Joker Phillips Monday Press Conference Coverage

Aug. 29, 2011

Head coach Joker Phillips

THE MODERATOR: With the unusual schedule this week of the Thursday game and then with next week being Labor Day week, we're still working out our practice and interview schedule. We will get that sent to you in the next couple days so you'll know how to plan for your next week. But looking ahead to this week of course, season opener against Western Kentucky University, 9:15 Eastern Thursday night in Nashville. Here to tell us more about it is the first UK coach to go to a bowl game in his first season as a head coach, Joker Phillips.

COACH PHILLIPS: Like Tony said, it's an unusual week. It's really a Monday, but it's a Wednesday, but we practice on a Thursday-type practice. We'll practice another Thursday-type practice tomorrow. The reason for that is we want to give the guys a chance to get their legs back. Thursday is a little lighter practice. It's usually an hour and a half, 50-minute team, a couple special teams, finish up. We'll have another Thursday-type practice tomorrow on Tuesday. It is unusual.

Our injury situation, I'll go over those real quick. Stuart Hines practiced. He put together a really good practice and feels really good. We probably will not start him. We'll probably start Kevin Mitchell, who has had a really good time, taken advantage of all the reps he was able to get while Stuart was out. We'll get Stuart in there as quick as we possibly can because he deserves to play also. But he's ready to go.

Matt Smith did not practice. He will go and probably play. He should play, I'll say. But Jake Lanefski will start out in the center position. Tyler Robinson did not practice. He should play also. Gene McCaskill has put together four, five really good practices, and he should play also.

On the defensive side of the ball, Donte Rumph has really had a good three, four days of practice. Looks like he's full speed. Huge load there inside. Taiedo Smith has not practiced. We'll take him and hopefully he can play also. Mikie Benton will be the starter at one of the safety spots.

That's our injury report.

We're excited about playing. We've been beating up on each other for a month now. It's game week. You can feel it around our place with our players, especially our older players, and it's starting to rub off on some of these young kids that understand how to handle themselves and prepare themselves for what is game week.

This is a good game for us trying to see how much we've improved. I really think that we've improved a lot. But the game will be a barometer to see how much we've improved.

Just excited about watching these kids play because they've put a lot of time and effort and are committed to a lot of things that we've asked them to commit to. They've done a really good job. So I'm excited about watching them play.

Any questions?

Q. On if this game is a good test for Kentucky’s run defense …

COACH PHILLIPS: Yeah, definitely. Last year (Bobby Rainey) ran for about 180. I'm not sure exactly what the team did. I mean, you cannot allow a team to rush for that many yards on you.

Rushing yards demoralizes you. You got to stop the run. When people are able to line up and run the ball on you, it's a slap in the face. Last year was a slap in the face the way they ran the ball on us.

Their offensive line coach, I've known him for a long time, does a great job. They have a really good offensive line. But we've got to rally to the ball, get Rainey on the ground. He's a talented back, no question about that.

But we've got to stop the run. To stop the run, sometimes you have to commit to getting enough people in the box to stopping the run, which sometimes hangs guys in the secondary out to dry. Those guys got to compete like the dickens outside because we've got to try to commit extra people to the line of scrimmage.

Q. You mentioned Donte (Rumph) having three or four good days of practice. What did he do exactly that caught your attention?

COACH PHILLIPS: Well, first of all, he's a load. He's 325 pounds, really strong, explosive, understands how to come out of his hips, use his hands, get off blocks. He's an SEC ‘three technique’ (defensive lineman). He's what we see every week. It's a look we hadn't seen here in a long time.

For us to stop the run, you have to have some big guys inside. These guys like to go to extra offensive linemen in their run game, extra tight ends. You'll see six offensive linemen, you'll see three tight ends at times. They want to run the ball. They do a really good job of it.

We'll have some different packages. We'll try to match big versus big. Donte is a huge key to that. He and Mister Cobble are a big key to that.

Q. What is the challenge of going up a guy you haven't seen call plays?

COACH PHILLIPS: You talking about Western's defensive coordinator?

Q. Yes.

COACH PHILLIPS: That makes it tough. It seems every year in our first game we're going up against a different coordinator. You have to watch some film. We watched some Miami film from last year. We didn't go all the way back to McNeese State where he was at. But we did watch the Miami tape.

Sometimes it's hard to get the guys to focus. Hey, we're not playing Miami, we're playing Western Kentucky, so we'll focus just on the scheme.

What we've seen in practice, there's not much more you can do that we haven't seen. That's what the game is about, is who can adjust the fastest. If they're giving us something we weren't expecting, we'll have to adjust. Our kids will have to adjust because of the things we've seen in practice.

Q. Any advantage for you because of new co-defensive coordinator Rick Minter?

COACH PHILLIPS: Definitely. Works both ways. I'm sure they've been studying Rick's (Rick Minter) past. Will definitely be an advantage for both sides on defense.

Q. Where do you feel like you are right now offensively?

COACH PHILLIPS: We haven't changed much offensively. We'll look the same. I think this guy that we have pulling the trigger can stretch the field. I'm really excited to watch him play. I mean, I'm not trying to say things too fast, but some days you don't recognize him from the bowl game, you know. He's that type of guy that has that type of command of the huddle, command of the ball. I'm just excited to watch him play.

Q. How about the other skill positions? You're replacing a lot of production. Starting out, how do you feel about that?

COACH PHILLIPS: The thing that we have, we have schemes. We have good zone schemes in the passing game. We got good man schemes. Our schemes give us a chance to get people separation. So I feel really good about our schemes.

I think our receivers understand. They've been around here a long time, so they understand our schemes, which I think will give them a chance to get themselves open.

We know how to take advantage of different schemes that people play against us, whether it's man schemes or zone schemes. That's what's given us a chance to throw the ball efficiently the last few years.

Q. On having several freshmen in the two-deep depth chart and if that is a good thing or a bad thing?

COACH PHILLIPS: I don't think it's a curse. We got to play the best players that are going to give us the best chance to win. Some of these freshmen are talented enough and mature enough. We have one offensive lineman in the two-deep that's a young guy. The rest of them are skill positions. We have one defensive lineman that will be in the two-deep also. The rest of them are skill.

You see skill playing every week, every week freshmen skill playing. Like I say, our schemes will give them a chance to be successful.

Q. On if he is surprised there are so many in the two-deep depth chart …

COACH PHILLIPS: We wouldn't have signed them if we didn't expect those guys to come in here and help us. That's just being honest. We expect every time we go out and recruit a class that we've got to get better than we have every year.

I'll tell these freshmen that just walked on campus, ‘We got to get better than you for us to be successful and continue the growth of the program.’

Q. You talked about freshman Alvin Dupree, trying to find him a home. Sounds like he found one at linebacker …

COACH PHILLIPS: All of those guys have done a really good job. That's the reason we have so many of them in two-deep. Like I said, I'm looking forward to watching those guys play. It's a talented group. Like I said, they look and carry themselves like SEC players are supposed to look and carry themselves. I'm excited to watch those guys play.

Q. On finding the next Randall Cobb or Derrick Locke and if he has seen that type of talent yet?

COACH PHILLIPS: You got to find them on Thursday night. You'll be there, right?

There will be some guys that will catch your eyes, no question about that, or they wouldn't be in the two-deep. They wouldn't be in the two-deep if we didn't feel like they were eye-catchers, because they definitely caught our eyes. That's the reason why they're in the two-deep.

Q. Will you early on actually go with the fullback or will you rely more on the tight ends?

COACH PHILLIPS: We'll mix and match. We'll have some two tight-end looks that give us some fullback sets, some two-back looks with the tight end. Go out there and let them play. We'll have some fullback sets also. We're not going to shy away because we have a young guy at fullback. We'll play him. The reason why he's there is because he's talented enough.

Q. On playing in-state games to start the season and if they are more dangerous because of the rivalry as opposed to other openers …

COACH PHILLIPS: They're all dangerous. They are motivated. Our guys will be, too. This is a brand-new team. First opportunity for us to go out and play and see how much we've improved. We don't feel any danger. We just feel like it's a great opportunity for both sides.

Q. How about getting a chance to play in Nashville?

COACH PHILLIPS: Big for us. We tried to hit (that area) really hard in recruiting. It's also close to western Kentucky, which we've done well there in the past also. Been a really good recruiting tool for us in that area. It's been a really good recruiting tool to say we're playing at an NFL stadium. We did it two years ago. We're doing it again this year. We'll go back in two years. It's been really good to use that as a selling point.

Q. On backup quarterback Maxwell Smith and how they will work him into getting game reps …

COACH PHILLIPS: No, we don't have a backup quarterback that has any snaps. So we've got to start getting one ready. We've learned a little bit of a lesson from a few years ago with Morgan, we had to put Morgan out there as a true freshman. But we had a backup that had played a few snaps. We thought that Morgan was a little bit more talented. We thought if it was a week, we'd play the No. 2 six games to bring a true freshman up to give us a better opportunity to win the six games because we felt he was the guy that gave us the best chance.

Now, we don't have an opportunity to have a guy with experience in front of a talented guy, so we've got to start getting some snaps. I would hate, four, five games, he's thrown in there with his first snaps having no experience. We have to find an opportunity to get him some snaps.

Q. Is that a thing where you can do that second quarter or early?

COACH PHILLIPS: It will just be a feel thing. We'll go from there.

Our quarterback situation, I was thinking about it the other day. We have done a really good job of developing quarterbacks. That's my opinion. I don't know what everybody thinks, but I think we have. We were kind of screwed up in our cycle because we lost a really good quarterback about five or six years ago. It kind of screwed us up in our cycle of quarterbacks. It was in between Andre' and Mike Hartline. So we lost a couple years in that.

I think we're back on schedule where this guy will have a really good career here for two years, then the next one comes, then we got one already committed to us that he'll be in a perfect situation to take it over after that one. We're now back on schedule with our quarterbacks.

Q. On what he expects from Morgan Newton

COACH PHILLIPS: Hope he can get the ball in the end zone. That would help. And winning games. That's what quarterbacks are judged on. If you're going to judge Morgan, he's won games around here as a starter. People talk about managing the game. I want a quarterback that can manage the game. I want a quarterback that can help us win games also. I think Morgan is ready for that also.

Q. On Kentucky’s depth at running back …

COACH PHILLIPS: Let's talk about the running back situation. I really like the running backs. Do we have a difference-maker? I'm not sure of that yet. I think a couple young guys are really talented. I'm waiting to see if there's a difference-maker in the group, a difference-maker that can hold up for 12 games, a difference-maker that can go the distance like we had last year. Don't know that yet, but we'll find out.

We'll have to play a few of those guys early because they all deserve to play. There's not a lot of separation amongst them, so we got to try to find some separation in the games now.

Regarding Morgan, night and day. You don't recognize the guy that we had in the bowl game. I mean, he's a lot different than what we saw in the bowl game. He's much improved. A lot of it has to do with his confidence. A lot of it has to do with getting reps and understanding of schemes better, understanding our protection.

But let me tell you this, when he played as a true freshman, he knew nothing. I mean, he knew nothing. He didn't know how to protect himself with protections. We had to be as simple as we possibly could be. Like I say, that's the process of our quarterbacks. It takes a little bit of time.

Now he has it. He's fixing protections. He's checking plays. He's doing all the things that the good quarterbacks we've had here did.

Q. How comfortable are you with the production you are getting from kickoff return and punt return?

COACH PHILLIPS: I'm comfortable with the kick returns. I really like our schemes. I think we're better up front in the whole blocking scheme. I think that will give us a chance to be successful in the kickoff return.

The punt return, you know, we have guys that haven't done it yet. We got some guys that have returned kicks. I think that's a little easier than the punt return, because you know you're going to get them started. I really like our schemes. I like our personnel that we have up front blocking for him. The punts, we certainly don't have a guy that's done it. That's the thing that bothers you a little bit. The guys haven't done it yet.

Q. On if there will ever be another Randall Cobb

COACH PHILLIPS: Well, I hope like heck there will be. We said there would never be another Tim Couch, and Andre' Woodson comes around. We said there would never be another Andre' Woodson and Morgan comes around. I'm hoping there will be another Cobb around here. The thing that Randall gave us more than anything was his leadership, his determination. I think that was infectious on this football team.

Q. On how it would boost his team’s confidence if they could come out and defend the run early …

COACH PHILLIPS: Man, that would give us a lot of confidence. Like I say, we talk about where we want to take this program. To do that, don't play good defense, you play dominant defense. I think that will be huge in our confidence if we can shut down a big-time back like that. It's a huge challenge. He's (Bobby Rainey) a great back. He makes people miss. He runs through tackles. He knows how to run around you. He can run over you. That's a huge challenge.

They got great schemes. They do an unbelievable job of running the football. We've got to make sure that we understand the schemes and then being attacking and aggressive like we say we want to be.

Q. How well do you know Willie Taggart?

COACH PHILLIPS: I've known him since he was a player. Really good guy. Doing a great job with the program. I was excited for him when he got a chance to lead his alma mater also. I'm sure he's living the same dream I'm living. We communicated a lot while he was coaching as an assistant there and I was an assistant here. We haven't talked as much since we were head coaches. When we see each other at events, we get a chance to visit with each other.

Great guy, doing a good job with his program.

Q. On if they will use all the defensive looks they have installed …

COACH PHILLIPS: I mean, that's just installing. Our defense was installing. You see a lot of stuff. We won't send all of it at them. As we install, our guys got to get it on tape so they can teach, therefore, we were the ones who got to see it every day.

Q. On how this year is different than last year now that he has a year under his belt …

COACH PHILLIPS: You know what to expect. You know you got a press conference the Monday of the game. You know the travel schedule, the obligations you have as the head coach as you travel. You start preparing a little bit earlier to get in front of your football team because you know how many times you're going to be in front of your football team and how much time you're going to have.

It's a lot different. A lot more comfortable. And who wouldn't be from year one to year two?

Q. Who will be on the field or in the booth from a coaching staff standpoint?

COACH PHILLIPS: On offense, Coach Sanders and Coach Nord will be up top. Special teams, special forces, Coach Nord is in charge of the overall organization. Even last year, we have different coaches in charge of different segments. Everything will be ran through him. But each coach on the sideline will have their area they'll be in charge of. So that's how we'll handle the special forces. Nord was on the field last year, but we feel we need some more eyes up top to help Coach Summers to see what we're seeing on defense.

The rest of the staff on offense will be down, Coach Martin, Coach Woodson, down on the sideline. He and Coach Martin will be the guys communicating with Morgan in-between plays, in- between series. Coach Summers will be on the sideline.

Defensively Coach Minter will be on the sideline. Coach Brown will go up also with Coach Sanders. The rest of the defensive staff will be on the field. A couple GAs up top as well.

Q. On how comfortable he is heading into the season opener than he was last year …

COACH PHILLIPS: You know, last year, I got a lot of sleep. I don't sleep much anyway, but I got enough sleep. Probably got more sleep on the night before the game than I do during the week.

But last year I was a little bit more worried about tickets. I got that out of my hands. I got that way out of my hands. I was ready for it. I'm only 35 minutes from there. Everybody in Franklin were calling for tickets. I just transferred them to Sandy. (laughter)

Q. On how important it is to play well in the first game …

COACH PHILLIPS: It's good to go out and play, first of all, so we can have some video to teach off of because we have some new personnel on offense, new schemes on defense. It will be good. And it will be good to see some different schemes that we're facing.

I think that's important to us. But it also will be very, very helpful on Friday if we start teaching off of video that we (played well). I think it helps because you have to have a different attitude based on how you play. It will definitely help us teach a little bit better, a little bit more calmer if we have played well.

All right. Thank you, guys.

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