Scouting the cats: Quarterbacks

Team rallying behind Hartline

Players emphasize unity behind oft-criticized senior

ccosby@herald-leader.comAugust 28, 2010 

  • QUARTERBACKS

    The main man: Mike Hartline emerged from a near seven-month battle to win the quarterback job going into his senior season. Hartline doesn't overwhelm with his physical skills, but he has a good command of the offense and seems to have gained the respect of his teammates.

    The supporting cast: Sophomore Morgan Newton led the team to a 5-3 record after Hartline was injured at South Carolina last year. Newton has the strongest arm of the three quarterbacks and is also the biggest running threat, but he's still trying to find his way as a pocket passer.

    Newcomer to watch: Ryan Mossakowski is slowly shaking off the rust after redshirting last year while recovering from shoulder surgery. Mossakowski is a pure pocket passer who also has good field presence. He's currently pushing Newton for the backup job.

    Outlook: Hartline is the unquestioned starter for the moment, but nothing is etched in stone. Even if Hartline plays well and holds on to the job, the Wildcats must start looking to the future, so expect Newton and Mossakowski to play at various points during the season.

    Chip Cosby

Kentucky's version of The Decision is over: Mike Hartline has been named the starting quarterback.

The Wildcats have to hope that their decision doesn't have the same negative aftereffects that LeBron James' did.

Locker rooms usually have differing opinions over who the starting quarterback should be, and UK's is probably no different. But the players say they're glad the decision has been made and are ready to rally around Hartline.

Junior Randall Cobb, who's been in the middle of a few quarterback discussions in his three years as a Wildcat, said he was asked about the quarterbacks daily.

"Everywhere I went, people were trying to get something out of me, and we didn't even know," Cobb said. "I got tired of answering all the questions. Now we can say who it is, work with him and understand what we're trying to do. That has helped out a lot.

"We've all got to put our opinions aside and get behind (Hartline). If you want to be a teammate and fan and support us, show us that you support our quarterback. We won't listen to you if you won't support us."

Senior tailback Derrick Locke doesn't think the quarterback situation will be an issue moving forward.

"We all talked about it, and we understand that whatever decision they make, we have to respect it and play," Locke said. "We can't have people saying, 'I wish he was playing,' or not playing hard because a certain guy is out there. We don't have time for that. If we want to win, we've got to play hard and do our jobs regardless of who's back there."

The decision wore on the coaches even more than the players. Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders had his share of quarterback competitions at Tennessee — "It seems like I've gone through this every year," he said — and it hasn't gotten any easier.

"It wasn't an easy decision because personally I love all three of those guys," Sanders said. "I told them that choosing between them is like choosing between my daughters. You're happy for one of them but sad for the others. But while you're sad for them, you expect for them to respond the right way and handle it like men and be team-oriented, and I think they've done that."

Sanders admitted it was difficult telling Morgan Newton and Ryan Mossakowski that they had lost out but said he didn't try to sugarcoat things.

"You've got to be straight-forward and honest with them," Sanders said. "I tell them, 'If I tell you the truth, I expect you to be mature enough to handle the truth.' They might not like what you tell them sometimes, but as long as they know you're honest with them and you back up what you're telling them with facts, it's pretty easy for them to accept."

Sanders pointed to Will Fidler as a perfect example of how to handle disappointment over losing a job. Fid-ler had earned the backup job in fall camp last year, but when Hartline went down in the South Carolina game the coaching staff opted to bypass him and start Newton, then a true freshman, instead.

Fidler was disappointed but finished the year with a good attitude and kept himself prepared in case his number was called.

"He didn't like what he heard last year, but he accepted it and did what was right for the team," Sanders said. "I hope the two guys that didn't win the job didn't like it. I want them to be competitive and want to play. If they're very happy not to be the starter, they're not the kind of guys we want on the team."

Hartline has his fair share of critics, but he's had some shining moments.

He threw two late touchdown passes in a fourth-quarter comeback win over Arkansas, was the MVP of the Liberty Bowl in 2008 and is 2-0 against archrival Louisville.

"I think Mike's gotten a bad rap," Cobb said. "He's had some games where he's played really well, and he's had some tough games. But he always comes out and works hard every day, he knows the offense, and he's got a lot of experience. It's up to us to make plays for him and make his job easier."

The minute Hartline starts to struggle, the calls will come from the stands, message board forums and sports talk radio to make a move. But Locke said the team can't let the outside whispers affect the task at hand.

"(Hartline) is not going to have a perfect game every game," Locke said. "Some things are going to go wrong. But we've got to stay together. That's the main thing, regardless of who's back there (at quarterback)."

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