Cats' redshirt freshman quarterback Phillips has coaches talking

jsmith3@herald-leader.comNovember 21, 2013 

  • Tennessee at Kentucky

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

    TV: ESPNU

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

Count Mark Stoops among those who wishes he could've seen Kentucky quarterback Reese Phillips play in a game this season.

Not because the UK coach wanted an injury to happen to starter Jalen Whitlow or anything like that, just because the true freshman has impressed his head coach.

"In a way, I'm kind of disappointed I didn't get an opportunity to see him play this year," Stoops lamented on the Southeastern Conference teleconference on Wednesday.

It was on that same call that Stoops confirmed that Phillips, a 6-foot-2 freshman from just outside Chattanooga, had moved up to No. 2 on the Cats' quarterback depth chart.

But for now, with two games left in the season starting with Saturday's game at Georgia, Phillips likely will have to wait until at least next season to make his Kentucky debut.

With "no chance of a bowl game or anything, I think it would be in our best interest to keep that redshirt year now," Stoops said. "But he was moving up and repping with the twos really the second part of this season. Impressed with the way he's progressing and excited about him in the future."

Phillips, who arrived at Kentucky a semester early in January, has drawn praise for his steady demeanor and accuracy.

When asked if Phillips could be a factor in the quarterback battle in the spring, which could include Whitlow, former starter Maxwell Smith, redshirt sophomore Patrick Towles and even true freshman Drew Barker, offensive coordinator Neal Brown sounded confident that Phillips could hold his own.

"Yeah," Brown said. "He'll definitely be a factor. He's going to have a chance without question."

In his final two seasons at Signal Mountain High School, Phillips threw for 4,169 yards and 36 touchdowns, but maybe more importantly in the Air Raid offense. He threw just seven interceptions in that two-year span and hit 67 percent of his passes.

He's similarly impressed behind the scenes this season.

"In live situations, he's made good decisions, and he gets the ball out of his hand fast, and he's accurate with the football," Brown said.

But it's some of the less tangible things that have coaches taking notice.

"Here's what I like. I like his demeanor," Brown continued. "He's never rattled. He's got a confident kind of aura about him."

It echoed what his head coach said about Phillips at the end of October, when there was a legitimate chance that UK was going to pull the redshirt off of him and play him with Whitlow hobbled by injuries.

"He's good and comfortable," Stoops said of Phillips in October. "Seems like he's got one of those personalities where he doesn't get too worked up about anything."

But Stoops said practicing one way doesn't always mean a player will play that way when the lights come on.

"With quarterbacks, you never really know until you get them out there in game situations and see how it goes and all that," Stoops said. "So we'll see, but I like the way he's gone about his business."

NEXT GAME: Kentucky at Georgia

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Records: Kentucky 2-8 (0-6 SEC); Georgia 6-4 (4-3)

TV: ESPNU

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

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