UK QB Morgan Newton seasoned by ups and downs

jsmith3@herald-leader.comAugust 10, 2012 

Morgan Newton has worn the cape. There also have been times he's wanted to bury his head in it.

'Tis the life of a quarterback.

"When you're the backup, everyone wants you to come in and save the universe," Kentucky's senior said of the back-up quarterback role he's played several times over the years. "You kind of wear the cape. It's unrealistic."

Expectations of the starting quarterback are unrealistic, too, Newton said, knowing that from experience as well.

"When you're the starter, if things don't go right, it comes back on the quarterback, regardless if it's completely his fault or not," he said at UK's Media Day. "It comes with the territory. You have to take it in stride."

It's something he's tried to do during this roller-coaster ride of a career at Kentucky. He's tried to take it in stride this season as he battles sophomore Maxwell Smith and talented freshmen Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow for the starting QB role that he owned just a pre-season ago.

Newton was the second coming of Superman when he arrived on UK's campus from Carmel (Ind.) High School, which he led to three state championships.

He was elevated to All-America status by just about every national publication that names them.

Newton flew in and saved the day his freshman year when starter Mike Hartline suffered a season-ending injury.

Newton helped guide UK to its first win at Auburn since 1961. He helped lead the Cats to a bowl.

The next season, he roamed the sidelines again as a healthy Hartline won the starter's gig. Newton heard the calls for him to get in the game whenever Hartline faltered.

Last season was supposed to be Newton's season. He was named the starter early. This was his time, but he lamented that "things didn't go as well" as hoped.

With the departure of offensive stars like Randall Cobb, Derrick Locke, Chris Matthews and Hartline, Newton carried a big offensive load.

"I thought he played well early in the year; I thought he started to do more than his job a little bit at times," offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders told the Herald-Leader this summer. "The quarterback has so much to do he can only do his job."

There were numerous injuries to the offensive line in front of him. Newton threw for nearly as many touchdowns (eight) as he did interceptions (seven). The UK offense was anemic and stumbled, averaging just 15.8 points a game.

"I don't think there's any question that Morgan is a better player than he looked at times last year," Sanders said.

Newton heard the grumbles from the crowd. He heard the smattering of boos.

Several of Newton's teammates said this summer that they believe the quarterback took too much of the blame for an impotent offense.

"He takes a lot of criticism, but we also take it as a reflection of us," starting center Matt Smith said. "We take it as one of our responsibilities as an offensive line. If he's taking criticism or not completing passes, that's our fault. We need to block for him better, we need to help him out with calls. It's something he gets criticized for and we don't want him to get criticized for anything."

The center said he thought Newton dealt with it well.

"He's handled it very maturely and very professionally," Smith said. "He's not going around complaining about anything, or taking down anybody else."

Kentucky's players say they'll get behind whoever is named the starter in the next few weeks.

"I'm allowed to have an opinion, but I'm not going to have an opinion," senior receiver La'Rod King said when asked about the quarterback competition. "I don't care who's back there as long as he gets the job done.

"I want a guy who can get every receiver the ball. It's as simple as that."

Newton, who was unable to practice this spring after having surgery on his throwing shoulder, said he's done what he can to position himself to be the starter again.

"I've tried to commit myself to getting better physically and mentally," Newton said. "I've spent a lot of time in the film room evaluating myself and the offense."

Whatever caped crusader takes the field with the offense on Sept. 2 has the confidence of his coordinator.

"I feel really good with our group of quarterbacks," Sanders said. "Those guys compete hard and they want to win, but most of all they want the University of Kentucky to win."

Practice notes

Maybe not every position battle will be decided after Saturday's scrimmage, but Phillips said Friday that he'd like for some of them to. He'd especially like to see a starting quarterback emerge.

"Love to see that happen, a guy separates himself enough," Phillips said. "I'd love to see one guy come out here and take charge, take control and separate himself from the pack."

The coach said he isn't opposed to narrowing the competition among senior Morgan Newton, sophomore Maxwell Smith and freshmen Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow from four down to two after the first scrimmage.

"If those top two guys separate themselves enough from the freshmen, we will," Phillips said. "If not, we'll give it another week. It's only fair to those young guys."

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

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