'Operation Win' Begins Spring Practice

March 30, 2010

Cat Scratches: Spring football position battles to watch for

LEXINGTON, Ky. – It has been time of great productivity for Joker Phillips since January 6, when he was confirmed as head coach of the Kentucky football team and put “Operation Win” into motion.

During that time, Phillips has:

  • hired three new assistant coaches
  • reached into the National Football League to hire strength coach Ray “Rock” Oliver
  • put an emphatic finish on the 2010 recruiting class
  • got a good start to the 2011 recruiting class
  • hit the road for the “Operation Win” tour, visiting former Wildcats, alumni and fans in several cities, including Frankfort, Atlanta, Louisville, Bardstown, Hopkinsville, Bowling Green, Nashville, Henderson and Cincinnati
  • made time to attend and support the UK men's and women's basketball teams during their travels in the Southeastern Conference and NCAA tournaments

On Wednesday, Phillips begins the next phase of Operation Win with the beginning of his first spring practice as head coach of the Wildcats.

Position Meeting Rooms the Newest Upgrade of Football Facilities: There has been another new addition to the Kentucky football facilities with the construction of new position meeting rooms at the Nutter Training Center.

The new meeting rooms feature larger meeting spaces for each position group and enhanced video technology. The project was completed at a cost of $750,000. It represents the seventh time in the last five years that Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart has invested in new or renovated facilities that enhance the safety and efficiency of the players and are attractive to prospective student-athletes.

Additional football facility construction since 2005 has included:

  • a new outdoor practice area at the Nutter Training Center, including two beautiful grass fields, a sports turf field, drainage system and stadium-style lighting
  • a new locker room at Commonwealth Stadium, consolidating the team from two locker rooms into one
  • a new playing surface at Commonwealth Stadium
  • a new locker room, shower and bathroom facilities at the Nutter Training Center
  • a new team meeting room at the Nutter Training Center with state-of-the-art video capability
  • a new FieldTurf surface in the Nutter Field House

Spring Practice Schedule: Practices held at the Nutter Training Facility unless noted otherwise. Practices might be moved indoors to the Nutter Field House in case of bad weather.

Wed. March 31 Practice 9 - 11:20 a.m., open to media and public
Fri. April 2 Practice 9 - 11:20 a.m., open to media and public
Sat. April 3 Practice 9 - 11:20 a.m., open to media and public
Mon. April 5 Practice 9 - 11:20 a.m., open to media and public
Wed. April 7 Practice 9 - 11:20 a.m., open to media and public
Fri. April 9 Practice 9 - 11:20 a.m., open to media and public
Sat. April 10 Practice time TBA, open to media and public
Mon. April 12 Practice closed
Wed. April 14 Practice closed
Fri. April 16 Practice closed
Sat. April 17 Practice closed
Mon. April 19 Practice closed
Wed. April 21 Practice closed
Fri. April 23 Practice closed
Sat. April 24 Blue/White Spring Game, 1:00 p.m. Commonwealth Stadium

Joker Phillips Press Conference

Opening Statement ...

"The first thing that I want to talk about is the injury report. There are a couple of guys that will not be participating in spring practice and they are: Jake Lanefski (recovering from ACL knee ligament), Taylor Wyndham (recovering from torn labrum shoulder surgery), those guys will not be participating in the full contact drills. Moncell Allen will also be limited in some of the things that he can do. He had knee surgery in the offseason also. Those three guys will either not be practicing or limited in some capacity.

"There are some position changes, some that you know and some that you don't know. Matt Lentz will move from free safety to Sam (strongside) linebacker to try to get his speed closer to the football. Chandler Burden will move from defensive end to left tackle on the offensive side of the ball. Jordan Aumiller, who was a linebacker for us, will move from Sam linebacker to tight end. Moncell Allen has always been listed as a tailback/fullback and he will have more of a role in the fullback slot this year. You will also see some other guys there because of Moncell being limited. One of the guys that we will have to see if he can be a fullback is Greg Meisner, who moves from defensive lineman to fullback. I think that you guys already knew that Dakotah Tyler would move to free safety and our safeties are interchangeable. They have to lock down in the box and sometimes they have to be over the top so there is no difference between our free safety and our strong safety. The other guy that will move will be Will Letton, who is a walk-on for us from Lexington Catholic. He will move from safety to the Will linebacker. Again, we are trying to get more speed closer to the ball and the more speed that you can get closer to the ball (on defense) then the more speed that you will have.

"The first phase of Operation Win was recruiting and we felt that we finished strong in recruiting. The second phase was our offseason program. The things that you want to come out of the offseason with are having your football team well conditioned and mentally tougher (then they were going in). We fell that that those two things were accomplished. I feel that our team is way ahead mentally in being tough. The third phase, which I know that I am excited about more than anything, is that now everything comes to a screeching halt as far as touring the country and talking to alums and it is just down to football. I am ready to get on the field. Spring football is the third phase.

"Our emphasis, offensively, is to come out of this spring where we are comfortable throwing the football. We have to put a huge emphasis on being more efficient in the passing game. To do that, we are going to have to find out who our quarterback is this spring and getting our receivers and quarterbacks on the same page and getting the protection right. Overall, we have to be better at throwing the football. 

"Defensively, we are going to stress and try to work on getting ourselves off the field on third down. That is the thing that we have tried to stress with our defensive kids this offseason is third down defense, whether it is third-and-one or third-and-long. Those are the things that we have to come out of this spring feeling good about.

"Our special forces, which you guys know them as special teams but we are renaming those to special forces ... we want to find out who can score points with their legs. That means, who can kick field goals, extra points. We have to find out if that guy is on our campus first of all. He might not be on our campus. We know that we went out and signed a (kicker) from LaGrange, Ga., Joe Mansour."

On what has been done to make players mentally tougher ...

"We have put our kids through a lot of challenges this offseason and everything that we have done in our offseason program we tried to make it competition. You had to compete against somebody at your position or somebody on the offensive or defensive side. We feel that we are more prepared to compete with each other in every drill that we will go through in the spring."

On the military approach that he is trying to install and if it will be much of a change ...

"I don't think that it will be a huge change but we are emphasizing it more. I have always been intrigued by the military because on one command they can get thousands of people to move in the same direction. That is the approach that we are taking along with Operation Win. We have changed our special teams to special forces and we are going to name our forces. For example, our punt team will be the bombers and all teams will have a military term."

On if he wants to come out of spring practice with a clear No. 1 quarterback ...

"I would love to but if that separation (between quarterbacks) is not a huge separation then I think that we need to carry it out throughout. If it is a huge separation then I would love to name a quarterback because he can then take you through the offseason."

On what he is looking for out of all the quarterbacks especially about Ryan Mossakowski ...

"From what we have heard about Ryan, and that is all we can go by, he is doing well physically in the weight room and he has done well in the drills. As far as us being able to see him throw, we can only go on what we hear and we hear that he is doing well. He is a sharp kid and that gives you a chance at that position. Now, we have to see how he is physically with his arm.

"We are looking at who can get us into the endzone. We need someone to manage the team but that can also get the ball in the endzone. That is how a quarterback is measured, is by how many times they get in the endzone. With three guys getting reps, it becomes a little tougher because you cannot give them as much. When they do get in there we have to see who can get us in the endzone."

On E.J. Fields and how critical the spring is for him ...

"This is a critical spring for him. Health-wise he looks good at times but there are times where he favors his ankle. This is very critical for him because he has been here two seasons and hasn't played a down for us. We think that he is talented enough that we have to find out if he can hold up this spring and get himself in the mix. He is a talented kid who can run, is big and strong and a guy that we think can stretch the field for us. This is a very critical spring for him and for us to get a feel for what he can do."

On what the different approach will be to try to get better on third down defensively ...

"One thing that we have done is put a huge emphasis on teaching them how to get themselves off the field (when they get a stop on third down).  We want to be excited when we do get a stop and sprint off the field. That is the thing that we have done well this offseason is on third down when you just got yourself off the field lets sprint off. I think that those guys got excited about that because then they got to sit there and drink Gatorade and watch the offense perform."

On if he is anxious to see how the competition plays out other then at quarterback ...

"I am anxious to see how the competition is up front (in the) offensive line. We have lost four (starters) up front but the thing that has happened is that we have redshirted a lot of (offensive linemen) so when a guy is in his second year after redshirting we want to get him reps. There is no need for him to be on the sideline by us. What we have done is play Brad Durham and Justin Jefferies and Larry Warford every three series which gave them a chance to get some reps. The thing that we were trying to do is build for the future also. The same is for this year, there are some guys that have redshirted that will have to play. Some of those might just be a series here and a series there but that builds depth up front. (Tackle) Billy Joe Murphy has gone into some games, and started games in the Southeastern Conference, and we feel good about him. Stuart Hines is probably one of our more consistent lineman last year and played a lot of plays. When we brought in (Larry) Warford, because he was a right guard, we felt that Stuart was our next best offensive lineman and we would move him to the left. We didn't take Stuart out when Larry went in the game. At center, we were able to play a few of the young guys at center in the first game in Marcus Davis and Matt Smith. They went in and did a good job for us. I was also happy to see Sam Simpson, who we redshirted, and Dave Ulinski who has been in some games."

On the tight end situation ...

"The thing at tight end is that we are really young and inexperienced. (Nick) Melillo is the only guy that has been in the game at the tight end position. We have (freshman) Anthony Kendrick who we feel has a world of talent but hasn't done it yet. The other guys are Ryan Wallace, who will be competing at that position and we want to find out if Jordan Aumiller could do it also."

On how Ryan Wallace did in his redshirt season ...

"He did well. The thing that I think he is better at is on the line blocking. He is not a guy that is going to stretch the field but he can capture the corner at the defensive end (from) the tight end position."

On the linebacker position ...

"That is a position that there is not as much depth, there are bodies there but not many that have been in the game. We were really excited last year during the training camp with Qua Huzzie because we thought that he was a guy that might be like Larry Warford that you play a series here and there because the talent he had. We feel good about him and Ronnie Sneed. Ronnie went in a few games and didn't get to play a lot but when he got in he performed well. That will be a good competition. The Sam (strongside) linebacker is what Sam Maxwell played and the thing that you don't see a lot is three linebacker sets because of spread defenses. That Sam linebacker really gets about 10-15 snaps a game when the team is in two-back. The thing that happened to Sam Maxwell last year was that we will take out the Will linebacker in Danny Trevathan and then Sam and Micah (Johnson) were the two linebackers. You only have the two linebacker scheme most the time anyway. We used a nickel back which was (Paul) Warford in there at the third linebacker at times."

On the defensive line and if freshman Justin Henderson can get in the mix early ...

"We hope that he can.  That is the idea for him to come in early to see what he can do in spring football. We only lost one defensive lineman and it was probably one of the best defensive lineman to have played here in a long time in Corey Peters. There was not a backup for Corey that got a lot of snaps behind him. On the other side we got some snaps for Mark Crawford and Shane McCord but all those guys played behind (Ricky) Lumpkin so we will have to move one of those guys over and get one of them on the field. We feel good about them because they have a lot of snaps but whether or not they can dominate a game like Corey is yet to be seen."

On his first practice as a head coach and what he is thinking ...

"When we broke up into individuals for the first time, I was lost like, `What do I do now?' The thing that a head coach has to do No. 1 is to make sure that our offense, defense and special forces schemes were sound. The next thing is to make sure that we are fundamentally sound and, finally, making sure that we are playing with effort.  I feel good about our schemes and watching our guys and what they are doing on both sides of the ball and on special forces. I have to make sure that we are teaching them fundamentals and effort in practice because I feel really good about our schemes. "

On Mike Hartline and if his knee is 100 percent ...

"He is 100 percent and has gone through all the offseason workouts and is one of our leaders. We feel that he will step back on the field ready to compete."

Thoughts on Morgan Newton's development during his freshman season ...

"A lot of it was that we, meaning I, had a lot to do with it in just feeling comfortable with him at times. The things that we should have done, as well as we were running the ball, is that I did not do enough hard play-action and try to throw the ball down the field. We were running the ball as well as any team in the country and the things that we did not do enough of were getting the ball down the field with him.

"First of all, Morgan is right on schedule.  The things that he did last year were amazing. I did try to protect him and when you look across the country at the true freshman quarterbacks at the top of the list is at USC and the second was at Michigan and look at their numbers. Their wins are down because of freshman quarterbacks but with Morgan, he went in and won five games (in eight starting assignments) and three of those were on the road in the SEC. The things that he did were amazing."

On how important it is for the receivers to make the quarterbacks look better ...

"They do, I have told you that these guys (wide receivers) are going to make good players and they are right on schedule too. This is their junior year and a lot of those guys that went in and got better last year and will be even better this year. You guys remember the pain that I went through when they were freshmen. The guy that I am more excited about to see in his senior season is Chris Matthews. I think that Matthews went in and caught 30-something passes last year and his confidence level is sky high. He can have a big year for us. One of the other guys is La'Rod King. The sky is the limit for him and he has a chance to be a big-time player for us around here for a long time and he is only a sophomore next year. We feel good about what he can do and I think the receivers will be a lot better and age has a lot to do with that."

On how hard it will be to manage three quarterbacks ...

"Once the season starts, it should have itself worked out by then but managing it and getting them reps now is the tough part. You have to give all three enough reps to compete and that is the tough part. We will just go about it day-to-day and chart it to make sure that they are getting an equal amount of reps. You just have to see how it works out, it might work itself out in a week or might now work itself out until the end of the spring. It might not even work itself out till the fall but hopefully we can get it scaled down to two guys that can compete as soon as possible but if not we are not going to put the third guy on the back burner. We expect all of them to compete."

On if he expects any of the freshmen could step up and have a huge impact on the team this season ...

"It is hard to predict because I thought that La'Rod King would be a guy that would redshirt. But then he comes in and he and Chris Matthews are battling (last August).  Chris moved ahead of him right before the first game but La'Rod was competing about as good as anybody I have seen as a freshman but had a lot of guys in front of him. It is hard to predict. I hope that a lot are able to help us, especially on special forces."

On the young running backs ...

"I am really excited to see both of those young running backs in Jonathan George and Donald Russell. Those two guys are identical, walking away from you, you cannot tell who is who. If they both had No. 28 jerseys on they would look the same. We are really excited about the offseason that they had and we had those two guys competing against each other a lot and it was a fierce competition. I am looking forward to see those guys compete. The thing that we have to do is find out who the backup is. The thing that you don't want to do is beat (Derrick) Locke up. We cannot do that. One thing that we tried to do last year was help him out too because of the grinding that you take in this league at running back."

On getting the new members of the coaching staff a chance to work with the players ...

"I am very excited about that and those guys have done a really good job.  All our coaches have done a good job of getting into the guys' minds about how mentally tough you have to be all 12 games. I like what Mike Summers, David Turner and Tee Martin did to come in and grab the bull by the horn and get rolling with it. You win up front and everyone knows that. The reason why Summers and Turner are here is because when we competed against those guys their teams were physical and I am looking forward to see those guys going against each other (in practice)."

On if it made it easier to transition to the new coaches considering the credentials that they brought with them ...

"Absolutely, when you have a guy like Mike Summers that has been in the NFL and most of the kids that come in this program now strive to be in that league. David Turner has been other places in this league and has been here at UK twice."

On the leadership in the program ...

"Ricky Lumpkin has been in the program a long time and I expect him to be a leader. One thing that Coach Turner is doing is giving those guys a chance. He is putting them out there and giving them a chance to be a leader and DeQuin Evans is already a leader by the way that he plays. His motor is always running and at linebacker we are trying to get a lot of leadership out of Danny Tevathan. We feel that Randall Burden is also becoming a leader and we are trying to develop leaders. On the offensive side of the ball, we feel that we have two of the best in the country in Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke and Mike Hartline has been doing some good things in leading this team as well."

On moving Chandler Burden over to offense ...

"We feel that offensively it will give him a better chance to get to the next level. It was his decision and ours. He came to us with it and he felt that offensively it gives him a better chance to get to the next level and we do too. We are going to do some things this spring to find out if he can help us at that position. I don't want to move him to offense as a backup. If he can't win the job on offense then we will move him back over to defense."