Kentucky's beleaguered offensive line got some good news Tuesday when veterans Matt Smith, Billy Joe Murphy and Larry Warford returned to practice.
"We're working in the right direction," offensive line coach Mike Summers said before adding a cautionary note. "These guys are not 100 percent. So it says an awful lot for their character to want to be out on the practice field."
UK Coach Joker Phillips said Smith, who is coming back from an ankle injury, had a "good, solid practice." Warford, also nursing an ankle injury, "didn't look like he had any (after) effects," the UK coach said. "We thought maybe he wouldn't practice."
Warford injured an ankle late in the loss to Louisville last Saturday.
Murphy, who is hobbled by a knee injury, "looked good," Phillips said.
Summers noted that Smith must shake off the rust from being absent from game action until the second half against Louisville. The line coach said he expected Murphy to be sidelined for two or three more weeks.
Then there is the damage to the line's collective psyche. After three games, UK ranks 10th among Southeastern Conference teams in average rushing yards and has surrendered 12 sacks. UK gave up only 19 sacks all of last season.
"It's very difficult for them," Summers said. "This group has a lot of pride and they had high expectations. And they haven't met those expectations."
Summers suggested the struggling start and burden of blame provide a teachable moment.
"All of us in life, when that comes up, have to reach down deep inside and decide how tough we are," Summers said. "And how committed we are. And how much courage we have.
"Sometimes those are pretty good things to learn about yourself, and so we're taking this opportunity to teach those lessons and, hopefully, it manifests itself in better offensive play."
As Summers suggested, the return of Smith, Murphy and Warford to practice should be a positive sign.
"We'll be OK," Summers said. "We just have to get together and play together and perform better."
UK will be part of a nationwide football tribute to Ronald Reagan this weekend, a spokesman with the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation said.
A coin with Reagan's likeness on the head side will be used for the pre-game coin flip at UK's game against Florida, said Robert Bauer, the head of external affairs for the Reagan Foundation.
Jason Schlafer, UK's assistant athletics director/marketing and licensing, said the Reagan commemorative coin flip is intended to be a non-partisan gesture.
Nearly 5,000 teams on the high school, college and pro level will participate in the tribute, which Bauer said was organized to recognize the 100th anniversary of Reagan's birth.
Other schools honoring Reagan include Alabama, Cincinnati, Illinois, Michigan, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.
Among NFL teams that will use the Reagan coin this weekend are the Buffalo Bills and Dallas Cowboys.
"I thought that was pretty good company to keep," Schlafer said.
Defensive tackle Mark Crawford remains on suspension and will not play against Florida, Phillips said.
"Every week we try to evaluate that and then come up with a decision," the UK coach said.
UK gets commitment
Kentucky picked up its 20th commitment for the 2012 recruiting class when Georgia "athlete" Fred Tiller chose the Cats on Tuesday, according to the Rivals.com recruiting service.
A 6-foot-1, 178-pound wide receiver/defensive back from Homerville, Ga. (Clinch Valley High School), Tiller is ranked a three-star prospect by Rivals and the No. 49 player in Georgia. He also had scholarship offers from Nebraska, Kansas, Mississippi State, East Carolina and Marshall, Rivals reported.