Kentucky wants QB Jalen Whitlow to become voice of the Cats

jsmith3@herald-leader.comNovember 15, 2013 

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Kentucky quarterback Jalen Whitlow picked up yards during the second half of the Wildcats' game against Missouri at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 09. Missouri won 48-17. Photo by David Stephenson

JONATHAN PALMER — Herald-Leader Buy Photo

  • Tennessee at Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30

    TV: ESPNU

    Records: Kentucky 2-9 (0-7 SEC); Tennessee 4-7 (1-6)

Being the strong, silent type has been enough for Jalen Whitlow.

Well, up until now.

The Kentucky quarterback goes out on the field, grabs the ball, tucks it and runs.

That used to be enough. But now his teammates and coaches are asking the sophomore to be much more.

"We need him to be more vocal as a quarterback and as a leader, no matter his age," senior running back Raymond Sanders said.

A guy on the other side of the ball sees it, too.

"Jalen's good at leading by example, but I just think he needs to talk more as a quarterback," junior defensive end Alvin "Bud" Dupree said. "He's just not a vocal guy."

The quarterback, who will try to lead Kentucky to its first Southeastern Conference victory in 14 tries at Vanderbilt on Saturday, wants to be more vocal.

He's tried. But it's so much easier to get the crowd to make noise with a dramatic run than to get into the face of a teammate or grab a jersey and demand a better block or a more precise route.

"I'm not a big talkative guy, I guess, but I'm getting more talkative," he said quietly to reporters this week. "I'm getting better."

And once he does, watch out, teammates said.

"I know Jalen a little bit outside of football, so I know he's got it in him and once it comes out, he's going to be a very special player," Dupree said of Whitlow, who had a career-high-tying 225 yards passing and a rushing touchdown versus Missouri a week ago.

Senior fullback Cody Jones said much of Whitlow's silence is because he's still learning what he's doing on the field.

There's a steep learning curve when your classroom is the SEC.

"As soon as he figures out that he knows what the defense is doing, he's got more talent than anybody here," Jones said, noting that he's noticed significant growth in Whitlow from last season.

"He runs a 4.4 (40-yard dash) and he can take off anytime. As soon as he figures it out and gets a little more leadership — guys already look up to him because he's a playmaker — as soon as he figures it out he's going to be dangerous."

Figuring out what a defense is doing will solve one of Whitlow's other issues as well. Coach Mark Stoops said he'd like to see the sophomore from Prattville, Ala., continue to grow into a better decision-maker.

"He's got to make the right decisions with the football with what plays to get into," Stoops said. "That is a big part of it. I think we're improving in that area, and then to hit some open receivers at times we're just a little bit inconsistent in our execution of the pass game."

Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Neal Brown has seen Whitlow's decision-making — and his leadership — get considerably better since the season-opening loss to Western Kentucky.

Whitlow is figuring things out. UK used to call nearly every play from the sideline, but Brown said defenses were catching onto that. Now, Whitlow has a couple of options when he gets to the line of scrimmage, and the quarterback has to make the best decision based on what he sees.

"And those things, Jalen's much improved, but he can still get better," Brown said. "What it does is it gives you easy yards. So if the numbers are in the box, he can throw it outside and we can get easier yards than trying to block all those people inside."

In the third quarter against Missouri, coaches saw Whitlow make some confident calls and sacrifice his body — which has been hurting from a sprained ankle and shoulder joint — to make a play.

Those are indications that not only Whitlow's decision-making, but also his leadership, are starting to emerge.

"He ran the ball when he needed to," Stoops said of the third quarter against Missouri, when Whitlow ran for 49 of his 90 yards (not including sacks).

"Matter of fact, he even took it upon himself — and maybe it was a wrong read — but he was eager to keep the ball and run it when he needed to, to make a play for us. I think those are good signs."

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

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