Morgan Newton clearly expected to be the starting quarterback for the University of Kentucky this season.
When Coach Joker Phillips announced that Mike Hartline had won the job, Newton was visibly upset when talking to the media.
Three weeks have passed, and Newton is trying to adjust to life as a backup. He didn't get a snap in the season opener against Louisville and played two series of mop-up duty in the 63-28 win over Western Kentucky.
Newton said it took two days to get over the disappointment of not winning the job. "Then after that, it was just like, 'It's time to grow up and continue,' " he said. "It's been tough. Being a competitor, you want to be out on the field, and you feel like any time you're on the field you can make a big play or score a touchdown. But those are the cards you're dealt, so you just go with it."
Never miss a local story.
Upon naming Hartline the starter, Phillips also said the competition for the backup job was open between Newton and redshirt freshman Ryan Mossakowski. Newton got the first call when Hartline came out late in the third quarter against Western Kentucky. But Phillips said that doesn't necessarily mean Newton has locked down the No. 2 position.
"It will be a feel thing, what we think we need at that given time of the game, of who goes in first," he said. "We rotate them in different drills. In seven-on-seven, Morgan might go in. In 11-on-11, 'Moss' might be the first guy going in. We have to give those guys as close as we can equal reps and get both of them ready for what the situation calls for and who we want to go with. It's a long season."
Newton showed a glimpse of what made him such a highly touted prospect out of Carmel, Ind., against Western Kentucky when he rolled right as the pocket collapsed and led Matt Roark perfectly on a 40-yard strike.
"Things broke down on me and I just tried to make a play," Newton said.
If Hartline continues to play as well as he has the first two games, it might be hard to get Newton reps. Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said they won't designate specific times to get Newton and Mossakowski in the game just for the sake of doing it.
"Hopefully you get situations where you can get those guys in there," Sanders said. "It's not a situation where we need to try and change things up and break the flow we have offensively just to try and get them some experience."
Phillips said he's tried to pay attention to the backups' demeanors and body language and has liked what he's seen so far.
"I try to look at how guys are reacting on the sideline," he said. "It's hard sometimes to come to practice when you know you're not going to play. It's hard, no question about that. It's human nature. But I've looked at them even in practice. They've been upbeat. You see them on the sideline. They're all into it. They're all giving Mike information they've seen. They're all talking to Coach Sanders on the headset. I think they've been great."
Though it's been hard to sit on the sideline, Newton knows he'll have to be patient.
"The coaches always say, 'You're only one play away,' which I guess is true, but Mike is playing really, really well, and any time I can help him as much as possible that's what I'm going to try to do," Newton said. "I'm going to continue to try and get better, and continue to try and do good things out here, because obviously my time will come."
Then-UK coach Rich Brooks had planned on redshirting Newton last season before Hartline went down, but Phillips said a redshirt for Newton in 2010 was never in his plans. He pointed to defensive tackle Mister Cobble, who redshirted last fall before being ruled academically ineligible this season, as an example for not using it.
"I'm really not into the redshirting of guys that can help us win," Phillips said. "Newton can help us win. He's going to have to help us win down the road sometime. It's similar to Mister Cobble. You redshirt Mister Cobble, and last year Mister Cobble could have helped us, he could have. Now it's similar to an injury because now we lose him for two years."
Newton has perhaps the best physical tools among the three quarterbacks, but Sanders said he and Mossakowski have ground to make up in other areas.
"The one thing that is difficult for a young guy is getting through the progressions," Sanders said. "A lot of times it's easy to go from one to two, and sometimes it's easy to go from one to two to three, but getting to the fourth guy can be hard, and they both need to improve on that. They understand protections and can make calls to fix protections and get things blocked, but they can't do it as fast at the line of scrimmage as Mike can right now. Mike can see things, get it fixed and get our five linemen blocking the way they need to."
When quarterback competitions end, transfer speculation usually surrounds the loser or losers. Newton shrugged off such talk.
"You just try to be patient and make the best of what you've got," Newton said. "I don't plan on doing anything drastic or anything crazy. I'm just trying to get better."
Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips said Thursday that sophomore Craig McIntosh probably will handle extra points and field goals in Saturday's game against Akron.
Ryan Tydlacka, who missed two field goals in UK's first two games, will now concentrate on punting full time, while freshman Joe Mansour will handle kickoffs.
McIntosh, a Lexington Christian product, won a place on the squad last August and served as the kickoff specialist in 2009.
Redshirt freshman safety Jarvis Walker has left the team and will transfer, Phillips said Thursday. Walker, a Marrero, La., native, had been fighting for time behind starting safeties Winston Guy and Mychal Bailey, but he was behind Josh Gibbs and Taiedo Smith. Also, freshman Dakotah Tyler will be returning from a high-ankle sprain that kept him out of the first two games and is expected to immediately compete for time.