No Kentucky coach seems ready to come out and declare a winner in key position battles quite yet, but after the second and final fall football scrimmage Saturday, they are getting much closer.
The most heated battles this fall have come at running back, wide receiver, tight end and several special teams spots, Coach Joker Phillips said.
"There's not a lot of positions that are sewn up," the coach said last week. "But because there's so much competition — especially at the skill positions on offense — there's still some openings."
But is that good at this time of the year, with the season opener against Western Kentucky less than two weeks away?
Never miss a local story.
"It's good," Phillips said. "It's allowing us to have some depth at those positions. ... I'm glad we can't make a decision right now. It keeps those guys on their toes and they're competing as hard as they can to win a job."
The head coach warned before Saturday's scrimmage, which he called a final interview for several positions, that there could be some new faces on the travel team this season.
"It's an important day for a lot of people, young and old," he said.
"There were a lot of guys that were on the bus last year that may not be on the bus this year," Phillips said. "There will be a lot of faces on this football team that traveled with us last year that are battling to travel this year."
Tale of the tape?
Both Phillips and offensive coordinator Randy Sanders artfully dodged questions right after the scrimmage Saturday morning about who had made the cut.
Expect more of those answers to come out this week after coaches have had a chance to watch the scrimmage video.
"There is some separation," Phillips said. "I'm not going to say based on the naked eye. I'm going to go watch it a couple times and see for sure. I don't want to make any assessment just off of me being out here. ... We want to give them a fair assessment because this is important. I don't want to make a decision right here and back myself up against a wall."
Sanders took a page from Phillips' playbook.
"I've got to watch tape before I say somebody made a move," Sanders said. "Let me watch the tape. I know that's an old cliché, but that's the way coaches cover our tails, too."
While coaches weren't ready to declare starters at every position, they seemed pleased with what they are seeing from Morgan Newton, who was already named starting quarterback.
Phillips spent some time camped out behind the huddle on Saturday morning and liked what he saw from the junior.
"I thought Morgan handled himself pretty well," Phillips said. "He has really good command of the football right now. He's throwing the ball down the field with some authority."
Sanders, who also serves as quarterbacks coach, was impressed with Newton, who connected on several long passes with receivers Matt Roark and La'Rod King.
"There's no question he has the ability to throw the ball down the field," Sanders said. "He's making decisions quickly. He's seeing things well. We all know he's got a good arm and he can throw it where he wants to."
No redshirts here
There's been a lot of talk about the young, skill-position players on the offensive side of the ball, especially some of the talented freshman receivers and running backs, but there's some quality freshman talent on the other side of the ball, too, said co-coordinator Rick Minter.
So much talent, in fact, that he said last week he doesn't expect to redshirt any of the newcomers.
"To heck with that, let's get them ready," Minter said.
"They'll all play — unless something happens to them physically — they'll all play some role on our team. We'll have some good fill-ins."
This is by design since UK will lose a wealth of seniors to graduation at key defensive positions next season.
"We don't want to go into a year from now unprepared," he said. "We're not on track to hold any of them back, we're just going to play the best we have."
ESPN on campus
On Wednesday, a crew from ESPN was on campus to shoot UK's players and coaches as a part of the network's all-access series that will run during the season. The crew shot video of daily routines of the team and the coaches and spent time interviewing several of them. Since UK is playing its first three games on ESPNU, the Cats' segment likely will run at some point during that stretch.
Mess over Miami
The Kentucky coaches have spent nearly every waking moment since camp opened on Aug. 4 thinking about UK football, but the big college football story that made national news this week was hard to ignore.
Coach Joker Phillips acknowledged that he had read about the Yahoo investigation into Miami football and possible violations involving extra benefits for athletes, among other things. But don't expect a similar report to surface about UK under his watch, Phillips told the media.
"You guys know me, you know how I do business," he said. "We've always done business first class, so it doesn't affect us because we know we're only going to do things the right way. Since Joker Phillips has been a part of Kentucky we've never had anything negative as far as those types of things. We know who we are. We don't worry about how everyone else is."
At Media Day, Joker Phillips said starting defensive tackle Mark Crawford was trying to work his way out of the proverbial doghouse.
Phillips said the senior, who was suspended twice last season, was still working to be a part of the football team. This week, Phillips said Crawford has been "doing well."
"He's doing everything we've asked of him and we're asking a lot from him," Phillips said. "He's trying and he's trying to get out of the doghouse. He's trying to get in the good graces of the coach."
Battle of the Bluegrass
The Kentucky-Louisville football battle is still about a month away, but one part of the battle is starting Monday: the battle for your blood.
Whether you bleed blue or red, the Kentucky Blood Center wants your blood in its annual Battle of the Bluegrass from Monday through Sept. 2.
The Battle of the Bluegrass is the first in a series of three UK-related blood drives. The next two are the Big Blue Crush from Nov. 14-18 then the Big Blue Slam from Jan. 23-27.
For more information, go to the center's Web site: www.kybloodcenter.org.