March 31, 2012

Smith, Dupree impress in short scrimmage Saturday

It wasn't a full scrimmage, but it was a start. For the first time this spring, the UK football team scrimmaged. The Wildcats went through 40-50 plays after going through practice on Saturday.

Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips cited sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith, sophomore linebacker Alvin Dupree and junior linebacker Avery Williamson as players who impressed him in the scrimmage. Senior wide receiver La'Rod King made a few plays as well.

But Smith wasn't nearly as upbeat about his performance. He said he made three crucial mistakes in the scrimmage.

"Just small things, like seeing the safety, reading the run call, things like that," Smith said. "You have to remember the bad ones because that's how you improve. You remember the good things and it's hard to improve on that."

Things are going much smoother for Smith than they were during his true freshman campaign, though. He has a better understanding of reads and defensive schemes now than when he was thrust into the starting job last fall.

Things are also slowing down a bit for him. Phillips said Smith was playing as fast as anyone on the field on Saturday. That's quite a difference from 2011, when he wasn't ready for the speed he saw in some of his early action.

"Definitely, when you play teams like LSU and South Carolina," he said. "The game was a lot faster than any game I had ever been in. But I feel like I'm playing to a pace where it feels like the defense is slower than we are."

Defensive coordinator Rick Minter wasn't especially happy with the way his unit performed either.

"We didn't play particularly well," Minter said. "There will be some good things we'll see on film when we watch. But there are some things we'll continue to work hard at."

It's still early in spring practice, with two full scrimmages to go before the April 21 spring game. So far, neither the offense or the defense has consistently beaten the other side of the ball.

"It's back-and-forth," Smith said. "We'll get after them and there will be times when they get after us. But all around, it's looking pretty good."

Ukwu still sidelined with labrum

Senior defensive end Collins Ukwu is sitting out spring practice after suffering a torn left labrum in the season finale against Tennessee. It's not an unfamiliar feeling for Ukwu, who missed a significant portion of last season with a sprained knee.

He's not totally limited, but can't go through drills or practice. He's rehabbing the shoulder and conditioning, though he's not allowed to do any upper body work. But he's at practice every day and trying to help the younger players any way he can.

"I try to do it as much as I can on the sideline," he said. "It's a lot harder than I thought it would be."

The fifth-year senior expects to be 100 percent sometime in June. That can't come soon enough for Ukwu, who had hoped to become a more vocal leader during spring practice.

"It is frustrating," he said. "When practice isn't going good, I want to be the one bringing my other teammates with me. It's kind of hard. Hopefully some good will happen out of this."

New Orleans native Cobbins on Final Four

Freshman wide receiver Bookie Cobbins, the Wildcats' only player from New Orleans, said he's talked to lots of friends and family at home about the Final Four this week.

He talked to his mom about the rush of fans from the Bluegrass State preparing for Kentucky's game against Louisville on Saturday night.

"She said things are crazy down there," he said. "Everyone is getting pumped up for Kentucky."

People have been calling him all week to tell him about the atmosphere back home. He said he's happy to be in spring practice and continuing his transition from quarterback to receiver, but this is one time he'd rather be back home.

His friends and family are planning on watching the game together and pulling for the Wildcats.

"Down in New Orleans, they do crazy stuff," Cobbins said. "If they win, a lot of people know I go to Kentucky so everything will get crazy. Everything will get crazy and wild."

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