When three key players at your most experienced — and perhaps most pivotal — spot this season go down, some coaches might hit the panic button.
Not Joker Phillips.
The Kentucky coach has several big names sidelined with injuries in offensive linemen Stuart Hines, Chandler Burden and Matt Smith, but Phillips sees it as a chance for depth development, not hand wringing.
"There's a lot of opportunities for some young offensive linemen, for us to feel comfortable enough to put them in the game," Phillips said after UK's first scrimmage Saturday. "They're getting a lot of snaps, and they've got to make those snaps count."
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All three starters are expected to be healthy in time for UK's season opener on Sept. 1 against Western Kentucky.
Specifically, Phillips mentioned moving junior Trevino Woods inside. Sophomore guard Kevin Mitchell has been seeing some time inside and Jake Lanefski has been spending time at multiple positions.
Mitchell is a player Phillips has been high on since as early as Media Day.
"Kevin Mitchell has done a great job in changing his body," Phillips said that day. "He's lost weight now, built his body back up, gained a lot of strength, and with that comes confidence."
Earlier this week, junior offensive guard Larry Warford — whom Phillips has said could end up being one of the best offensive linemen in UK history — had big things to say about another linemen as well, freshman Darrian Miller out of Bryan Station.
"Darrian Miller for sure is catching on really quick," Warford said of the 6-foot-5, 300 pounder. "Quicker than I did when I was a freshman. ... He's doing really well for how long he's been here."
Nearly every coach on the offensive side of the ball has stressed just how important an experienced, consistent line will be as UK tries to put in new players at key skill positions like running back and wide receiver.
Tee Martin, the wide receivers coach, said that depth and experience on the line will be the difference maker for Morgan Newton at quarterback this season.
"In our offense, the quarterback makes a lot of calls at the line of scrimmage," Martin said. "Knowing that you have a veteran group, (Newton) can worry about being the quarterback. ... That's huge for Morgan. Now he can focus on his job."
SEC changes? Not worried
Conferences expand and contract many times, so Joker Phillips seemed sort of bored with questions about the potential for a Southeastern Conference landscape change in the possible near future.
"It's not a big deal to me," the coach said. "If it expands, it expands. If it doesn't, it doesn't. .... I'm not worried about it. We worry about the schedule they put in front of us."
Phillips said it just seems like a bigger deal in the age of the Internet.
"I was here when this league expanded the first time, when we went from 10 to 12" teams, he said. "It kind of happened overnight to me. ... (Now) we're in a world that people want to say, 'Guess what I know?' So therefore it's a big deal now."
All the small things
The message of camp Kentucky this week seems to be doing the little things well. After a recent practice, Phillips went into great detail about the little things the Cats still aren't grasping.
He may have taken it a tad too far when he pointed to the team's main outdoor congregating area.
"We're not doing the little things," he said motioning toward the patio. "Picking up trash over here. Those are the little things that are the difference between us winning and losing. I pick up more trash than all the guys do when I come off the field. It's how I was brought up."
But Phillips did mention several other small things the Cats are struggling with that seem to have greater import on the field like "turnovers, defense, transitioning from drill to drill."
The coach did say his team has been doing some of the big things well — like playing with some swagger and enthusiasm and being aggressive with the ball.
But he kept pouncing on the small things.
"The little things are why we were 6-7," he said. "We keep talking about ... how close we were to being a team that won eight, nine, even 10 games. For us to close this gap, we're going to have to do the small things."
If quarterback Morgan Newton is feeling any extra stress during camp, he gets a nightly reprieve by just hanging out with his camp roommate, freshman quarterback Bookie Cobbins.
Nearly every UK player or coach cracks a smile or laughs aloud when asked about the freshman from New Orleans.
"This guy's got me laughing non-stop," Newton said on Media Day. "Sometimes it's like 'Bookie, what are you talking about?' He's a really funny guy."
Newton, whose parents are from Louisiana, said he's at an advantage over some of his teammates in decoding Cobbins' Cajun dialect.
"But sometimes I have to shake my head," Newton said. "It's real thick, but it's funny."
What's the funniest thing Cobbins has said, Newton was asked.
"If I knew, I'd tell ya," he said laughing.
The Cats' roster has some interesting additions this season, including a whopping 6-foot-11, 360-pound offensive lineman named Jack Gruenschlaeger.
"We believe that he is the tallest player ever," UK football spokesman Tony Neely said via email, before adding that long-time Cats equipment manager Tom Kalinowski did say that UK definitely has had players that were heavier in his 34 years on the job.
Gruenschlaeger, a walk-on who likely won't see the field this season, started at left guard for Newport Central Catholic's state championship team. The Thoroughbreds' front line, which blocked for a team that ran for 400 yards in the state title game last season, must have been super imposing since Gruenschlaeger lined up next to 6-foot-7, 245-pound Jake Giesler.
Gruenschlaeger also played basketball for NewCath, averaging just two points and 2.4 rebounds in 10 games his senior season.
Another player who showed up on the Cats' most recently released roster is James McDevitt, a 25-year-old senior transfer from Southern Miss. His bio info from that school said McDevitt is a member of the U.S. Army and that he fought in Iraq in 2005-06.
Much like the first-year freshmen, McDevitt has not been allowed to talk with the media yet this season.