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April 13 From the Pressbox

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FB 09_10 UK_FL  WEB 017.jpgThere's nothing like a quarterback debate to stir up interest in a football team's fan base, so many Wildcat fans are following this particular set of spring practices sessions with a closer eye than usual.

No doubt many of them figured one of the two highly touted young signal-callers (sophomore-to-be Morgan Newton or redshirt freshman Ryan Mossakowski) would seize the job but Mike Hartline is making a strong case thus far to keep the job he had to start the 2009 campaign.

Hartline was the sharpest of the three in last Saturday's first major scrimmage of the spring and if maintains that level of play in the next scrimmage and the April 24 Blue-White game, it'll be hard to see anyone unseating him in the fall.

Hartline's play through a season and a half as the starter was inconsistent but it's worth noting that one could have said the same about Andre Woodson heading into his junior season in 2006.  Woodson blossomed as he matured as a leader and as the weapons at his disposal improved.

This fall, Hartline, or whoever is under center, should have an arsenal that moves closer to that 2006-07 group than we've seen in the last two years. It starts with Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke, but what if Chris Matthews has the kind of breakout year that junior-college transfers Stevie Johnson and Aaron Boone had after one year in the program?  And could Nick Mellilo evolve into a Jacob Tamme-like tight end? 

If the answers are "yes"-- or some other player at those spot emerges to make a statement with his play -- then all of a sudden, any quarterback is going to look a lot better.

"We've got big, tall, strong receivers," Hartline said after going 10-for-15 for 153 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in Saturday's scrimmage at Commonwealth Stadium. "We've got an athletic guy in Randall who can do pretty much whatever you want him to do (and) the quickest tailback (Derrick Locke) around. To have the weapons we have, we can stretch our offense into something we've never seen before." 

Hartline was having the best game of this career in October at South Carolina when the Cats put up 17 first-half points on a defensive unit that was playing as well as any in the Southeastern Conference.  Then he injured his knee on the first series of the second half and wasn't the same again for the rest of the year.

Was that just a good day at the office or was it Hartline's breakout performance, to announce that he was taking his game to a higher level? If it was the latter and he picks up where he left off that day in Columbia, S.C., then Newton or Mossakowski is going to have come with a very strong challenge to overtake him.

The challenge for Hartline is to demonstrate consistency of performance over the next two Saturdays. To me, the most important to see this spring was for one quarterback to take charge of the position, because having all three being in the hunt would suggest that nobody was ready yet to be very good or great. 

Whichever QB it is, it'll just be good to see one guy can control. 

It's important for the offense to improve this year, to be able to carry a bigger share of the burden for victories while the defensive unit plugs the holes left by the loss of several key players.

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