The Kentucky football team still has a trip to Tennessee and a likely bowl game on its 2010 slate. But with an open date this week and an extra month of practices in December, it's never too early to start looking ahead to 2011.
A big step in that process will come Thursday when the Cats conduct a scrimmage featuring redshirt freshmen and others who haven't seen much playing time this fall. The scrimmage — open to the public — will begin at 8 a.m. at the Tim Couch practice fields and is expected to last until about 9:30.
UK Coach Joker Phillips has been giving the young players more attention this week so they'll be ready for the scrimmage.
"That's their game," Phillips said. "We got those guys a lot of reps (in practice Wednesday) so they can play a lot faster tomorrow."
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One player Phillips is anxious to watch is redshirt freshman running back Brandon Gainer, who was making a push to play before being slowed by injury during fall camp. Gainer was listed at 200 pounds when he signed with UK but is now up to 215.
"He has done great in the weight room," Phillips said. "We haven't redshirted a lot of backs around here. They've all had to come in here and play for the most part."
Another young tailback, redshirt freshman Jonathan George, will get an extended look. The 5-foot-10, 205-pound George has played mostly on special teams this season, carrying just nine times for 25 yards in mop-up duty.
"Those guys are the future of this program," Phillips said.
The young players have actually been scrimmaging on Sundays for the past month. Phillips and his staff will get an extra month to evaluate the youngsters.
"That's what we're about, trying to make sure we're doing a good job of player development," Phillips said. "We've done a good job, we think, and we want to do even better developing some of the young kids. That starts now."
Former UK receiver and Buffalo Bills standout Steve Johnson used the bowl practices to propel himself to a huge senior year.
Ditto for current UK receiver Chris Matthews.
"You guys remember how much prepared (Johnson) was as a senior from getting those extra practices," Phillips said. "The same with Chris last year. We think it will help. We've been able to redshirt more guys than we ever have around here, and we think the bowl practices will help these guys develop even more."
Parking for scrimmage
Parking structure No. 7 on Sports Center Drive will be available for fans who attend the scrimmage.
No bowl talk yet
The Cats qualified for their fifth consecutive bowl by beating Vanderbilt, and with two teams (Georgia and Tennessee) still shooting for bowl eligibility, UK will most likely land in a bowl even if it finishes with six wins.
But Phillips said no one has mentioned bowls or possible bowl destinations this week during the open date.
"Our guys are thinking about Tennessee," he said. "We've put in their minds to get Kentucky better this week. When we go to the Tennessee period (in practices) we get their minds to Tennessee. I think their minds are in the right place."
Big Blue Crush continues
The Big Blue Crush, the annual blood drive battle between UK and Tennessee, continues through Friday. The Kentucky Blood Center will take donations at the Singletary Center from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Other blood-donating centers will be available throughout campus and the region. During Big Blue Crush, all donors will receive a Big Blue Crush T-shirt and a coupon good for a free McDonald's menu item. There will also be daily prizes, including iPads, iPod Nanos and gift cards from Wildcat Wearhouse. Tennessee leads the rivalry 12-9-1, which includes a seven-year win streak.