Fans get first look at Cats

Phillips pleased with defense in open practice

jsmith3@herald-leader.comAugust 7, 2011 

Even two practices in, the buzz Coach Joker Phillips talked so much about in the pre-season is still there.

But that was to be expected at Kentucky's Fan Day at Commonwealth Stadium.

Phillips knows that, and he's tried to temper his enthusiasm a little.

"That's how I've been trying to approach this," he said after the two-hour practice in front of several thousand on Saturday night. "We're in our underwear now. ... It's easy to play in basketball gear, so we want to see how they play with their football gear on."

Phillips will wait to assess where things fall on the buzz-o-meter in a few days.

"I like what I saw, but it's the second day, it's what's expected," he said. "They're still fresh. It's only two days. Everybody's legs feel good; everybody's bodies feel good. I want to know how we're going to practice 10 days from now."

To the casual observer and to the head coach, some obvious things stood out on Saturday.

The position changes created by Rick Minter's new defense have made UK look quicker.

"Fast," was how Phillips assessed his defense.

Moving players like Winston Guy, Ridge Wilson and Taylor Wyndham closer to the ball has made the defense faster and more aggressive.

"Blitzing, slanting and angling," Phillips said he saw from the defense.

And even though it's smaller in stature, it's more dangerous, he said.

"You have to be bringing stuff from all over the place and that's what we saw."

Big offensive plays

Several big plays of the day, including a textbook touchdown catch, belonged to wide receiver La'Rod King as well as freshman receiver DeMarco Robinson, who had two acrobatic catches.

"You saw a couple of those guys making plays for us," Phillips said of the freshmen, who are expected to compete for starting spots by the end of training camp.

Several catches and extra yardage plays came from slot receiver Brandon Gainer, a redshirt freshman tailback out of Miami, Fla.

But Phillips declined to single out any one play or player offensively.

"I won't get excited about one play; I'll get excited about the 15 to 20 plays I saw," the coach said. "We'll see it on film and see who's catching our eye on 15 or 20 plays."

In his brief session with the media after practice and before autographs and fireworks began, Phillips said he was pleased overall with the quarterback play, especially given the amount of information thrown at them.

"There's a lot going in offensively right now," Phillips said. "Defensively, we haven't put as much in. We're rotating a lot of receivers and you don't know who you're throwing to. We're rotating in (seven) a lot of tight ends."

Conditioning 'better'

When the off-season conditioning started with Coach Rock Oliver and Phillips heard there would be less running, the head coach admitted that he worried about overall conditioning, but he's been pleasantly surprised by what he's seen so far.

"We didn't run as much as we ran last summer and it's (still) a lot better," Phillips said of the team's conditioning. "A lot of that is created by the mental toughness that (Oliver) has created in the weight room."

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