous character. Tremendous integrity. It speaks volume about the type of family he comes from. It speaks volumes about how much he’s bought into what coach (Joker) Phillips has been selling and I’ve been selling here about being a team player,” said Sanders. “As I’ve always said, he is all about Kentucky. He wants Kentucky to win. He wants Kentucky to do better. Just to accept that role and embrace it as he has, is phenomenal. There’s not many people that could do that.”
No, there’s not. Yet Sanders seemed more than a bit miffed that Newton was late getting to last week’s game because he was taking the law school admission test. He had signed up to take the test in mid-September without having any idea what time the Mississippi State game would start. He was also not slated to play even though that situation nearly changed when Towles went down with an ankle injury.
“I can promise you it wasn’t my decision. It was not my decision. So I’m going to leave it at that. I’m not going to get into it too much,” Sanders said about Newton’s late arrival.
Shame on Sanders. Newton wants to be an attorney. His shoulder is not 100 percent based on what UK coaches have said. His name had not been mentioned to the media by a UK coach all week. And aren’t football players supposed to be student-athletes? It’s not like Newton did not get to the game. And remember, he did not play and even this week Sanders is giving almost all the quarterback reps to Whitlow even though Newton is the only other experienced quarterback who is healthy enough to play if needed at Arkansas this Saturday.
So what happens if Whitlow goes down and Newton’s shoulder limits what he can do?
“We will do what Morgan can do, and obviously the shoulder not being completely healed is going to limit it a little bit. But he can still do a lot of things throwing,” Sanders said. “He has his comfort zone and we have to stay within that comfort zone as much as we can.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
After Kentucky coach Joker Phillips wisely said that UK needs to get the ball more to freshman receiver Demarcus Sweat, who has scoring catches in the last two games.
What does offensive coordinator Randy Sanders think about that mandate from the head coach?
“Well, older is nice but talented is better. We’re working hard with DeMarcus. We’re pushing him, trying to get him to learn what to do and how to do. DeMarcus has to do his part. Some days he’s much better at it than others. We need to see consistency out of him, because there’s no question he can make plays,” Sanders said. “We’ve talked a lot about erasers and guys that can make things happen; he has that ability.”
Now comes perhaps the best quote I’ve heard from Sanders in his time at Kentucky.
“Right now when he’s on the field, there’s a good chance somebody’s band is going to play. We’ve just got to make sure it’s ours and not the other team’s,” Sanders said.
Funny, but when Sweat has played, he’s not given the other team’s band reason to play. He’s a playmaker, a guy like a Craig Yeast, Derek Abney or Randall Cobb that can turn a short pass into a home run and is also not afraid to be the target for clutch plays.
“He’s good at catching and running after he catches it. He’s not real good at being where he’s supposed to be. So we’re working on getting him where he’s supposed to be,” Sanders said.
Not good at being where he’s supposed to be? The end zone at the end of regulation against Western Kentucky looked like a pretty good place for Sweat to be — and that’s where he was with the ball when Kentucky most needed it.
Besides, all freshmen struggle to some extent to learn the whole playbook, don’t they.
“They’re all different. Some guys come in and they learn pretty quick. It is normal for them to have to go through a progression of being where they’re supposed to be when they’re supposed to be and things like that,” Sanders said. “They can learn the playbook, but just the volume of defenses they see and how they have to react to that is what increases so much in college. But it is normal. He obviously has ability. We need to get him involved as much as we can. We need him to do his part.”
That’s because so far the part he’s been given, he’s been very good at doing.
By Lee Ann Herring-Olvedo
Believe it or not philosophy and football are not too farfetched ideas when it comes to words and ideas to live by that transpire into something tangible especially on the football field. Henry David Thoreau used to say, “All endeavor calls for the ability to tramp the last mile, shape the last plan, endure the last hours toil. The fight to the finish spirit is the one… characteristic we must possess if we are to face the future as finishers. “
One thing was certain from Saturdays’ round of scrimmages, interviews and events that football is in the horizon in the Bluegrass and the cats are ready to get this ball rolling in 15 days vs. the Cards in Louisville.
Sanders is ready to get this offense rolling into high gear. It seems that despite the bumps and bruises that the offense seems to be shaping up better than we might think. For the last couple practices and series the offense seems to be gelling together. Perhaps this year may be the year of the QBs and the offense in the SEC. Not to mention that Larry was wearing a Texas Tech Shirt (Mike Leach & Tim Couch memories at UK) at today’s round of interviews only made me that more sure that the football is here and the offense could be on fire come Louisville and beyond.
Here are a few highlights from Sanders on the offensive performance at today’s second scrimmage for the Cats.
Sanders on the 98-yard drive on offense: “It was very satisfying to see, No. 1 just to be able to go 98 yards without having a 30 or 40 yard play mixed in there means you had a lot of guys doing the right things in a number of plays in a row. It’s nice to have ability, you got to have ability to be able to win but you also to have ability doing the right things and not mess up. Having a drive where you go 98 yards and not have a big play mixed in and for the most part I think we threw it twice and the rest was all run.”
Sanders on the QBs play during the scrimmage: “I thought they are progressing as they should progress. I am not watching on how they drop or things like I am trying to watch downfield and see what they are seeing. For the most part the ball was coming out to who it should have been coming out to and when it should have been coming out of their hand. So that tells me their drops are pretty good and eyes are in the right place. The one thing we are doing as a group is throwing the ball accurately most of the time they are throwing the ball where they want to which usually always correlates back to your fundamentals.
Sanders on the any standout or impressive WRs: “It’s always hard this time of year on receivers because we have run them to death for about a week and half. The guys that ran 4.4 when we started are suddenly running 4.6 and the guys that ran 4.6 are running 4.8. So it’s hard receivers I don’t know how many miles they run a day at practice but that’s what they have to do cause when you get in the games they have to be able to run miles and run fast. So right now where catching them and that’s what I see. Looks like we’re supposed to be most of the time the passing game is all about timing and distribution getting the guys in the right place and being there when you’re supposed to be there. It seems we have made a huge amount of progress that way.”
Sanders on freshman WR DeMarcus Sweat being a factor or impact this season: “Probably as much as a freshman can at this point. I think he’s got a great future and a lot of ability. He still doesn’t have that timing and distribution down being where he supposed to be when he’s supposed to be but he’s got speed, quickness, really good hands just a matter of how quickly he can learn and progress. Doing it on the practice field is good, doing it on the scrimmage field is good but when you turn on those lights on Saturdays sometimes they forget everything they knew.”
Sanders on Tight Ends and passing game progress: “Well we’re missing some many of them right now. Tyler Robinson not able to scrimmage today and Jordan Aumiller wasn’t out there today so it’s really curtailed a little bit of what we did with the TEs this week. It’s unfortunate that we’ve hadn’t had them but it’s also been good to work with other positions and other people.”
Well their still remains a lot to be seen on the true state of the offensive from various angles. It was mentioned that Joker may be ready to name a QB this weekend. For the offenses sake let’s hope that is the case. I am really glad to see that in a conference dominated by defense that our offense has come a long way but of course a long way to go not just heading into Louisville but of course in to conference play we’re we start off with the Florida Gators in the Swamp. Though it is evident the offense has found some momentum and inner spark that is making an impact during practice. The true test of just how far we come will be when we face our opponents’ defense and not that of a fellow bleed blue team mate. We have nothing to lose and a lot to gain in this youthful offense so let’s aim high ,take risk and make an impact play this season.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky offensive coordinator Randy Sanders is counting on freshman running backs Dyshawn Mobley and Justin Taylor, who both weigh about 220 pounds, to give UK a new dimension this season.
“They are both, big physical guys. From what I saw today (in Saturday’s scrimmage), usually when they hit in there, the pile falls back,” said Sanders. “You didn’t see them getting knocked back.
“It will be interesting to see how much better they are in the next scrimmage from what they were this scrimmage. The first scrimmage it is always a case with me that running backs you work on their footwork and everything else and they get out here and start running and they usually just take off. They are not executing their reads. They are just running like they always have.
“Once they get disciplined and really executing their footwork, they get better. And these two guys have the talent and strength to really do some different things for our offense.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
One year ago Kentucky got the face to its 2012 recruiting class when quarterback Patrick Towles of Highlands gave the Wildcats an early verbal commitment.
Now it could happen again after Signal Mountain (Tenn.) High School quarterback Reese Phillips has ended his college search by giving his verbal commitment to Kentucky during an unofficial visit Wednesday.
Phillips, who also had scholarship offers from Memphis and Middle Tennessee, threw for 1,895 yards and 21 touchdowns by completing 71 percent of his passes in a Wing-T offense.
Ward Gossett, assistant sports editor of the Chattanooga Tiimes Free Press, says Phillips’ arm is impressive.
“He can make all the throws, but especially good on fade route. Every recruiter that saw him said he can definitely make all the throws. He’s a shade over 6-2, about 215 and still growing. Doctors told his mom he’d be 6-4 or better,” said Gossett. “This kid is a pro-set type quarterback. He can run but he isn’t going to outrun any linebackers, and maybe not a defensive end, but he’s tough enough to lower a shoulder and smart enough to know when to slide.”
Gossett believes Phillips’ “potential is unlimited” based on what he did in only 10 games last year when he had just four interceptions.
“He is a smart kid at a grades-tough school (3.75 grade-point average, 20 on ACT only time he took it). Started as an eighth-grader in defensive backfield and returning punts and kickoffs. Has played corner, safety, linebacker, defensive end and split end. Good football smarts,” Gossett said.
The Chattanooga writer says he was not surprised by Phillips’ early commitment to UK.
“He fell in love with (UK offensive coordinator) Randy (Sanders) and told me earlier that he had a good feeling about Kentucky before his unofficial trip Tuesday and Wednesday,” Gossett said.
Phillips did grow up a Tennessee fan and said he had “known about” Sanders, a former offensive coordinator at Tennessee who coached Peyton Manning, for a “long time” before he was being recruited by Kentucky.
“He is someone I wanted to work with,” Phillips said. “I grew up a huge Tennessee fan. It was hard at first to start the recruiting process and not have a lot of love from Tennessee. But it’s all a business and eventually you figure out you cannot have favorites. You go with what you are given. I am not disappointed because I am very happy to be going to Kentucky. But I do look forward to playing Tennessee every year.”
Phillips knows former Wildcat Randall Cobb, a Tennessee product now playing for the Green Bay Packers, is one of several Tennessee high school standouts that flourished at UK.
“Everybody knows about Randall. I hope I can impact the program like he did,” Phillips said. “Kentucky in general is a good fit for me. It felt like home quickly. My mother was with me and would support me no matter what, but she had the same feelings I did. We both said it kind of reminded us of Chattanooga.”
By HAL MORRIS
LEXINGTON â€” When Bookie Cobbins was a quarterback in high school, he never gave much thought as to how tough it was for his receivers to run aÂ precise route.
Now the redshirt freshman is learning all that goes into the position since he is making a move from quarterback to wide receiver this spring.
â€œI never knew that, I just thought it was just simple route running and catch the ball, but youâ€™ve got to do so much. Youâ€™ve got plant well youâ€™ve to come out well and worry about what the (defensive back) is going to do,â€ Cobbins said Wednesday after the first day of spring practice.
â€œItâ€™s just a lot of stuff to learn, but Iâ€™m adapting to it.
â€œItâ€™s been going pretty well, I just have to work on route-running. I mean, I can catch the ball, just work more on route running. Weâ€™re just trying to get better.â€
Cobbins, who is from New Orleans, came to Kentucky rated the 26th-best dual-threat quarterback in the country, and 28th-best prospect in Louisiana. He threw for 1,308 yards and 15 touchdowns and ran for 26 yards and seven more scores his junior season. He only played four games his senior year before suffering a season-ending knee injury.
He redshirted last year working at quarterback, and was moved to receiver before spring practice began.
Kentucky coach Joker Phillips wanted to get Cobbins, who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds, on the field somehow. Phillips likes his promise, but knows Cobbins has a lot to learn about the position.
â€œStill a tough transition. learning to run routes versus the different coverages and all those things,â€ Phillips said. â€œHe struggled at times making the adjustments. he can run I think he knew the routes, but just the adjustments on the routes versus the coverages.â€
Cobbins believes it wonâ€™t take him long to get it down, though.
â€œBy the end of spring, I will have it by then. I doubt if it will take that long to do it,â€ said Cobbins, who loves playing quarterback, but knows this is how he will get playing time.
â€œItâ€™s all right. I love quarterback but this is where Iâ€™m at right now. And thatâ€™s what Iâ€™m going to do, just to get up to the next level, so thatâ€™s what Iâ€™m going to do.â€
Cobbins is making the same transition former UK star Randall Cobb made before being drafted by the Green Bay Packers. While he respects Cobb and what he did for the program, Cobbins wants to make his own name at UK.
A lot of people are telling me Iâ€™m going to be just like Randall. I mean, who wouldnâ€™t want to be like Randall Cobb?â€ he said. â€œBut I wouldnâ€™t mind being like Randall Cobb, but I want to start my own trend.â€