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Regardless of decision, future is bright for Newton

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There was a certain calmness about Morgan Newton after Tuesday's practice.

With his immediate starting future in question as Mike Hartline comes back from a knee injury, Newton seems to be at ease with the situation. As reporters huddled around Joker Phillips and asked him who Saturday's starting quarterback would be, Newton leaned back, put one arm around the back of the bench as the other grasped onto a water cup and took it all in stride.

"Mike is a guy that's been around here and played," Newton said. "He's a guy that's been in this offense and he knows his stuff. He made some checks today that I know I'm not there yet."

FB 09_10 UK_EKU web 25.jpgDon't get Newton wrong - he wants to start. But that's not his focus right now. He knew coming into this year that this UK team was Hartline's to guide. His focus and goals for the year were to get better and develop into a complete quarterback.

Regardless of who starts Saturday, Newton has provided fans with a firsthand account of the potential he showed at Carmel High School in Indiana, where he threw for 1,938 yards and 22 touchdowns and ran for an additional 1,664 yards and 26 scores as a senior en route to being named an All-America quarterback and the Gatorade Indiana Football Player of the Year.

Newton would be the first to tell you that he's got a long way to go, but it's become obvious that he has the potential to lead the UK offense in the years to come.

Since throwing for 39 yards in his debut at Auburn and 82 yards against Louisiana-Monroe, Newton has rebounded with 119 and 187 yards in his last two games as the full-time starter.

"I think the Morgan Newton that you saw Saturday was light years away from the Morgan Newton that you saw in the Auburn game," head coach Rich Brooks said. "That progress has been evident in practice to us as we've gone through the last couple of weeks, particularly the last two weeks."

When Newton was thrust into the starting role nearly a month ago, he had to quickly transform from an untested freshman to a leader capable of guiding the Wildcat offense.

The UK coaches have been quick to point out that they had to trim down the playbook when Newton took over, simply because he had never run it before, but quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said Newton has been a quick learner.

"The thing that's really encouraging with Morgan is he'd make a mistake against Auburn, but he didn't come back and do it the next week," Sanders said. "Then he'd make a mistake against Louisiana-Monroe and we were able to get that corrected. He's definitely still a work in progress but he's very eager to learn. He's been very coachable and very responsible."

The game is still "a blur" for Newton, Sanders said, but things have slowed down just a bit from his primetime performance at Auburn, giving the coaching staff more confidence in him to open up the playbook.

Like most young quarterbacks, Newton has a tendency to lock on one receiver and stare him down, but Sanders said he's done a better job in the last two games of going through all his reads and options.

"I had a little more success of getting through progressions and getting through reads and I think it worked out a little better than what it has," Newton said. "I heard somebody talking about (New Orleans Saints quarterback) Drew Brees and how he makes sure he goes through every read on every play even if that's not where he throws the ball."

Newton has also shown his ability to move around in the pocket. Although he hasn't put up spectacular numbers on the ground - the true freshman has ran the ball for 68 yards in four games - he's been able to get out of the pocket and make throws on the run.

At least twice during the Mississippi State game, Newton avoided the rush, rolled to the right and fired darts to convert third-and-long.

"There aren't many times as a quarterback you are going to be allowed to just sit back there and set your feet and stand in the pocket and throw," Sanders said. "You've got the pass rush that makes you move and a lot of times you have to move to see things. ... The good thing is when he has moved he's kept his head up and hasn't done what a lot of young quarterbacks do and just automatically tuck it run. He's kept his head up and kept his eyes downfield."

Newton was finally rewarded for his progress last game vs. Eastern Kentucky. After going his first three games without a passing touchdown, Newton finally found an aerial score on a 14-yard strike to tight end Maurice Grinter.

"That was awesome," Newton said. "I've been waiting on that. I told Will (Fidler) before the game, 'It would be nice to throw a touchdown.' I was able to see Maurice down there and I was able to hit him. It felt awesome to finally throw one and get everybody involved."

Oddly enough, after going his first 14 quarters with a passing score, Newton was able to do it again just over a minute later - on the very next UK offensive play - from 18 yards out to wide receiver Chris Matthews.

"It was pretty sweet," Newton said of throwing back-to-back touchdowns. "Hopefully there is a lot more of those to come."

No matter what happens the rest of the year, it's safe to say he has plenty more of those in store in the future.

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2 Comments

newton is the future. sorry mike, u played well but it's time to move on to newton

Jorts you missed the point of the story. It has nothing to do with Mike. Both boys have played well. We should support them both. Go Cats!!

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  • paducahcat: Jorts you missed the point of the story. It has nothing to do with Mike. Both boys have played well. read more
  • jorts4life: newton is the future. sorry mike, u played well but it's time to move on to newton read more