WKU-UK football notes: Physicality serving Morgan Newton well in move to tight end

jsmith3@herald-leader.comSeptember 14, 2012 

  • Tennessee at Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30

    TV: ESPNU

    Records: Kentucky 2-9 (0-7 SEC); Tennessee 4-7 (1-6)

Morgan Newton may not have been Kentucky's quarterback of the present or the future, but he isn't going to spend his senior season sulking on the sidelines.

After it became clear to him that he was going to be the backup to sophomore Maxwell Smith, Newton went to his coaches and asked what he could do to get in the game.

He may be starting to find his niche at tight end. He threw a key block on Demarcus Sweat's 56-yard touchdown against Kent State last week.

"We're starting to expand on the things we feel he can do," Coach Joker Phillips said. "We don't really have a package, it's just, 'Go, Morgan.' We don't coach him up or teach him anything. He understands it. ... We'll continue to expand on that."

Newton practiced his new role more this week than the week before. Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders expects the senior to be more than just Smith's backup by the end of the season.

"We don't have many guys with his size and speed," Sanders said. "You don't have enough guys like that. And I told him last spring if he wasn't the starting quarterback, he wasn't going to stand beside me."

The new UK quarterback called Newton one of the best athletes on the team.

"He's definitely top five," Maxwell Smith surmised. "He's one of the best basketball players on the team. He can get very physical. You guys can see that when he runs the ball, he's not afraid of any contact. When we do put him at another position, I'm sure he can help us because he's a great athlete."

More than anything, though, Newton has been a valuable resource for the young quarterback, who is still figuring it all out.

"The last thing Morgan has done is sulk," Smith said. "He's been high-energy at practice. He's full-speed at his highest potential. He's practicing really well. He helps me all the time. If I make a bad read, he lets me know. He helps me a lot."

Newton's experience at quarterback makes it easier to slide him into positions in the offense, Sanders said.

"He's had a great attitude about it and we're going to continue working him and see where we can grow this," the offensive coordinator said. "He did some nice things (at practice this week), made a couple really nice catches. Obviously, if you played quarterback you should know what to do; it's a matter of learning how to do it."

Special teams splurge

Going into the season, Phillips said place-kicker Craig McIntosh was one of the few things he didn't have to worry about.

So the head coach was more than a little surprised when the senior missed his first field-goal attempt of the season, a 42-yarder at Louisville.

No one was more surprised when McIntosh followed that miss with another against Kent State.

"It's the first time I've ever missed two in a row," the former Lexington Christian player said. McIntosh said both misses were from the left hash and went wide right.

"It was a result of having my hips open when I made contact with the ball," he said.

Both McIntosh and his coach breathed a sigh of relief last week when he got one to go through.

"I was thankful to get that third one through and get a little confidence back," he said of the 47-yarder against the Flashes. "I know how to kick. That hasn't changed."

■ Any concern coaches had about using a true freshman punter are gone. After two weeks, Landon Foster is third in the nation in net punting with an average of 48.8 yards.

Against Kent State, Foster had three punts for 152 yards (50.7 average per punt). He's drawn comparisons to Green Bay Packers punter Tim Masthay, who also started as a freshman at UK.

As a freshman, Masthay averaged 36.4 yards a kick. He had a season-best 46-yard average versus Auburn, including a 59-yard punt, his longest of the season.

So far Foster's long was 53 yards against Louisville.

"He's doing even better than I thought he would at this point in his career," Phillips said. "First thing, he's a lot faster in his get-off. And then he's got really good hang time. ... I'm really excited about watching him every week, every chance he gets. I hope he doesn't have to kick as much, but every time he goes out on the field I feel comfortable."

■ Kentucky needs just 3 yards on a punt return Saturday to equal the number of punt return yards (35) it had all of last season. So far, UK is averaging 8 yards per return, a full 6.2 yards better than last season.

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