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April 14, 2012On Friday afternoon, Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips was asking his team for the most competitive scrimmage yet in his time leading the Wildcats. On Saturday, he was pleased with what he saw in the Wildcats' final scrimmage before the Blue/White Game on April 21.
"I told the team, one side might think they won, the other might think they won," Phillips said. "From where I stand, I felt Kentucky won today. I thought we got better."
The offense scored a touchdown on its first drive, then finished strong, Phillips said.
Sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith had four touchdown passes, two each to sophomore receiver Demarco Robinson and senior receiver La'Rod King. He also had a 98-yard touchdown pass to junior tailback Raymond Sanders called back because it was ruled a sack on the play.
"Demarco, he knows all the signals," Smith said. "He knows everything, he lines up right. He's got a real good grasp of the offense. He's got to be a contributor on this team."
Smith and Sanders were running the stairs at Commonwealth Stadium after the scrimmage for a botched handoff, but the offense recovered it. The starting offense had no turnovers in 13 drives on Saturday.
Robinson had a potential third touchdown reception, but his path to the end zone was blocked by the official. He's consistently drawn praise from coaches for his progression this spring.
"Demarco is doing some really nice things," offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. "I've been really pleased with the spring he has had. He's made a marked improvement on his route-running. He's always had the ability to run around and catch the ball. Now, he's a whole lot easier to hit because he's where he's supposed to be when he's supposed to be there."
Robinson, along with redshirt freshman Daryl Collins, are two players who have the potential to be 'erasers,' Smith said. They're the kind of players who can cover up mistakes thanks to big-play ability.
"Coach says we don't have many erasers, and those guys can be erasers," Smith said. "As their careers go on here, they're going to be big-time guys for us."
Faulkner fighting for playing time
Sophomore safety Glenn Faulkner is still fighting to find his way on the field on defense.
"I'm learning a lot right now, but I still have a lot more to learn," he said. "I have to put in more work. I have to come in, watch more film. I have to progress."
Faulkner played almost exclusively on special teams as a true freshman in 2011, and is currently listed second on the depth chart behind senior Martavius Neloms at free safety.
Neloms is expected to move between safety and nickel in certain packages, giving younger players a chance to get on the field. For now, it appears sophomore safety Ashely Lowery will get on the field before Faulkner will.
"Ashely Lowery is probably ahead of Glenn Faulkner," Phillips said. "We're just trying to get our best personnel on the field when we get into our third down packages."
There will still be opportunities for Faulkner to earn his time, and still a lot of practice between now and the season opener at Louisville on Sept. 2. Faulkner will have to keep working in that time.
"Faulk's come along," Minter said. "He's a backup safety right now. He's got roles for us and he's a bright, bright young want-to-be guy. We've got to wait for him to grow up a little bit."
Fullback packages to be determined
Freshman fullback D.J. Warren is also fighting to find his role in the offense. Warren, who played tailback in high school, had to make the move to blocking back while playing as a true freshman in 2011.
Warren played significant minutes in his first year, but Sanders still opted to use multiple tight end sets often instead of playing a fullback. In Warren's second year, Sanders will look again and decide how much to use the fullback.
"It's going to depend on who is our best eleven players," Sanders said. "That's what we're going to build our offense around. We have a couple tight ends who are doing really well. D.J. Warren is doing well, we have some receivers who are coming. I have my idea of what I would like to do, and I think we'll have a pretty diverse package."
Even if his role doesn't expand, there should still be a difference when he is on the field, though.
"D.J. is a really hard-working guy," running backs coach Steve Pardue said. "You can tell, his understanding of the offense has grown so much since last year. He's actually out there playing, not thinking so much."