Kentucky's new offensive boss launches three-way QB battle

jsmith3@herald-leader.comDecember 18, 2012 

Each of Kentucky's three quarterbacks left campus last week knowing he will get a shot to be the Cats' starter next season.

That was one of many messages new UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown had for Maxwell Smith, Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow, who all showed flashes of promise this season.

When they return for spring practice, all three will have their chance to show the new coaching staff what they can do.

"It's going to be an open competition," Brown said at a 25-plus minute news conference on Tuesday, his first since being hired on Dec. 10. "All three guys will split the reps a third in spring practice, carry that competition through the summer into fall camp and see who the best man is."

Brown said he assured all three players, whom he met with last Monday, that each has a clean slate.

"I don't have any ties to any of the three of them," Brown said. "I'm going to coach them like they're my own, like I recruited them and the whole deal, but the best man is going to play."

After Smith receives his medical hardship from the NCAA, all three players will be classified as sophomores next season.

But Brown called that a "good problem."

"It's a good situation," he continued. "We've got three guys that can play quarterback in the Southeastern Conference."

Smith has the most experience playing the role, with extensive snaps in eight career games over two seasons, including being the Cats' starter this season before an ankle injury sidelined him.

Kentucky's previous staff thought Smith showed so much accuracy and promise as a passer that it changed its scheme to fit his abilities.

In his three starts this season, he threw for 975 yards and eight touchdowns (with four interceptions, all coming in the Western Kentucky loss). For his career, Smith has completed 187 of 303 passes for 1,794 yards and 12 scores.

But after Smith's injury, both Whitlow and Towles showed potential. Whitlow, a true freshman from Alabama, passed for 801 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games.

Towles, Kentucky's Mr. Football from Highlands, was initially marked for a red shirt and didn't get reps with the first- and second-team offense until late in the season. Battling his own injury later in the season, he threw for 233 yards and a touchdown in limited action.

One of those three will get to pilot Brown's "Air Raid" style offense, something he has adapted from his playing days at Kentucky under former coach Hal Mumme.

"The base plays that you're going to see on Saturday afternoons, when Coach Mumme was here, those base plays are the same," Brown said, but noted that it has been adapted to put emphasis on the run as well.

"We've made a more concerted effort to run the football," he said. "We're playing at a faster pace, and we dress those plays up with motions, with different formations. Those are the things that the fans are going to notice."

The system has worked everywhere Brown, a former walk-on from Danville, has used it, most recently as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Texas Tech.

In each of his three seasons there, the Red Raiders were top 10 nationally in passing offense, top 15 in total offense and top 25 in scoring offense.

Seth Doege, his quarterback the past two seasons, has put up neck-snapping numbers, including throwing for 3,934 yards and 38 touchdowns so far this season, averaging 327.8 yards a game. Last season, he threw for 4,004 yards and 28 scores.

What kind of quarterback best fits into this system?

"He has to be a good decision-maker," Brown said Tuesday. "He has to be accurate with the football. Those are the two top priorities. That's what we'll instill in these guys."

Staff still a 'work in progress'

Kentucky is still looking to fill positions on its staff, including the wide receivers position coach, but Brown said it's not going to happen immediately.

"It's really going to be a work in progress," Brown said, noting that there may be plans to interview a few coaches at the national convention in early January.

Not filling that spot yet also means no official title for former UK running back Chad Scott, who coached that position for Brown at Texas Tech.

"He's a guy that's got some versatility," Brown said of Scott. "He's been a running backs coach most of his career. He spent a lot of time with our receivers at Texas Tech also. So we're just kind of wait-and-see. We want to hire the best possible guy in that last spot on offense."

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com

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