UK Football

Joker Phillips says he feels good about Kentucky football in 2012

Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips yells from the sideline in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Vanderbilt on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips yells from the sideline in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Vanderbilt on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) ASSOCIATED PRESS

It wasn't just that the season ended with goal posts coming down at Commonwealth Stadium.

It wasn't just that Kentucky was able to put an end to a 26-year losing streak to Tennessee.

UK Coach Joker Phillips sees plenty of other reasons to be optimistic going into next football season.

After being on the road for the past month recruiting, Phillips said on Wednesday that he's hopeful about the future of the program despite UK not making it back to a bowl game this season.

"Just the idea of seeing all those young guys out there making plays for us (this season) gets us excited about next year," Phillips said.

He talked about senior defensive playmakers Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy not being nearly as far along at this point in their careers as some of the younger players that made big plays for Kentucky this past season.

"There were a few times when you look out there and see some of the youth that was playing; I wasn't prepared for it," Phillips said. "On offense you would look out there and (there) would be four true freshmen, a redshirt freshman and a walk-on out there making plays."

The coach said seeing those young players making plays on both sides of the ball tells him that the staff has done a good job of developing the talent it brings in.

UK's other reasons for optimism include the number of returning playmakers at the skill positions, Phillips said.

There were times this season when Phillips was not so optimistic.

He referred to UK's 5-7 season as one of "ups and downs.

"There was a period where we were banged up, beat up and didn't play as well," he said. "Then there was a time when we got back healthy and didn't play as well. Then there was a time when we started to think we were bringing it together, getting everything together. Then there was another period when we didn't play as well."

But he saw some light at the end of the football tunnel.

"It was a strong finish by this football team," he said.

"We finished strong in the last couple games — had a pretty good showing — didn't come up with wins in all of them but we did finish strong," he said.

Phillips wasn't ready to be a complete Pollyanna, though.

He said several times in the 20-minute teleconference with members of the media on Wednesday that he wasn't satisfied with how the season ended.

"None of us ... are happy with the way the season went," Phillips said. "But we did see some improvement, especially the way we finished the last half of the season. We just want to try to move forward and try to get this thing right and start to get on to next year."

The coach said he was well received in players' homes during this most recent recruiting period, which ended Sunday.

Quarterback competition?

Just because Maxwell Smith played quarterback to end the season, don't assume that he's the quarterback to start next season, Phillips said when asked about the position.

"Every time we go out on the football field everybody is competing," Phillips said. "That's where your position is earned, that's where your reps are earned also."

Senior-to-be Morgan Newton will not be able to practice with contact in the spring because of surgery on his torn labrum this off-season.

"There will be a competition not only between Morgan and Max, but there will be a competition between Bookie Cobbins and then also to be added to that competition will be a guy like (transfer) Jacob Russell, who we're excited about," Phillips said.

"We've got more than just Max and Morgan on our football team that will have an opportunity to compete for that position."

Phillips was not allowed to discuss Kentucky Mr. Football Patrick Towles because he has not yet signed his national letter of intent.

No staff additions yet

Kentucky parted ways with co-defensive coordinator Steve Brown during the off-season, but Phillips said he did not anticipate any more changes or any job reshuffling on his staff.

"This is the time of year that you've got to try to hang on to them also," Phillips said. "This is the time where there's a lot of things going on in this profession. But we expect our staff to be intact in the next week or so. We're trying to evaluate a few coaches to add to the staff that we have."

Phillips said he was trying to get through the recruiting season before hiring for Brown's position.

Departures, changes

The main roster changes of note include redshirt freshman Dale Trimble leaving the team and a few walk-ons departing, Phillips said.

There also could be a junior college signing or two coming. UK is looking to fill specific needs at linebacker, wide receiver and offensive tackle to name a few, the coach said.

■ There are a few players who may be moved to new positions next season, especially in an attempt to increase the Cats' depth at cornerback. Names Phillips put out included Marcus Caffey, Jerry Williams and Daylen Hall.