No Kentucky football player figured to be under the microscope more this spring than Mike Hartline.
So far the results have been similar to what we saw fromHartline last fall: He's mixed in some good days with some so-so ones.
The major difference, though, is Hartline hasn't been looking over his shoulder much this spring. Randall Cobb, who started four games at quarterback, is focusing primarily on being a receiver, and Joker Phillips, head coach for offense, said that has paid dividends for Hartline.
"I think Mike's handled himself well this spring," Phillips said. "I think what has helped is him knowing that it's his job. When we went through the bowl preparations, that's when you saw him improve a lot. He knew it was his show, and he played well in the bowl game. And he's had a pretty good spring. The ball has been coming out of his hands pretty well, and he's always been great at managing the game."
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"Game manager" is a term that has been used to describe Hartline on many occasions. Some could draw a negative connotation from that label, suggesting that a player doesn't have the physical talent to be a difference-maker and focuses on letting others make plays while not doing anything to lose the game.
But Hartline doesn't see things that way.
"If you can manage the game well, you're going to make plays," Hartline said. "If you don't manage the game well, you're going to put your offense in bad situations. Managing the game is all about being conservative and completing high percentage passes, but it also means if you manage the game well and get into the right plays you can have big plays as well."
Besides, Hartline said, he is ready to take the next step and become more than just a game manager.
"I'm starting to take it personally as my responsibility to not only come out and not lose, but to win the game as well," Hartline said. "Making plays, not just doing what the coaches ask me to do. Exhaust all my options before I throw the ball away or run the ball. Last fall, it was more about going through your progressions and getting rid of it. Right now, I feel like I'm coming into my own and becoming my own player, not just doing what I have to do to get by."
Hartline and the UK offense had a rough spring scrimmage. They were dominated by the defense and turned the ball over five times. But the offense had no turnovers in the second scrimmage and was able to run the ball effectively.
"That's the thing Coach (Randy) Sanders has been stressing," Hartline said. "Just improve each scrimmage. If we can do that, then that will set the kind of tone that will let us improve from week-to-week."
Phillips said the coaching staff is handling Hartline much the same way it handled Andre Woodson before his junior year.
"Our whole spring has been to make sure he feels good about himself," Phillips said. "We did that with Andre a couple of years ago. We wanted to make sure he felt comfortable with everything we're doing offensively. That's what we're doing with Mike, also."
UK Coach Rich Brooks has said he'd like to see Hartline improve his deep-ball passing. And while Hartline isn't blessed with a powerful arm, Phillips says he can still develop into a decent downfield passer.
"I think he needs to just keep working with the receivers," Phillips said. "You don't have to have a strong arm to throw the deep ball. You've just got to have some anticipation and get some air under it. A lot of his balls are way too flat, and that makes it hard to adjust to. You get some air under it, the margin of error gets wider. Personally, I don't like overthrows. I'd rather have it underthrown than overthrown because, if it's underthrown, the receiver can make the adjustment and come back and get it. If it's overthrown, it's like a foul ball. Just give them a chance, and I think he can be a good deep-ball thrower without having a cannon arm."
If Hartline can follow up a solid Liberty Bowl showing with a good performance in the Blue-White Spring Game on Saturday, he'll probably strengthen his hold on the No. 1 spot going into fall camp. And while hotshot freshmen Morgan Newton and Ryan Mossakowski both figure to challenge for time, Phillips intimated that Hartline should feel as if it's his job to lose.
"He knows how hard it is for a freshman," Phillips said. "I would think he would have the feeling it would be tough for a freshman to come in here opening day and take his job. We've got to find out if they can win the job, and he understands that. Deep in his mind, though, I bet he knows how hard it is for a freshman to come in here on opening day and be the guy."
Leadership council named
The leadership council for the Kentucky football team has been elected by the Wildcats, Coach Rich Brooks announced. There are seven players on the council, each elected by his position group. The council represents the team on issues that need player input and brings team concerns to the attention of the coaching staff if needed. This year's council members: defensive line, Corey Peters; linebackers, Micah Johnson; defensive backs, Trevard Lindley; offensive line, Zipp Duncan; tight ends/specialists, Ross Bogue; wide receivers, Kyrus Lanxter; quarterbacks, running backs, John Conner.