It's been nearly a month since Kentucky upset Tennessee on Nov. 26. The season ended that day in Commonwealth Stadium, but it was just the beginning of work for head coach Joker Phillips and his staff.
One day later, his staff was spread across the country recruiting. Phillips said Wednesday that the coaches have noticed the effect of the win over the Volunteers in the weeks since.
"I thought we finished strong in the last couple games, had a pretty good showing," Phillips said. "Didn't come up with wins in all of them but we did finish strong.
"Therefore, we've been getting a great response on the road. Kids obviously have been watching us, so we've gotten a great response while being on the road."
There has been a bit of a change in Phillips recruiting strategy this offseason as the Cats have targeted a number of junior college players. That's because the Wildcats will be lacking upperclassmen next year, Phillips said. There will be only 17 seniors on next years roster and the junior and senior classes in their current state will combine for just 35 players - and some of those are walk-ons.
"I just think we've got to balance that off with some older players," Phillips said. And how do you get older? You get older by jumping into the junior college ranks for a couple need players: linebackers, safety, Winston Guy's type of position, and then we're looking at a few guys on offense, wide receiver and offensive tackle."
Long-term, however, Phillips said he would still like to build the program with four-year players.
The sting of missing out on the postseason for the first time since 2005 still hasn't worn off for Phillips, but it has allowed the staff to spend more time recruiting than they have in recent years. Among other differences, Phillips has been able to stop in for in-home visits with several commitments and begin to assess some of the younger players in the state.
"I'm able to get into more homes and to see more underclass recruits to try and get an evaluation," Phillips said. "This thing happens so quick, especially the recruiting part of it. A lot of times assistant coaches are able to get out there, but the head coach especially during bowl prep is not able to get out there and start evaluating the in-state 2013 recruits. "
Quarterback Morgan Newton underwent surgery for a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder after the season and will miss spring practice. He should be able to begin throwing in May or Junes, Phillips said.
Newton, who will be a senior and could still redshirt, waited until after the season to undergo surgery on the shoulder in case he was needed in an emergency situation by the team. He played against Georgia when freshman quarterback Maxwell Smith sprained his throwing shoulder.
Smith is expected to be completely healthy by spring practice. But like any player on the team, Smith will have to compete in practice and show he should remain the starting quarterback.
"Max comes out of the spring and Morgan comes back," Phillips said. "Again there will be a competition not only between Morgan and Max but there will be a competition between Bookie Cobbins and then also be added to that competition will be a guy like Jacob Russell that we're excited about."
Cobbins redshirted in 2011 and spent the year on the scout team running multiple positions. Russell sat the year out per NCAA transfer rules after joining the Wildcats following a freshman season at Eastern Kentucky.
Following the graduation of both of the Wildcats' starting corners, the staff is looking at moving some players around to add depth at that position. Randall Burden was a three-year starter at corner and Anthony Mosley was a two-year starter at the position.
There are some young players who have a bit of experience that could be counted on to make bigger contributions in 2012. Phillips mentioned Eric Dixon and Daylen Hall, who will both be sophomores, as players who will be in the mix.
There could also be a couple of offensive players who could change positions and move into the secondary. Walk-on wide receiver Jerry Williams is a candidate to move to corner, as is running back Marcus Caffey, who redshirted this season.
Moving Caffey to corner would fill a need while relieving a glut of players in the backfield. The Wildcats return all of their top five tailbacks from 2011.
There could also still be some shuffling in the secondary to try and make things work. Phillips said senior-to-be Martavius Neloms, who started at safety this season after beginning his career at corner, could move back to corner.
"What will allow you to do that is the development of Glenn Faulkner," Phillips said.
Cartier Rice, who will be a senior in 2012, was the No. 3 corner this season and will be the most experienced returning player next year. The Wildcats' depth at corner was also hurt when Dale Trimble left the team after the season and Jerrell Priester left the team in fall camp.