Kentucky football coach Joker Phillips knows he has one of the Southeastern Conference's most dynamic duos in Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke.
Now he's hoping that receiver Chris Matthews can turn that dynamic duo into a tantalizing trio.
Cobb and Locke, pre-season first-team All-SEC picks, will cause opposing defenses headaches all season. And Phillips says Matthews is ready to join them.
"Definitely," Phillips said when asked if he expects Matthews to blossom in 2010. "He's been one of the most consistent guys in this camp."
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Matthews arrived in Lexington last year with a lot of hype after being ranked as one of the nation's top junior-college prospects out of Harbor College in Los Angeles. He was the talk of fall camp early on as he used his size and physical skills to overwhelm defensive backs.
And Matthews appeared headed for a monster season after a four-catch, 57-yard (with a 22-yard TD catch) performance in the season opener against Miami (Ohio).
But as the competition stiffened, it became clear that Matthews had a long way to go. His season numbers (32 catches, 354 yards, three TDs) were decent, but like many junior-college transfers in their first year, he was slowed by not fully grasping the UK offense.
"We saw flashes of it last year," Phillips said. "We kept saying Chris Matthews is going to be a good player. But it never showed up as much as we would have liked it to."
"I was just doing it on ability last year," Matthews admitted. "They just threw me out there and said, 'Run this post or run this streak. The quarterback would throw it and I'd just go up and get it."
Eventually, though, the adjustment to SEC football caught up with Matthews.
"The coaches would tell me to always go full speed, even if you're doing it wrong," Matthews said. "But it's kind of difficult when you don't know the plays."
Now, with a spring practice and off-season under his belt, Matthews knows the UK offense. And the coaches can tell the difference on the practice field.
"Last year at this time, everything was (too) fast for him," Phillips said. "He'd walk off the ball not sure what's going on, not sure of the coverages, not sure of his assignments. This year he's blowing off the ball, and he's been aggressive and attacking the football and making plays for us. That's what we need him to do for us, because he has that kind of ability."
"I feel real good," Matthews said. "Last year was a learning experience for me. Now I've got everything under control. It feels a lot easier. Now that I know what's going on, I can incorporate that into my game."
The 6-foot-5, 219-pound Matthews brings size to the receiver position rarely seen around Lexington. Receivers of Matthews' stature were a regular at Tennessee, the old stomping ground of receivers coach Tee Martin.
"I tell him all the time, "I've seen guys take that kind of talent and do something with it," Martin said. "That's what I expect out of Chris. I don't expect anything less. He can be a dominant receiver. If he continues to work like he's working, we should see great things out of him this year."
With defenses expected to key on Cobb out wide and Locke in the backfield, there will be opportunities for Matthews to make plays.
"As a unit, when you have two guys you have to worry about, it allows other guys to get open, defenses have to change their schemes, and Derrick Locke should have a great game," Martin said. "If things work out like we think they will, we should have three weapons that teams will have to plan for."
"I think this is going to be my breakout year; a lot of people do," Matthews said. "They're going to be double- and triple-teaming Randall, leaving me one-on-one. And that's not how you're going to be able to stop me. Randall and Derrick, they've earned that respect; they've both proven to be two of the best in the SEC. At the end of the year, I want to be right there with them. I want to leave this place as one of the best receivers out there, and I feel like I can do that."
Phillips cancelsafternoon practice
Phillips called off the second of UK's two scheduled practices Tuesday, citing the team's energy and enthusiasm. Instead, Phillips took the team out for a day at the pool. Former coach Rich Brooks was known for his cannonballs off the diving board, but Phillips said he's a little different.
"I'll do a back flip," Phillips said. "I'm not at the age yet where I'll do a cannonball. But I like watching some of our players do it. I used to do a gainer, but my fear factor has gone up."
With the Sept. 4 opener at Louisville drawing closer, Phillips said it's getting to the point where the staff has to start being cautious with regard to injuries..
"The more fatigued they are, the more sore they are, that's when you might want to back off some because that's when you can have freak injuries," he said.
Cobb, Locke onHornung Award watch list
Cobb and Locke have been named to the inaugural Paul Hornung Award watch list. The award, named for the Louisville native who starred at Notre Dame in the 1950s as a halfback, quarterback, safety and kicker, is presented to college football's most versatile player.
Cobb, a junior, and Locke, a senior, are on the list along with 46 other players. The list was compiled by a panel of college football experts based on 2009 statistics and expectations heading into the 2010 season. The list includes 25 seniors, 18 juniors and five sophomores, representing all 11 conferences that make up the Football Bowl Subdivision.
The watch list will be updated during the course of the season based on players' performances before the selection committee narrows the list to 10-15 players in December. The inaugural award winner will be named in early January.
Kentucky is one of only three schools with two players on the listing, joining Ohio State (DeVier Posey, Terrelle Pryor) and Stanford (Owen Marecic, Chris Owusu).
Seven Southeastern Conference teams were represented, including Auburn (Demond Washington), Florida (Chris Rainey), Georgia (Brandon Boykin), Mississippi State (Leon Berry), South Carolina (Stephon Gilmore) and Vanderbilt (Warren Norman).