After two beautiful days to start Kentucky's spring football practice, a dose of rain and wind hit the Nutter Training Facility on Saturday morning for the team's first full workout in pads. And Coach Joker Phillips didn't think his team's performance was much better than the weather.
"It was a little slow today," Phillips said. "I'm not sure if it was because of the pads or because of the weather, but we didn't practice as fast, and the intensity started going down after the rain. We can't have a day where we're not intense and not flying around."
The three-man quarterback competition among Morgan Newton, Mike Hartline and Ryan Mossakowski is the hot topic of the spring, but Phillips said nobody emerged from the pack after the first week of practice.
"We haven't gotten that far yet," Phillips said. "They've all done some good things at times, but it's way too early to see any type of separation."
Phillips did mention a few players who have made early impressions during the first three practices. One is redshirt freshman defensive end Tristian Johnson, who's currently working behind Collins Ukwu on the right side and has shown a knack for getting in the backfield and being disruptive.
"I like seeing him running around and making plays," Phillips said of Johnson.
It's also been a busy first week for sophomore cornerback Cartier Rice, who has seen action at corner and as a nickel back.
"That's a lot for him to think about and do, but he's responded well," Phillips said.
And redshirt freshman Mister Cobble spent a good part of Saturday running first team at defensive tackle. Phillips said the 6-foot, 309-pound Cobble is ahead of where his mentor and fellow Central graduate, Corey Peters, was at a similar point in his career.
"I'm pretty happy with him; I think he's got a chance to be a really good player," Phillips said. "He's a guy who listens and watches everything our guys up front do. I'm not surprised that he's that far ahead."
Young backs learning
Senior-to-be Derrick Locke is entrenched as UK's starting tailback, but Phillips wanted to use the spring to get a closer look at Donald Russell and Jonathan George. Russell ran for 137 yards as a true freshman last fall, including a 79-yard touchdown against Eastern Kentucky. George had a promising fall camp before a high ankle sprain forced him to redshirt.
Phillips said the two are running neck-and-neck right now. Kentucky also signed three backs: Brandon Gainer, Raymond Sanders and Miles Simpson.
"Every now and then you'll see one stick their head above the other, then the other will close the separation," Phillips said. "The thing they've got to do is get better fundamentally. Things like keeping their head up in pass protection, running through tacklers and finishing runs."
Evans, Cobble tweak knees
Defensive end DeQuin Evans left practice Saturday with a knee injury. Phillips said that the training staff will monitor Evans over the next couple of days, but the injury isn't believed to be serious. Also, Mister Cobble suffered what Phillips believes is a knee sprain and will also be monitored over the next 24-48 hours.
Two seniors-to-begive up football
Wide receiver Kyrus Lanxter and linebacker Brandon Thurmond are not listed on the spring roster and have decided to bypass their senior seasons of eligibility. Lanxter caught 32 passes for 261 yards and a touchdown in his three seasons. His best season came in 2008 when he had 23 receptions for 195 yards, including a touchdown catch in UK's Music City Bowl win over East Carolina.
Thurmond's once-promising career was sidetracked by a rash of knee injuries, the first of which came during his redshirt freshman season.
Cats target Northern Kentucky and Ohio
Phillips has made it clear that his regime will put a recruiting emphasis on the Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati/Southern Ohio areas.
UK signed just two prospects from Northern Kentucky/Ohio from 2007-2009: Covington Holmes' Duran Jefferson, who signed in 2007 but never made it to campus because of off-the-field issues, and Chandler Burden, a 2008 signee who is competing at left tackle this spring.
But the Wildcats signed four players from the area last February, teammates Tyler Brause and Teven Eatman (Bucyrus, Ohio), Alex Smith (Cincinnati) and Miles Simpson (Simon Kenton).
UK has also made offers to at least five area players for 2011: OL Brad Coffman (Dublin, Ohio); LB Jarrett Grace (Cincinnati); LB Steven Daniels (Cincinnati); LB Antonio Poole (Cincinnati Winton Woods); and DE Jesse Hayes (Cincinnati).
Defensive coordinator Steve Brown is now in charge of the Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati recruiting base and spoke of UK's newfound emphasis on the area.
"You have to look at success that Michigan State, Cincinnati and Ohio State have had with kids from up there," Brown said. "There are a lot of players there; it's an untapped area. They have kids that are only an hour, hour and 20 minutes from here that have never even visited here. It's like a brand new world to them, and now they're starting to see our games. We had a kid here a couple of weeks ago, and the parents had never been here and they thought it was phenomenal. We need to start getting more of those kids. We have a place here where parents, relatives and friends can come see their kids play in a great conference."
Last week for open practices
UK's practices will be open to the public Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday this week, and then the remainder of spring practices will be closed until the Blue-White Spring Game on April 24.
Chip Cosby covers UK football for the Herald-Leader. This article includes his opinions and observations. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.