Kentucky QB Smith finding out how much he still has to learn

jsmith3@herald-leader.comMarch 21, 2012 

  • UK football spring practice

    When: Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays through April 21 (Practices not open to public)

    Blue-White Game: Spring practice concludes April 21 with the team's annual intrasquad game at Commonwealth Stadium, which is open to the public.

Kentucky's football players talked about Maxwell Smith being confident in the huddle last season.

Even though the true freshman quarterback was forced into duty after the injury of Morgan Newton, he seemed to play the role convincingly.

Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders is glad it looked that way, but things aren't always as they seem.

"Max didn't know anything last year," Sanders said. "He knew just enough to survive for the most part."

On the first day of spring football Wednesday, when coaches were installing the basic parts of the offense and defense, Sanders said Smith still has lots to learn.

"The more he understands and the more he can anticipate, the more he can throw the ball accurately," Sanders said of Smith, who threw for 819 yards and four touchdowns last season.

"We've got to get to where he understands enough that he can make everyone else's job easier instead of everyone else trying to make his job easier."

As Coach Joker Phillips indicated before the start of spring football, Smith will be the No. 1 quarterback taking snaps. Eastern Kentucky transfer Jacob Russell will take snaps as the No. 2 quarterback.

While recovering from off-season surgery, Newton will be limited in action this spring. He will be able to hand off and do inside drills, but no throwing.

"I expect him to help coach the other guys," Sanders said of Newton. "Obviously, if you're a quarterback and can't throw in this offense, then you're pretty limited. He's got to do the best he can do with the mental reps and what's going on, being able to see it and learn from other people's mistakes."

So Smith will see a majority of the snaps, which will be good for his continuing education, Sanders said.

"There's no way a freshman is going to come in and know it all," Sanders said. "This is going to be valuable practice."

It's not going to be much fun for Smith, either.

"Max seems to be working hard," Sanders said. "I'm coaching him hard. I'm not making it easy on him or cater to him this spring. I'm going to see what he knows and see what he can absorb."

When told that Sanders said he still has loads to learn, Smith agreed.

"I need to keep progressing in the playbook and keep progressing learning defenses," Smith said. "I'm sure (Sanders would) even tell you I'm a lot further along than I was before. Here today, I was seeing defenses a lot better and I feel really good out here right now."

The quarterback, who was at UK for spring practice this time last season, said the learning curve is steep in this position.

"You get in here and it's mind-boggling for real," Smith said.

But he was pleased with how the first day of practice went.

Russell, who was trading snaps with Smith in the sunshine at the Nutter Training Complex on Wednesday, said he's seen Smith grow "a tremendous amount" in a short time.

"He came in like any other freshman would, but you can tell he's a natural leader, whether he realizes it or not," Russell said. "This team knows he's definitely one of its leaders."

Notes

■ Wide receiver Brian Adams, who also is an outfielder for the baseball team, will stay with the Bat Cats for the foreseeable future, Phillips said Wednesday.

"He's going to try to stay over (with baseball) a little bit longer and try to get his groove back," the coach said of Adams, who had five catches for 46 yards last season. "He's back and forth. It's hard for (him) to catch up with the guys who have been going through it the whole winter, as they have on the team.

"He's got some catching up to do over there. He's going to stay over there a little bit longer."

On UK's spring depth chart, Adams is listed as the No. 2 outside wide receiver.

■ Junior center Sam Simpson is probably out for spring practice while suffering with back spasms, Phillips said.

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.

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