Like most coaches, Joker Phillips doesn't like the term "gamer."
In other words, if a guy isn't producing in practice, Phillips doesn't feel inclined to throw him in a game to see how he does once the lights go on.
"I hate guys that call themselves gamers," Phillips said. "Because we'll never see it because you won't get a chance."
Based on Matt Roark's performance in fall camp, Phillips saw no reason to expect a breakout afternoon from the 6-foot-6 wide receiver, but that's exactly what he got in Kentucky's 23-16 win over Louisville last week.
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Roark had a career-high three catches for 47 yards, but his impact went beyond the numbers. Two of his receptions came on third-and-long and resulted in first downs, and he also had a 25-yard catch-and-run to the U of L 1-yard line to set up Derrick Locke's short TD run that gave the Cats a 13-0 lead.
When asked if he saw Roark's big game coming, Phillips matter-of-factly said, "No."
Now Phillips might have to begrudgingly accept the fact that Roark may indeed be a gamer.
"He was inconsistent (in fall camp) but he came out and made a couple of plays," Phillips said. "Hopefully that will help his confidence. I guess you could call him a gamer, but we want to see it out here (at practice). It makes us feel a little bit better when you see it out here."
The performances of Roark and La'Rod King (three catches, 58 yards) have eased Phillips' concerns about the lack of depth behind starters Randall Cobb and Chris Matthews.
King missed about two weeks of pre-season practice with a neck stinger, but on the first play of the game he hauled in a 38-yard reception from Mike Hartline.
"When I found out the play was coming to me and we were going downfield, my eyes lit up," King said. "I said to myself, 'Here's a chance to make a big play.' I wasn't sure how I'd take a hit after missing a lot of practice, but after that, everything was good."
The Cats all but abandoned the downfield passing game last season after Hartline went down with a knee injury. But now with Hartline back and healthy, and the receivers a year older and more experienced, the Cats will be going deep with more regularity. The receivers don't have any objections to that.
"It keeps us interested," King said. "We want to beat DBs and score touchdowns. It was a learning experience last year, but now we all know that we can score and make big plays for the offense."
The Wildcats also have a tall receiving corps. Matthews and Roark are both 6-6, and King, Brian Adams and Aaron Boyd are all 6-4. Roark's size came in especially handy when Hartline was moving outside the pocket trying to find an open target.
"I just tried to find open space and wait," Roark said. "I know Mike's not ever looking to take a sack."
"He can make plays," Hartline said of Roark. "We worked on the scramble drill a lot this summer, and it's something he's good at. You don't have to throw the ball away. We've got big, tall strong guys, so if you've got a chance, you might as well throw it up and try and let them make a play."
Roark's emergence has been aided by the presence of receivers coach Tee Martin, who was Roark's quarterback coach at North Cobb (Ga.) High School, where Roark passed for 1,552 yards and 15 touchdowns and ran for 1,010 yards and 12 TDs as a senior.
"He's somebody I'm real close to and feel comfortable around," Roark said. "When I got here, it took a while to learn the fundamentals of being a receiver. I think I was expected to already know that stuff, but I never played receiver in high school. Tee has really helped me with the learning process."
"I had just been waiting and saying to myself, 'I can't wait to see the Matt that I know,'" Martin said. "We were undefeated in the regular season with him at QB, so I know he's a kid that wants it and can play hard. I counted on him a lot. I just kept telling him to be consistent. Some days he'd make great catches, some days he wouldn't. But he really showed up on Saturday. Now the key is for him to keep it up."
Durham to start
Senior Brad Durham will replace junior Billy Joe Murphy at offensive right tackle for the Western Kentucky game. Phillips said Murphy will back up both Durham and left tackle Chandler Burden.
"All three will play, but Brad deserves to start," Phillips said. "He probably played better than the other two."