As Kentucky gets ready to open spring practice next week, it will have to do so without one of its players at the most important position on the field.
Rising senior quarterback Morgan Newton will have to sit out spring practice as he recovers from shoulder surgery that he underwent in December. Newton injured his shoulder and also suffered a sprained ankle against Mississippi State on Oct. 29.
Newton had the opportunity to undergo shoulder surgery back in November, but opted to wait and have it done in December, so that he could be used in emergency situations behind Maxwell Smith, who was named a freshman All-SEC performer by the league's coaches.
While Newton won't be competing with Smith this spring, he can't be overlooked. This is certainly Smith's chance to put some good distance between he and Newton before summer gets here, but don't think Newton will just be sitting back watching. He'll be learning, studying and probably doing a little teaching. He should have his eyes on every snap taken this spring and will be mentally going over everything as we watches Smith.
Newton hopes to resume throwing this summer, but for now, it's all about clearing his head and getting back to being the player he was mentally when he first got on campus. Newton was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team by the coaches back in 2009, after replacing the injured Matt Hartline halfway through the season and passing for 706 yards and six touchdowns.
His numbers dipped when Hartline returned in 2010, and last year was a disaster for Newton (he passed for 200 or more yards just once all season and finished with eight touchdowns and seven interceptions) and Kentucky's offense. The poised, confident Newton we saw just two years prior failed to show up in 2011.
With Newton sidelined, he'll have a chance to regroup. He'll no doubt be steaming about not being able to compete this spring, but he'll have the chance to really soak in the playbook and he can take time to really dissect his play from last year. He should just become a sponge when it comes to speaking with offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders.
Newton's study habits will have to be accelerated because he won't just be battling Smith for the starting job this fall, he'll also have to share snaps with incoming freshman Patrick Towles, who was Kentucky's top recruit in its 2012 recruiting class. He might be more athletic and might have more upside than Newton and Smith, so he'll come in and challenge from the start.
Oh, and he's visiting during his spring break to soak up some of Kentucky's offense, so no pressure or anything.
Newton was one of the forgotten members of the SEC last season and he certainly has an uphill battle ahead of him, but this is Newton's last chance to do something in a Kentucky uniform. He's produced with his back against the wall before and getting right mentally will go a long way toward helping him put a stamp on his college career this fall.