Maxwell Smith's rivals for UK's starting QB job showing rough edges

jsmith3@herald-leader.comAugust 11, 2012 

Maxwell Smith threw during special teams at UK's fan day on Aug. 4 as freshman Patrick Towles, center, and senior Morgan Newton looked on.

MATT GOINS — Herald-Leader

Sometimes it's easier to solve a jigsaw puzzle wearing a blindfold than it is to guess what coaches are thinking.

But even as the Kentucky head coach tried hard to hold back any assessment of his quarterbacks after the team's first scrimmage on Saturday, the UK coordinator wasn't as good at hiding his.

One just needs to piece together Randy Sanders' quotes on the quarterbacks to solve the Cats' starting quarterback puzzle.

"Max (Smith) has really done a nice job," Sanders said on the field at Commonwealth Stadium after the 140-plus play practice.

"I like what the freshmen (Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow) are doing, but they're freshmen. ... Sometimes they revert back to things they did as a sophomore in high school and you wonder, 'What is that?'"

And senior Morgan Newton, who is coming off surgery on a torn labrum, appears to not be all the way back.

"Morgan is working hard, doing pretty well, but it's obvious he's coming off shoulder surgery," Sanders surmised of the player who started early last season before the injury. "Any time you miss six months or seven months of throwing, it's going to affect you somewhat. And there's no question, he's still a work in progress coming back from that."

When asked in what areas Newton was still struggling to get back, Sanders said there's no magical timeline that says when a quarterback is healed after surgery on his throwing shoulder.

"Labrum surgery for a quarterback is like Tommy John's surgery for a pitcher or ACL surgery for a running back," Sanders said. "Takes time to build up the strength, gain some muscle memory and build up the confidence everything is OK."

And Towles, the all-everything quarterback from Highlands, who led the Bluebirds to three straight state titles and had a 38-1 record as a starter, still has a lot to learn, Sanders said.

"He's learning a new offense," the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach said. "It's a lot like learning a new language. The biggest thing is the sheer volume of defenses he's facing. He saw more defenses in the plays he got today than he probably saw the last four years of high school."

As with learning any new language, it will take some time for Towles to become fluent in it.

"He can obviously throw the football, but sometimes he's looking one way and throwing it to somebody when his whole progression's on the other side of the field," Sanders assessed.

But he seemed confident that Towles will get there with time.

"Whether it happens in the next month, in the next three months or whether it happens in two years, I don't know," Sanders said. "But he can get there. He has that ability."

Media was not allowed to watch the scrimmage on Saturday and no statistics were distributed.

Sanders confirmed that veterans Newton and Smith were ahead of Towles and fellow freshman Whitlow.

"The younger guys have the ability to do things and make plays, to get the team in the end zone, but the older guys are still ahead at this point," he said.

While head coach Joker Phillips and his offensive coordinator had different ways of playing up the competition, both made it clear that the thing that will separate the starter from the backups is the ability to lead the offense and score touchdowns.

UK struggled with that last season, averaging just 15.8 points a game and scoring just 21 offensive touchdowns all season.

Senior wide receiver La'Rod King, who caught a touchdown pass in the scrimmage but said he couldn't remember how long it was or who was throwing it, said he's happy with whatever quarterback the coaches choose.

"I'm getting the ball from all of them, so at this point, I'm happy regardless," he said. "I just want the ball."

Notes

There had been no significant injuries in camp so far this season, but sophomore safety Glenn Faulkner did tweak his ankle on Saturday, Coach Joker Phillips said. He believed it was a high ankle sprain.

■ The defense got the best of the offense at least twice in the scrimmage, getting a pick each from senior Cartier Rice and sophomore Malcolm McDuffen, who ran his back for a score. No word on who threw the interceptions.

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.comOne just needs to piece together Kentucky offensive coordinator Randy Sanders' quotes on the quarterbacks to solve the Cats' starting quarterback puzzle.

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