LEXINGTON — Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said there’s an obvious reason he’s been a little lower key this summer than the past two years.
“One of the things, I’ve only done a few speeches. Nobody has asked this year. Nobody has asked me to speak at anything. I guess you go 5-7 and that happens,” Phillips said. “What have I¿learned? I learned nothing is guaranteed.
Phillips lost players to both graduation and transfers both off last year’s team, and the Wildcats are being picked by most to finish last in the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division this year. However, Phillips thinks better team chemistry will “help tremendously” and that his team could be much better than many expect.
“Our basketball team we just saw was talented, no doubt about that. There might have been some more talented teams in the country and might not have been. But there wasn’t ever a team that has been here or in the country that was as together as those guys,” Phillips said. “I watched our baseball team. They had a great year. I talked to coach (Garry) Henderson and he said he liked his locker room.
“I¿like our locker room.¿I think it will have guys in there that will be good. The coach never knows who the locker room warriors are. The players know. Our players love our locker room and when we sit down with leaders of this football team, they love the chemistry that they have in that locker room and why we are so excited.”
Kentucky held its annual media day this morning and will host fan day Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium beginning with an open practice at 6 p.m. Phillips shared these thoughts on various players going into the start of preseason camp today:
Question: Is redshirt freshman receiver Bookie Cobbins okay academically to begin preseason practice?
Phillips: “He is okay academically. He finished the semester up really well for us last semester and a lot of that happened when we took him off the field (during spring practice). I think he is competitive enough and has enough pride and that is an embarrassing moment for a guy when you take him off the field and his teammates have to see he is no longer there. A competitor will bow his neck and get things done and that’s what Bookie did. He spent a lot of time in our CATS Center with (advisor) Barb Dennison. The whole month of May was with (strength coach) Rock Oliver in the CATS Center making sure he was there and making sure he was where he was supposed to do.
“Getting a guy from a freshman to a sophomore is hard. A lot of times it is the first time they are away from home and they don’t really understand how to get themselves up or get to places they need to be. I think it is now kicking in for Bookie.”
Question: Is incoming freshman Jalen Whitlow a pure quarterback, Wildcat guy or could he play receiver or do you even know what will be best for him?
Phillips: “I¿don’t know exactly right now but he could do all those things. I¿think he could be a pure quarterback from reports we are getting from other players on how well he throws the football. I¿think he could be a Wildcat guy and do other things also. We want to give him an opportunity to compete for this quarterback position also.”
Question: If he is not going to be the No. 1 quarterback this year, do you have to think about moving him to another spot to get him on the field this season?
Phillips: “Yes, we would have to think about what is best for him and team. We don’t want him standing on the sideline by us. He’s too athletic. That would have been like us making Randall Cobb the backup quarterback and not playing him. We are not going to do that. We have to have our best 11 on the field and give them an opportunity to play. If Whitlow is one of those great athletes and not in the quarterback mix, you have to start talking to him and his family about possibly moving to another position that can help him prolong his career, too.”
Question: What is there about junior linebacker Avery Williamson that makes you confident he will be a big-time player this season?
Phillips: “Avery comes from a great family. Great mom and dad. He has got an awareness of his surroundings and is a really sharp kid mentally and physically he takes care of himself, and that’s important. People don’t understand how important it is to take care of your body and mind. Avery does that.
“I am starting to see a lot of leadership from him. I think as soon as this last group walked out the door. You had Ronnie Sneed out of the meeting room and Danny Trevathan out and Winston Guy out of the linebacker meeting and Ridge Wilson,¿I think it kicked in to him and he looked around and saw, ‘I¿am the guy who has to step up.’ You are seeing that. He is not just leading that group. He is leading the whole team offensively and defensively.”
Question: Do you worry that sophomore linebacker Alvin ‘Bud’ Dupree might have too much swagger?
Phillips: “I don’t think he has enough swagger about him at times. He is a real humble kid. Because of the things he has done around here on the football field and academically setting up tutors for his history group, I think he could have a little bit more swagger than he has even shown. I think that will kick in with him this year.”
Question: Do you have a recruiting policy now of making sure you or an assistant sees a player in person before a scholarship offer is made?
Phillips: “We will not sign a guy unless we see him at camp or at his practice. We are not going to sign players based on seeing them on film. Everyone offensive lineman we signed last year and have committed this year, (offensive line coach) Mike Summers saw. I trust him more than some (recruiting) guy putting stars (for rankings) on the guy. Mike Summers knows what he wants.
“I trust all our coaching staff. That’s one reason we have good kids in our program, and that’s what matters to me. I see guys leaving programs and getting in trouble and knew it was coming, and their coach knew. We do our homework on kids. We want kids that will be good in the locker room. We will take chances on kids if we think there is a chance they can be saved, but some can’t be saved. If a kid is in my office and is bawling after he gets his scholarship offer, that matters to me because I know he wants to be here. I¿am excited about this recruiting class that just walked on campus and ones that are committed (for next year). Our staff is evaluating and not worrying about star ratings. Wesley Woodyard is in the NFL now. He had two offers — Kentucky and Burger King. He was probably going to work at Burger King. Jeremy Jarmon was a two-star guy. Randall Cobb was. You have to trust your coaches more than the stars.”
Question: What do you think of freshman punter Landon Foster?
Phillips: “We saw him in person on campus. (Assistant coach) Greg Nord and I watched him. Sometimes you get enamored with a guy, so the thing we did is ask him to come back another time. He came back the next week so we could see how he performed with other great kickers because we wanted to get the best one. He performed for us and is a great athlete. We feel like we really have another great punter. Reports we are hearing from Ryan Tydlacka, who has signed with the Philadelphia Eagles and has been back on campus, is that Landon has a lot of talent.
“You want to see a kicker on your campus because of the balls. A lot of times in high school they are kicking balloons. The balls we put in the game rotation are the ones the quarterbacks likes. They are going to be newer and harder balls than high school kickers use. I¿have seen high school kickers that only use one ball. I want our quarterback to feel comfortable with the balls we are using, so I want to see how a high school kid will kick that same ball.”