Morgan Newton ready to lead

Morgan Newton’s time at Kentucky has been filled with all sorts of emotions.

The junior quarterback arrived in 2009 as one of Kentucky’s top recruits, but with Matt Hartline pinned the starter, he took his seat behind the junior.

However, a midseason knee injury to Hartline pushed Newton up the depth chart and into the starting role. He earned SEC All-Freshman honors after passing for more than 700 yards and tossing six touchdown passes.

Unfortunately for Newton, his second year wasn’t as eventful as a healthy Hartline took back the reins and finished 2010 second in the SEC in passing, averaging 264.8 yards per game. Newton saw backup duty in just four games.

Fast forward to this spring and it’s Newton’s ship again. He entered as the starter and by all accounts he’ll leave that way.

He’s not bitter about his first two years on campus. In fact, he relishes the fact that he gained that much experience before officially being handed the keys to Kentucky’s offense.

“It’s helped a lot,“ Newton said. “Now, I’m just trying to learn from all my experience. Coming back and having the opportunity to lead the offense is going to be nice because I’ve had that experience.”

But Newton didn’t walk into the most glamorous situation. He doesn’t have the luxury of playing alongside do-everything wide receiver Randall Cobb, who declared for April’s NFL draft and took his nearly 1,500 yards of offensive production from last season with him.

Also missing is running back Derrick Locke, who more than likely would have eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in 2010 had he not suffered a shoulder injury midseason.

He may not have those studs to work with, but he praised junior receiver La’Rod King for his improvement and has labeled him as his go-to guy on the field. He’s also comfortable handing the ball off to Locke’s apprentice, sophomore Raymond Sanders, who might not be as fast as Locke, but could be shiftier.

Unheralded receivers Matt Roark and Brian Adams are also making strides, Newton said.

But it all comes back to Newton. He’s the quarterback. He’s the leader.

Newton knows he’s got the physical tools to make things happen, with his solid arm strength and threat to run, but he’s working on the intangibles, like leadership.

He hasn’t had to lead much, so it’s a work in progress, but Newton thinks he’s getting the hang of it. And when he’s struggling with it, he’s got former Kentucky quarterback star Andre Woodson pushing him along.

Woodson is back at Kentucky to finish his bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications and is also serving as a student assistant coach.

Being around Newton is having some draw comparisons between the two. Newton sees similarities, but he also sees plenty of differences, like the amount of wins Woodson racked up in his career.

“Having Dre around makes things go that much smoother,“ Newton said. “He’s a guy who’s experienced and who’s been through it and been in the league a little bit. Anything he tells me I’m going to listen to and implement into the offense and into my game.”

The main thing Newton said he’s tried to work on this spring is being more consistent. He’s had flashes of brilliance overshadowed by glaring mistakes, which he said could cost his team this fall.

Defensive coordinator Rick Minter has paid more attention to good things Newton does because it makes his group look bad. Minter said Newton has “tremendous upside” and his ability to effectively use both his feet and arm has caused him headaches.

Minter is just hoping Newton exacts that same formula on opponents this fall.

“I trust the guys on offense are going to put Morgan in the best position possible to be successful on his own, but I do think the young man brings a lot of skills and tools to the table,” Minter said.