UK quarterbacks: Start or not, Jalen Whitlow figures to be part of the plan

SCOUTING THE CATS: QUARTERBACKS

jsmith3@herald-leader.comAugust 17, 2013 

Kentucky quarterback Jalen Whitlow, during UK fan day on Friday August 9, 2013 in Lexingtton, Ky. Photos by Mark Cornelison | Staff

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  • SEASON OPENER

    Aug. 31: vs. Western Kentucky at Nashville, 7 p.m.

    HOME OPENER

    Sept. 7: vs. Miami (Ohio), noon

  • Scouting the quarterbacks

    The main man: Coaches have been mum about who their "main man" is (if they know yet), and they might decide to stay that way so Western Kentucky has to spend more time preparing for three distinctly different quarterback options in Maxwell Smith, Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow.

    The supporting cast: Take your pick: Jalen Whitlow (6-2, 220 pounds) dual threat quarterback who started UK's final seven games last season and ran the offense most productively in the spring game; or Maxwell Smith (6-4, 218), who also has started more than a handful of games before being plagued by injuries, is likely the most accurate passer of the group and has been a key offensive leader in the locker room; or Patrick Towles (6-5, 225) a highly touted, strong arm who has slimmed down and by all accounts developed a sound understanding of the offense. Also, don't forget true freshman Reese Phillips (6-2, 219) who turned some heads in the spring with his solid arm and good decision making.

    Outlook: It seems nearly impossible for this position group to not see a significant upgrade this season in a pass-centric offense that moves at a rapid pace. Brown's upgraded Air Raid also has built in checks (center and running back both handle significant portions of the blocking calls) that take some of the pressure off the quarterback so he can focus exclusively on delivering the ball where it needs to be. This position, regardless of who plays it, likely will see an upgrade because all of the sophomore players have game experience and have seen the speed of play.

    JENNIFER SMITH

Who knows who will line up behind center in 13 days when Kentucky goes to Nashville to open the season against Western Kentucky?

The UK coaches themselves still don't seem sure.

One day Jalen Whitlow looks like a clear favorite. Another day maybe Maxwell Smith or Patrick Towles did some impressive things. Sometimes it's even true freshman Reese Phillips catching praise.

And even though coaches talk in generalities about all of them most of the time with the media, it's become increasingly clear that Whitlow will find his way onto the field this season for Kentucky.

"He's ... one of the better athletes on our football team, and he makes plays," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said of Whitlow, who started the final seven games last season as a true freshman after multiple injuries to original starter Smith.

Coach Mark Stoops, who has been tight-lipped about the battle as it's played out on the practice fields of fall camp, let it slip last week that Whitlow tucked the ball down and ran for a 50-yard touchdown during a practice.

"He pulled one and ran one right into the end zone," Stoops said. "Not very good defense but he looked good running down there."

Stoops said it's "reasonable" to assume that Whitlow will be a part of an offense that has been searching for true playmakers.

"I also think there's a place for him, whether he won the job or not, to play him in a game because of the dimension he gives you," Stoops said of Whitlow, who rushed for 206 yards and three scores last season while completing 54 percent of his passes for 801 yards and three TDs.

Brown agreed, saying of Whitlow: "I thought Coach Stoops voiced that very well: he's going to play at some point. If he wins the job, he wins the job, plays all the time, but if he doesn't then he's going to play some. He's a good runner."

Whitlow spreads defenses out in a way that no other Kentucky quarterback can. "And that's what you want: space in the running game," Brown explained.

So does a running quarterback fit into an Air Raid offense like Brown is running at Kentucky?

Ask Omar Haugabook.

He was a dual threat quarterback at Troy in 2006 and 2007 when Tony Franklin was the offensive coordinator and Brown was coaching receivers running a similar offense to the one Brown is running at UK.

In his final season at quarterback for the Trojans, Haugabook accounted for 66 percent of hits team's yardage, averaging a combined 300.5 yards a game on the ground and through the air.

In that same 2007 season, the 6-2, 220-pound quarterback (the same size as Whitlow, for the record) had more rushing attempts (155) than the school's leading runner.

In his two years as a starter, Haugabook rushed for 944 yards and 16 touchdowns while throwing for 5,376 yards and 39 touchdowns (with 32 interceptions).

Haugabook gave the Trojans exciting options all around.

"It adds a dimension," Brown said when asked about the extra boost a running quarterback can give an offense. "It definitely adds a dimension. It puts a defense in some tough spots. But you can say the same thing for a real accurate passer also because you can defend balls, you can play them as well as you can and the guy is still open."

Whitlow's abilities certainly showed in the Blue-White Spring Game, where he passed for 193 yards and two touchdowns while running for 49 more and a score.

Without giving too much away, Brown acknowledged that the team has practiced Whitlow-specific plays in the spring and through fall camp.

But that just means he's going to be "a guy," not necessarily "the guy."

Or at least that's one possibility.

"He's a guy that has playmaking ability, that they can do things with the ball," Brown said. "Now, for him to win the job, he's got to be an efficient passer and those type of things, too. But his running ability is definitely a plus."


This is the third in a series of nine stories analyzing the UK football team position by position. Coming Monday: Offensive line


SEASON OPENER

Aug. 31: vs. Western Kentucky at Nashville, 7 p.m.

HOME OPENER

Sept. 7: vs. Miami (Ohio), noon


Scouting the quarterbacks

The main man: Coaches have been mum about who their "main man" is (if they know yet), and they might decide to stay that way so Western Kentucky has to spend more time preparing for three distinctly different quarterback options in Maxwell Smith, Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow.

The supporting cast: Take your pick: Jalen Whitlow (6-2, 220 pounds) dual threat quarterback who started UK's final seven games last season and ran the offense most productively in the spring game; or Maxwell Smith (6-4, 218), who also has started more than a handful of games before being plagued by injuries, is likely the most accurate passer of the group and has been a key offensive leader in the locker room; or Patrick Towles (6-5, 225) a highly touted, strong arm who has slimmed down and by all accounts developed a sound understanding of the offense. Also, don't forget true freshman Reese Phillips (6-2, 219) who turned some heads in the spring with his solid arm and good decision making.

Outlook: It seems nearly impossible for this position group to not see a significant upgrade this season in a pass-centric offense that moves at a rapid pace. Brown's upgraded Air Raid also has built in checks (center and running back both handle significant portions of the blocking calls) that take some of the pressure off the quarterback so he can focus exclusively on delivering the ball where it needs to be. This position, regardless of who plays it, likely will see an upgrade because all of the sophomore players have game experience and have seen the speed of play.

JENNIFER SMITH

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

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