With national signing day less than two weeks away, Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips hasn't had much time to catch his breath since taking over for Rich Brooks.
Phillips met with the media Saturday for the first time since his introductory news conference on Jan. 5 and said he's spent much of his time on the road trying to put the finishing touches on UK's 2010 class.
The Wildcats have 22 known commitments, are waiting on decisions from several recruits and are also trying to sway several other prospects into signing on Feb. 3. Phillips said UK has three or four scholarships to work with and he plans on using them judiciously, citing the defensive line and wide receiver positions as areas of need.
"They've got to be the right three or four guys," Phillips said. "We're not going to take guys just to take guys. We want to take better than what we have already committed to us. There are a few (recruits) left out there we have targeted and are trying to get say yes. The thing we haven't had in the past is scholarships this time of year. We're usually not able to wait on people. This year we've got a chance to wait on some really good guys."
Kentucky hosted five players from Stephenson High School in Stone Mountain, Ga., for Saturday's basketball game with Arkansas. Included in that group were three players who have already committed: running back Raymond Sanders, linebacker Jabari Johnson and tight end Ronnie Shields. They were joined by teammates Mike Thornton, a 6-foot-2, 280-pound four-star defensive tackle, and Chris Sharpe, a three-star cornerback who had reportedly committed to Louisville two weeks ago but is now back on the market.
It would be a real coup if Phillips and his staff could reel in Thornton, who's listed as the No. 3 player in Georgia by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and has offers from the likes of Southern California, Penn State, Miami (Fla.), Georgia, Michigan and Alabama. Thornton would fill Phillips' need for an immediate-impact defensive lineman.
The Cats are also trying to get into the mix for a pair of prospects from Calhoun (Ga.) High School. One is five-star receiver Da'Rick Rogers, a Georgia commit. The Cats are also interested in Rogers' teammate, Nance Nash, a two-star dual-threat quarterback who has committed to Vanderbilt. Kentucky's other wide receiver target, Maudrecus Humphrey (Hoover, Ala.), is down to UK, Arkansas and Mississippi State.
UK is still working on Sam Gibson, a three-star athlete from Prattville (Ala.) who committed to LSU. Phillips made an in-home visit with Gibson this past week and also offered a scholarship to his teammate, three-star cornerback Cedric Smith. Smith has committed to Arkansas State.
The Cats would also take another running back if it worked out. The top two targets left on their board are D.J. Howard (Lincoln, Ala.) and Simon Kenton's Miles Simpson. Howard was scheduled to visit UK this weekend, but Rivals.com reported that Howard's trip to Auburn last weekend reaffirmed his commitment to the Tigers. Simpson is reportedly down to Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois
Phillips introduced new offensive line coach Mike Summers and defensive line coach David Turner to the media on Saturday. There have been numerous unconfirmed reports flying around that Ray "Rock" Oliver could return to UK as the new strength coach for football and that former Tennessee quarterback Tee Martin might be the next quarterbacks coach.
Martin led the Vols to a national championship in 1999 and has remained close with current offensive coordinator Randy Sanders.
Phillips did admit that there would likely be a shake-up among the strength and conditioning staff but did not go into specifics. He said any other staff changes would be announced at a later date.
New staff highlights
Phillips went down a list of many of the attributes that made Summers and Turner attractive options to join his staff. The first was recruiting; both Summers and Turner are lauded for their work on the recruiting trail. Turner has extensive ties in Atlanta and other surrounding areas of Georgia, which has been a primary focus area for Phillips since his return to UK.
Phillips also spoke of the two coaches' strengths as teachers as well as their reputations for producing physical front lines. Summers built a reputation as one of the nation's best offensive line coaches while at Louisville, and his guys helped Bobby Petrino roll out one of college football's most prolific offenses year in and year out. Three of his linemen at U of L (Renardo Foster, Jason Spitz and Eric Wood) played in the NFL while three others (Kurt Quarterman, George Bussey and Travis Leffew ) made either active rosters or in-season developmental squads.
Turner coached three linemen at Mississippi State who signed NFL contracts (Titus Brown, Jesse Bowman and Cortez McCraney) and one of his linemen during his three-year stint at Vanderbilt, Jovan Haye, plays for the Tennessee Titans.
And while Summers and Turner both were singled out by Phillips for developing physicality, they seem to go about it in different manners.
Summers' calm demeanor resembles that of a college professor.
"I consider myself a teacher," Summers said. "I try to reach them on a different level that helps them understand what they're doing. There won't be a lot of screaming and hollering and that type of thing. I try to create more of a teaching atmosphere."
Turner is the more fiery of the two but also says he strives to build relationships with the players.
"Some people say I'm hard, and I am," Turner said. "I'm hard on the guys. I'm going to demand a lot, but in return I'm going to give a lot. I'm a big family guy. I want them over at my house. I want them around my family. My wife enjoys it."
With regard to playing in the SEC, Turner said, "You have to play like a man. This is a grown man's league. The only league better than ours is the NFL."
Music City Bowlranks ninth
The Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl ranked ninth in attendance among the 29 non-BCS bowls for the 2009-10 season with a pro-UK crowd of 57,280 at Nashville's LP Field.
Chip Cosby covers UK football for the Herald-Leader. This article includes his opinions and observations. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.