HOOVER, Ala. — It was easy to see that Kentucky senior running back Derrick Locke was enjoying his first Southeastern Conference Football Media Days.
Not long after arriving at the Wynfrey Hotel, he ran into Florida Coach Urban Meyer.
"You've got Urban Meyer sitting right across the hall," Locke said. "I don't know about everybody else, but to me, that's like, 'Wow.' When I realized who it was, I wanted to shake his hand and introduce myself to him."
And Locke was his usual entertaining self with the assembled media contingent, speaking on a wide variety of topics, including agents, UK strength and conditioning coach Rock Oliver and even the UK quarterback situation.
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Locke gave his endorsement to senior Mike Hartline. Hartline held a slight lead over sophomore Morgan Newton and redshirt freshman Ryan Mossakowski at the end of spring.
"Honestly, I feel like Hart-line is the guy," Locke said. "When it comes to spring and stepping up, he had a great spring. He stepped up. He made plays. You could just look at him and tell how mature he is. You'd looked at him like, 'Hey, he belongs back there.' That's just how I feel."
Locke stressed that his comments weren't intended as a slight toward Newton or Mossakowski.
"I'm not saying we can't win with them, but I feel like it's Hartline," Locke said. "It's his senior year. This is all or nothing now, so I feel like he's got more to play for. I feel like he's going to give more out there. ...
"I feel like he's going to play at a level that everybody expected him to play on. No doubt about that — he's going to make plays, he's going to make reads, and that's the big thing. I'm putting all faith into him. If we want to win, I feel like he's going to be our guy."
UK Coach Joker Phillips said he'd like to name a starter early in fall camp but said there's still not enough separation among the three candidates to do that. It's a much different situation than in 2006, when Curtis Pulley held a slight lead over Andre Woodson after spring practice before Woodson put a stranglehold on the job with a much better summer.
"The thing we had in that year of Andre Woodson, he separated himself because we didn't think the backup quarterback was competing as hard," Phillips said. "This year, all three of those guys are competing. I don't see the separation being as drastic as it was in 2006."
Warford to miss senior season
Phillips confirmed that senior cornerback Paul Warford will miss the upcoming season. Phillips said Warford, a three-year starter, did not accumulate enough credit hours to maintain eligibility.
Warford was redshirted in 2008 because of academics and has no more eligibility as a Wildcat. He finishes his UK career with 35 games played, including 23 starts, 107 tackles, 16 pass breakups and two interceptions. Sophomore Martavious Neloms is now running first team at cornerback alongside returning starter Randall Burden.
Phillips said another potential starter is also in academic jeopardy. Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Mister Cobble has yet to secure eligibility for the 2010 season.
"He's got some work to do," Phillips said. "We're hoping he will get that done this summer."
Phillips said two other backup defensive players, tackle Myron Walker and linebacker Will Johnson, will transfer.
The UK defense was already faced with the prospect of replacing a pair of NFL Draft picks (tackle Corey Peters and cornerback Trevard Lindley) and All-SEC linebackers Sam Maxwell and Micah Johnson. But Phillips didn't seem overly concerned.
"There were going to be guys who were going to have to step up anyway," Phillips said. "We feel good about what's going on. We're not going to panic. We're not going to cancel the games."
As for the incoming recruiting class, Phillips said he's still awaiting word on the eligibility of four freshmen.
"All of them have a chance, a real good chance," Phillips said.
Cobb votes for himself
Locke has never lacked for confidence, but junior Randall Cobb said his dark blue suit combination outdid Locke's Media Day threads.
"Locke, he's not shy," Cobb said. "He says what he means, and he means what he says. That's just part of who he is. He'll tell you how good he is, and he'll tell you how good he looks. But I'm the best-dressed guy here today."