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Notebook: Wide receivers headline Cats' improvement

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Joker Phillips and the Kentucky Wildcats will look to win their second consecutive SEC outing on Saturday against Vanderbilt. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Joker Phillips and the Kentucky Wildcats will look to win their second consecutive SEC outing on Saturday against Vanderbilt. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
The Kentucky Wildcats, coming off a 30-13 win over Ole Miss, hit the road to face another Southeastern Conference foe in Vanderbilt. We'll have our usual coverage leading up to the game and Cat Scratches will be in attendance in Nashville, Tenn. In the mean time, here are a few notes and quotes from Joker Phillips' weekly press conference on Monday (full video of his comments can be viewed here).

Wide receiver unit takes a step forward, but still a work in progress

Seven games into the 2011 season, a UK wide receiver had yet to post 100 yards receiving in a single contest. Meanwhile, La'Rod King was the primary target whether Maxwell Smith or Morgan Newton was under center and his production far outstripped that of any of his fellow receivers.

In the two subsequent games, UK has gotten three separate 100-yard performances. King has one of them, but Matt Roark has the two others in consecutive breakout games against Mississippi State and Ole Miss.

Smith has been the quarterback finding Roark, completing 20 passes for 232 yards to him. Roark deserves credit for how much better he has played, but his production can be largely attributed to the fact that Roark has been the receiver open in the offensive calls that have been made.

"Max throws to the open receiver," Phillips said. "La'Rod King was the guy that was getting open in our first read early in the season. He was way ahead of everybody in catching the ball. Now one thing we're doing is we're going through our reads, we have more crossing routes in our patterns. Matt is coming open."

Phillips isn't concerned about Smith training his eyes on Roark even when he's well covered. Roark has simply been open the last two weeks and Smith has found him.

"I don't think it's anything to do with him zeroing in on one receiver," Phillips said. "The quarterback, if you do that, you get yourself in trouble because they take that guy away and now it's really hard to get to your second and third read."

Saturday's win started with Smith and Roark hooking up for a number of completions. Eventually, Ole Miss adjusted, giving UK more opportunities on the outside. As a result, King had two catches for 93 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

"The way these guys played us the last week, they played us to give us the inside fade, so we ran more inside fades," Phillips said. "Who is inside? Matt Roark. Once they took away the inside fade, we had an opportunity to run the fade to the outside. La'Rod got a chance to catch the ball."

With King and Roark established as reliable targets the last two weeks, UK now will look for the emergence of a third and potentially fourth threat to take the wide receiver group to the next level.

"The way Roark and King are playing, Gene McCaskill and (Brian) Adams could make this receiving corps complete where you could throw four of them on the field and watch people try to cover them," Phillips said.

Phillips reflects on Trevathan

Star linebacker Danny Trevathan played his second to last home game as a Kentucky Wildcat this weekend, registering 17 tackles for the second straight game. He also had an interception for the third consecutive game.

Trevathan has been the anchor of the UK defense all season, but his production has spiked following his exclusion from the list of 12 semifinalists for the Butkus Award. Though Phillips would have loved to see him get the recognition he deserves, he doesn't mind Trevathan having a little extra motivation.

"I'm glad they did it," Phillips said. "One of the kids was saying this as I was walking by he was upset because he was taken off (the Butkus Award list). All he's done is had 34 tackles in the last two games, two interceptions, tackles for loss, he's leading our defense the way we expected him to lead it."

Based on the way he approaches every game and every day in practice though, there's nothing to say he would not have had exactly the same level of production if not for his omission from the Butkus list.

"He's a guy that's been a pro around here," Phillips said. "He's the model when we talk about being a pro. The guy takes his business serious, takes his play serious, as you can see."

Wildcats coping with bumps and bruises

Here is UK's injury report as announced by Phillips:

  • Ridge Wilson sustained a shoulder injury against Ole Miss, but has been cleared to play this week against Vanderbilt. If he sufficiently regains his strength and range of motion, he'll play Saturday.
  • Defensive tackles Donte Rumph and Mister Cobble showed improvement with their injured ankles. Both are expected to practice Wednesday.
  • Matt Roark has a foot sprain and will skip practice Tuesday before returning for Wednesday and Thursday.
  • E.J. Fields is day-to-day with a hip pointer.
  • Morgan Newton's injured ankle has improved from last week. He will test it in practice this week.
  • Raymond Sanders (high ankle sprain) will practice on Tuesday. "We'll see how he holds up," Phillips said.

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