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Season can't come fast enough for Phillips

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Joker Phillips spoke at a meeting of the Lexington Rotary Club on Thursday. (Bill Straus, UK Athletics) Joker Phillips spoke at a meeting of the Lexington Rotary Club on Thursday. (photo courtesy of Bill Straus)
With the way the calendar works out for college football, now is the time for coaches to take rare vacations. NCAA rules prohibit staffs from both recruiting and working with current players, so Joker Phillips and his assistants are spending much of July on vacation.

Phillips has managed to squeeze in a diversion here or there and even a short trip with his wife, but it's hardly been a relaxing time for him. In fact, Phillips called his vacation "grueling" simply because he's so ready to return to football full time.

"We'll be back in office next week, but we're eager to get back to work," Phillips said.

The only member of the Kentucky staff that can work directly with players right now is strength and conditioning coach Rock Oliver. Knowing Oliver's reputation, you can be sure that means this summer has been no vacation for the players with whom he's working. Phillips gets regular reports from Oliver on the Wildcats' progress, but he doesn't need much more confirmation that they're working hard than the kind he gets by administering the eye test.

"I can tell you this," Phillips said. "They look good walking through the halls."

That's only adding to Phillips' optimism for 2012, which started with strong performances by the Cats in their final two games of 2011. In a close loss on the road against SEC East champion Georgia and a streak-busting win over Tennessee, UK turned in arguably its best two efforts of the season. Even more encouragingly, they came with returners like Alvin "Bud" Dupree, Avery Williamson, Cartier Rice, Eric Dixon and Darrian Miller playing big roles.

Memorably, the Tennessee victory came without a true quarterback under center, as Maxwell Smith and Morgan Newton were sidelined due to injuries. However, Smith showed flashes of both production and potential during his freshman season.

"Somebody's got to get the first-team reps, so Max will be the guy that gets the first-team reps when we run out on the field the first day," Phillips said. "We'll gradually start trying to see who else can get in the mix to take some."

Joining in that quarterback battle will be newcomers Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow. The two are members of UK's 2012 freshman class, a group that has seen all of its members already arrive on campus. Phillips has not yet had the opportunity to coach those youngsters on the field, but he is getting to know them. Phillips had the freshmen over to his house this past weekend and learned quite a bit by simply watching them interact.

Defensive back Zack Blaylock caught a good-sized carp in Phillips' backyard pond. Towles, displaying the kind of leadership needed out of his position, wasted no time in quarterbacking the efforts to reel the fish in while teammates helped.

"That right there showed me that these guys really like each other," Phillips said. "They like working together."

The carp likely didn't weigh enough to test the strength of running back Dyshawn Mobley, a 5-foot-11, 225 pounder who can dead-lift "close to 700 pounds" according to Phillips.

"That's a huge number, especially for a back," Phillips said. "We haven't had that back here in a long time."

The thing is, Mobley isn't the only power back in his class. Fellow freshman Justin Taylor, a one-time Alabama commit, is listed at 5-10, 215 pounds and could help make running back the deepest position on UK's roster. With top runners CoShik Williams, Josh Clemons, Jonathan George and Raymond Sanders returning, the Cats may just have a stable of backs necessary to survive the rigors of a Southeastern Conference season.

"It's a deep position," Phillips said. "It's a talented position. We got some game experience. We got the two young guys who are excited about being here and working their tails off."

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