Joker takes charge in first practice

ccosby@herald-leader.comApril 1, 2010 

  • spring practice

    When: Through April 23

    Where: Nutter Training Facility

    Practices: Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 9-11:20 a.m. (Open to public through April 10 only)

    Blue-White Spring Game: 1 p.m. Saturday, April 24, at Commonwealth Stadium

There were some noticeable differences at Kentucky's first spring football practice at the Nutter Training Facility on Wednesday.

Rich Brooks was present but, instead of donning a whistle and blue UK gear, the former head coach stood in the background in street clothes as a casual observer.

And instead of barking at his receivers, Joker Phillips was navigating from drill to drill getting accustomed to his new role as head coach.

"I got a chance to spend some time with Rich, and he asked me, 'Were you lost?' " Phillips said. "I said, 'Very much so.' "

Phillips spent the past two years as the head-coach-in-waiting under Brooks, and he will keep some of the same principles and philosophies as his predecessor. But there will also be some differences. The first visible one came Wednesday, when there were no wind sprints at the end of practice. Phillips prefers that the players sprint from drill to drill and station to station.

"I don't want conditioning after practice. I want us to play ourselves into shape, and running to and from drills and on and off the field," Phillips said. "I think that's a good way to condition."

The players certainly didn't complain about not having to do wind sprints at the end of practice, and most say the strategy will pay dividends.

"It's a lot more up-tempo, running on and off the field, in and out of huddles, to and from drills," receiver Randall Cobb said. "I think this will carry over to the field and late in the fourth quarter when we need a play. Guys won't be as tired and will have fresh legs."

Phillips has no qualms about adjusting his philosophy if the players start slacking off with the in-practice sprinting.

"If we don't sprint like we're supposed to, if we're not conditioning like he wants us to condition, that means we'll end up doing what we don't like, and that's running after practice," defensive end DeQuin Evans said.

There's also a noticeable difference in the on-the-field demeanor of Brooks and Phillips. Brooks often stood in the background and observed, chiming in with suggestions and/or criticism when necessary.

"Coach Brooks was more laid back and let the coaches coach," Cobb said. "Joker's a little more hands on. They're both good philosophies that work; they're just different."

"Coach Joker is still Coach Joker," wide receiver Chris Matthews said. "He's still going to get after you and holler at you. He's more into practice than Coach Brooks. Coach Brooks would say something to you if you mess up. But Coach Joker stays into you."

The Wildcats were in helmets and shorts for the first practice so it was hard for Phillips to get a genuine assessment on anything, although he did say he was pleased with the effort, energy and execution.

All eyes were on quarterbacks Morgan Newton, Mike Hartline and Ryan Mossakowski, with none of them doing anything to separate himself. All three threw some good balls, and all three threw some that hung and sailed.

"There were a lot of balls going all over the place," Phillips said. "We've got to get more consistent throwing the ball. Morgan didn't have a good day, Mike had some good and bad throws, and (Mossakowksi) had some good and bad throws. We've got to get better."

Defensively, safety Taiedo Smith had two interceptions and a pass breakup during team drills, and safety Jarvis Walker also showed good pass-coverage skills.

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