Joker Phillips is used to going with the wide receivers and the rest of the offense when the Kentucky football team starts individual drills during football practices.
That will change now that Phillips is the man in charge. New assistant coach Tee Martin will take over the receivers, and Phillips will have to keep a close eye on everything that's going on at the Nutter Training Facility when UK opens spring practice Wednesday.
"When we break up into individual (drills) now, I'm kind of lost," Phillips said. "It's like, 'Dang, what do I do next?' But the thing I think a head coach has to do is, number one, make sure our offense, defense and special teams schemes are sound. The next thing I have to focus on is making sure we're fundamentally sound, and then the third thing is to make sure we're playing with effort."
Phillips said the main objective on the practice field will be to improve a passing attack that produced just 140.3 yards a game in 2009.
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"The one thing we have to do offensively is come out of this spring where we're comfortable throwing the football," Phillips said. "We're going to put a huge emphasis on being more efficient in the passing game."
Phillips will use the spring to try to figure out which of his three quarterbacks (Mike Hartline, Morgan Newton, Ryan Mossakowski) gives him the best shot of improving the passing game. Phillips said he'd ideally like a No. 1 guy to emerge by the end of spring, but if that doesn't happen the competition will extend into the summer and perhaps fall.
"I would love to (name a quarterback by the end of spring), but if that separation is not a huge separation we'll need to carry on through the fall," Phillips said. "If it's a huge separation we can go ahead and name a quarterback so that they'll have the summer to get ready to lead the team."
When asked what he'll be looking for in the quarterback battle, Phillips said, "Who can get us in the end zone? Who can manage the team? That's what a quarterback is measured on."
UK will also use the spring to piece together the offensive line, which lost four starters, and the tight end position, which lost its top three players on the depth chart to graduation.
Defensively, Phillips said his primary focus is getting off the field on third down. The linebacker position will be under the microscope as UK tries to replace All-Southeastern Conference performers Micah Johnson and Sam Maxwell.
Phillips, on predecessor Rich Brooks' staff since Brooks arrived at UK in 2002, has been preparing the past several years to take over as head coach, but some things are changing.
For one, Phillips will be breaking in three new assistant coaches: offensive line coach Mike Summers, defensive line coach David Turner, and wide receivers coach Martin.
The Cats will have more of a military feel with Phillips in charge, as the special teams unit will be renamed "special forces," with the punt team called "bombers."
"I've always been fascinated with the military," he said. "And that's the approach we want to take here."
■ Phillips announced position changes that will take place in the spring: Junior Chandler Burden is moving from defensive end to left tackle, junior Greg Meisner will move from defensive end to fullback, and redshirt freshman Jordan Aumiller will move from linebacker to tight end. Also, in changes that were announced earlier, junior safety Matt Lentz has moved to strong-side linebacker, and redshirt freshman Dakotah Tyler has moved from tailback to safety.
■ Two players will not participate in drills after undergoing off-season surgery: offensive guard Jake Lanefski (knee) and defensive end Taylor Wyndham (shoulder). Fullback Moncell Allen will be limited as he recovers from knee surgery.
■ The first seven practices (March 31-April 10) will be open to the public and media. Practices from April 12-23 will be closed, with the Blue-White Spring Game set for 1 p.m. Saturday, April 24 at Commonwealth Stadium. Practices will be held on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 9-11:20 a.m.
■ The construction of new position meeting rooms at the Nutter Training Facility has been completed. The project, which cost $750,000, features larger meeting spaces for each position group and enhanced video technology. It marks the seventh time in the past five years that UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart has invested in football upgrades.