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Hartline's experience nudges him ahead

The early leader in the Kentucky quarterback race is the guy with the most experience.

Following a brief situational scrimmage Wednesday, Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said there was no question that senior Mike Hartline was the one who stood out among the three combatants.

“For the first day, he showed up more than the other ones,” Phillips said. “Mike feels a little more comfortable than the other two [sophomore Morgan Newton and redshirt freshman Ryan Mossakowski]. He’s been here a long time. He’s had a lot more reps than those guys. He understands where the ball is supposed to be and also understands where the defense is, so he’s playing a little faster than the other two right now.”

Hartline, who opened last season as the starter before injuring his knee, connected with Chris Matthews for an 80-yard touchdown. That was good news for the Wildcats on a couple of different fronts.

For one, it was good to see Hartline throw the deep ball so well, and it was also encouraging to see Matthews step up and make a big play after blowing hot and cold last season after coming over from junior college. He needs to be much more of a consistent down-the-field threat for the Wildcats next season.

Newton took over last season after Hartline went down, and it’s no secret that the Wildcats struggled in the passing game. His challenge continues to be consistency.

“The thing about the quarterback position is that you have to be consistent,” Phillips said. “Morgan hasn't been consistent throughout the spring. He’s made some good [plays], but he’s also come back and tried to squeeze the ball in among two defenders. He has to understand he's not in high school. People react to the ball a lot faster.”

Mossakowski is still making up ground after redshirting last season. He tore a labrum in his throwing shoulder and underwent surgery. He throws a very nice ball and obviously has a big upside, but he’s also the only one of the three who hasn’t played in an SEC game.

“Reps have helped him make up that gap [of inexperience], and that’s why we're trying to practice as fast as we possibly can,” Phillips said. “The quarterbacks need the reps more than anybody. For us to be able to get the quarterbacks the reps they need, that's the reason we have to practice fast. That's only going to give Moss a chance to compete for a job.”