The first spring scrimmage for the University of Kentucky could be viewed as a draw. The offense came out and set the tone early, marching down the field for touchdowns on its first two drives. The first series pitted the first-team offense against the first-team defense, with the second-team units facing off in the second series.
The defense responded by making some nice individual plays, picking up its enthusiasm and keeping the offense out of the end zone the rest of the way until a late TD run by Jonathan George. The defense also recovered a pair of fumbles and stuffed Brandon Gainer on a fourth-and-short run play.
"I don't know if we were shell-shocked or what, but after that first series we came out and shut them down," said senior linebacker Ronnie Sneed. "Once we got riled up and loud, we started flying to the ball."
Still, co-defensive coordinator Rick Minter wasn't pleased with the way his team came out of the gate.
"I told them if that's how we're going to play, we're going to be down in a hole 7, 10, to 14 right off the bat," he said. "We've got to start faster than that. The lights came on today for a lot of our guys who had never played and it showed. The tempo and the intensity is not what it is in practice. We tried to treat it as a game as far as our mental preparation goes, and we've got a lot of work to do. I'm not displeased with our effort, but we've got a long way to go."
Morgan Newton continued with his solid spring, looking more in command of the offense than at any point during his UK career. He completed a nice swing pass to Raymond Sanders for a 20-plus yard gain to set up the first TD. Newton didn't throw a touchdown pass but had a few throws that were right on the money that were dropped by receivers.
Newton said he definitely feels more at ease under center now.
"I thought I did some things and put some balls in good places," Newton said. "We've still got a long way to go, and we still want to get better, but I'm feeling more and more comfortable every day. It's still April, but we're improving, and that's the most important thing. We were pretty solid on the opening drive. Unfortunately we weren't as solid the rest of the way, but we still did a lot of good things."
Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said Newton's intangibles have come a long way.
"He approaches practice like he's supposed to," Sanders said. "Having not gotten the job last year, as negative as it was at the time, he has turned it into a positive because he was able to figure out why. The way he played was very positive, but there's still another step to take. He seems to be doing his part, and hopefully we can get the other 10 guys around him playing well where the results show."
As for the offense's lull after the hot start, Sanders gave credit to the defense and said he wanted to do some experimenting.
"I thought the defense responded well," Sanders said. "One of things I wanted was for the offense to have success early, which we did, and then I wanted to test some things and see where we were and see how some guys responded in certain situations. It wasn't all about success at that point."
One of Sanders' experiments that seemed to work was George, who ran tough and physical all afternoon, scoring on a 9-yard run where he plowed over cornerback Jerrell Priester on his way to the end zone. George has been slowed by injuries and saw most of his action on special teams last year, but he's currently No. 2 on the depth chart behind Sanders.
"It's been kind of rough, but I finally feel like I'm 100 percent healthy and I can come and perform and try and get the coaches' attention," George said. "Everything's going good right now."
Sanders said George still needs to work on making the right reads and right cuts when he's running.
"But if you've got a guy who runs tough and physical, you can teach him the rest," he said.
The Kentucky defensive players are still getting used to Minter's new scheme, which is a multiple look that uses hybrid players at three positions and can switch in alignment from a 4-3 to 3-4 to 4-2-5.
"We're still in the beginning of the learning curve, but we've come a long way," Sneed said. "They've thrown a lot at us, and we're all trying to get it down as best as we can and as quick as we can in this short period of time."
Newton's brother visits
Speaking of Newton, his younger brother Langston is taking advantage of his spring break this week to take a look at schools. Langston Newton is a 6-foot-5, 240-pound junior defensive end at Carmel (Ind.) who is receiving interest from several schools. Newton and his family visited Ohio State, Louisville and stopped by UK's practice over the weekend and are scheduled to visit Western Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn and LSU next week. Newton attended Junior Day at Indiana last month.
Cats add to QB stable
Kentucky filled its need for a quarterback in the 2012 class last week with a commitment from Patrick Towles, a 6-foot-5, 232-pounder who threw for 2,471 yards and 21 touchdowns as a junior in leading Highlands to the Class 5A state title.
Projected starter Morgan Newton will be a senior when Towles enrolls, which would leave a potential three-man competition among Max Smith, a true freshman who's practicing this spring, Theltus Cobbins, a freshman who will arrive in the fall, and Towles.
Towles' quarterback coach is ex-UK star quarterback Jared Lorenzen, who said earlier this year that Towles was farther along than he was at the same stage.
"He's legit," Lorenzen said. "He's got all the tools: a strong arm, speed; he can run a 4.6 or 4.7 40. All he needs to work on now is consistency. I'm putting big goals out there for him because I really want him to challenge himself."