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QB conundrum will continue into fall camp

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FB 09_10 UK_Bama WEB 21.jpgBy Metz Camfield, UK media relations

The questions at quarterback will continue to persist.

Kentucky football head coach Joker Phillips was noncommittal in naming a starting quarterback Friday at Media Day but did say senior Mike Hartline would begin the season with the first team.

"(Hartline will) start off as the starter, yes," Phillips said. "I shouldn't say start. He'll start off as the first guy that gets reps because somebody has to do it, and he's been around here the longest."

While that isn't exactly the most ringing of endorsements, it is at least a start in shuffling out the three-way battle among Hartline, sophomore Morgan Newton and redshirt freshman Ryan Mossakowski.

Hartline will enter the season with the most experience having 21 games under his belt. Before going down with a knee injury in the Cats' game at South Carolina on Oct. 10, the Canton, Ohio, native was 77-of-127 on the season with six touchdowns and six interceptions.

The Cats ended up falling to Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks 28-26 in a game Hartline had been playing strong in, completing 9-of-14 passes for 139 yards and a touchdown.

Entering his senior season with the Cats, Phillips said Hartline has handled the competition well, citing his maturity as one key component.

"He comes from a sports family. He knows how to handle the situation that he's in," Phillips said. "... That's the thing you have to be as a quarterback. You've got to understand the pats on the back so you've also got to understand the criticism, and Mike understands that."

Hartline said he has to approach the situation like any other situation by continuing to get better, get in a rhythm and get excited. While Hartline acknowledged the starting job is up for grabs, he said he's approaching the three-man race as if it is his to lose.

"It's any of our jobs, but I'm going to take it as my job," Hartline said. "It's always going to be my job and I'm going to work as hard as I can to keep it that way and give everybody confidence that I want to be the quarterback, the guy put in pressure situations. I want to take the ball every snap, go up and down the field and score points."

Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders said there's a lot that goes into deciding who to play at quarterback. Sanders said it isn't simply a matter of which of the three is the best.

"They all have a good understanding of the offense," Sanders said. "Mike is probably a little bit ahead of Morgan and what he understands about the entire package. Morgan has the ability to run the ball and make some things happen with his legs. It's not that Mike can't run, but he doesn't have the same ability to run that Morgan has. When you start determining your quarterback, it's not just a matter of what those guys do, it's a matter of what the other 10 guys on offense are able to do. It's a matter of how good your defense is.

"Sometimes if your defense is good and those other 10 guys around them are pretty good, you're able to go with a guy that isn't going to make mistakes and isn't going to put the team in a bad position. Sometimes if you're not quite as good and you feel like you've got to score more points, then maybe you go with the guy you feel like has the ability to make some bigger plays but also might create a few bad plays."

Newton played admirably following Hartline's injury, winning five of his eight games as a starter, including road victories at Auburn and Georgia. It was UK's first win at Auburn since 1966 and the Cats' first at Georgia since 1977. By season's end, Newton earned himself a spot on the SEC All-Freshman team, as voted by the league's coaches.

Just don't tell him Auburn and Georgia were his only two big road victories.

"We all forget about Vandy," Newton said as he campaigned for the job. "Those are three big away games for us. For me as a college player, I've only played eight games."

It was the first time UK had won three SEC games on the road since 1977.

Phillips joked with the media Friday that they needed to speak with starting tailback Derrick Locke about the quarterback situation. Locke pledged his support for Hartline during SEC Media Days in Mobile, Ala., two weeks ago.

Hartline said he appreciated Locke's comments, but he wanted to hear those words from everyone's mouth, especially the coaches.

"You have to go out and prove yourself (and) you have to get the coaches' approval," Hartline said. "That's what we're looking for starting today. The only thing going through me right now is (excitement). I'm just ready to go and I've been looking forward to this."

While Mossakowski lacks the game experience Hartline and Newton possess, he believes watching the team from the sideline and seeing the changes happening during games was beneficial to his development as a quarterback.

"At the time, I wasn't too happy (about being redshirted), but (the coaches) see the big picture which is what is really important," Mossakowski said. "They don't see a year or a couple of months, or two years - they see the whole four or five years. Whatever they do, I have full faith in them."

Lying ahead for the three quarterbacks and the rest of the Cats will be a fall camp Phillips said will be their toughest yet. The Cats will practice at least once nearly every day leading up to their season opener on the road against archrival Louisville on Sept. 4.

What it all ultimately boils down to, Hartline said, is who gives the Cats the best opportunity to win ball games.

"I think that's always been Coach Sanders' motto and Coach Phillips' motto," Hartline said. "That's what they are looking for. We are all going to compete and we're all going to get better as individuals and players. Whoever makes the right plays and whoever continues to be consistent and gives our team the best opportunity to win."

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