Coaches: Kentucky QBs better as they search for starter

jsmith3@herald-leader.comApril 2, 2014 

  • SPRING FOOTBALL

    When: Through April 26

    Where: Nutter Training Center (practices closed to public)

    Spring game: 3:30 p.m. April 26 at Commonwealth Stadium

  • SPRING FOOTBALL

    When: Through April 26

    Where: Nutter Training Center (practices closed to public)

    Spring game: 3:30 p.m. April 26 at Commonwealth Stadium

From the start of spring practice to the end of Mark Stoops' first 2-10 season, the quarterback position never seemed settled.

Jalen Whitlow ran out on the field first for the opener against Western Kentucky. The last play of the season was a sack of Maxwell Smith against Tennessee.

There was much drama, injury and intrigue in between, including several times that Stoops admitted he wanted to pull the redshirts off of both Patrick Towles and Reese Phillips.

Phillips, who was a true freshman last season, said the biggest threat of that came in the game before the finale at Georgia.

"Coach Brown had to convince Coach Stoops," Phillips told the media on Wednesday, three days into spring practice for Kentucky. "Coach Stoops was real close. He talked to me after the game and said, 'We didn't want to put you in a bad situation.'"

All of the above would love to avoid a similar "bad situation" again this year.

Mostly, the Kentucky coaches would like to name a starting quarterback.

And not on the day of the first game like last year.

"I want to get it done faster," Brown said. "I think it's important to the football team."

Brown isn't alone. "I don't want to go through all spring and all through camp and summer without having a clear-cut starter or at least having it narrowed down," Stoops said. "I'd prefer it sooner than later."

The team has yet another full-blown quarterback competition going, this time with extra competitors. Smith is not a part of it, still coming back from shoulder surgery in the off-season.

It's now between Phillips, Towles and Whitlow with highly touted Kentucky product Drew Barker also in the mix.

While no one has seized the position this early into the competition, Brown said it's clear there are better options available.

"Our quarterback play the last three practices has been better than it was last year," he said.

"We've had three days of heavy install, and on all three days we've looked as good in the three days than we did at any point last year. We're better. I don't think we've arrived, but we're definitely better."

Much like they did last season, the coaches are rotating the quarterbacks, getting them the same number of repetitions with the No. 1 offense, the same number of chances to impress or fall behind.

It keeps you on your toes, Phillips said.

"It's different," he said when asked about the competition. "As a quarterback, one of the biggest things is just getting in your groove, then you get taken out, but that's just part of it. One of us will pull away eventually."

At least that's the hope, and coaches are trying hard not to put artificial deadlines in place.

The quarterbacks agree the earlier the better.

"The quicker a guy can be named, the more reps he can get," said Whitlow, the player with the most starting experience in the group, who has missed time already with a tight hamstring. "It will be better for the team also, adjusting to him."

Towles, who dropped to the back of the pack last spring and was handed a redshirt, has been working with an outside quarterbacks coach trying to get rid of a self-described "huge dip when I was throwing the ball" that kept the former Highlands star from getting the ball out fast enough.

"Now I'm more straight back and over the top, it's so much more efficient, so much more consistent," he said. "I'm like a whole new player."

The two freshmen, Phillips and newcomer Barker, chip in a little something extra, Brown said.

"Both of those guys have added something," Brown said. "They've added a little bit of juice, and I'm excited about the progress both those guys are making. We've thrown a lot at them."

Whether a decision is made this weekend or the first couple weeks of fall camp, the Kentucky coaches are convinced they'll have better quarterback play come August.

"The whole practice is better because they're better," UK's offensive coordinator said. "The receivers are better. The running backs are better. The O-line is better because (the quarterbacks) are better."

Practice notes

The first drill of the first practice in full pads brought about several mini melees between offensive and defensive linemen.

Stoops said he'd like to get that cleaned up, but didn't mind the energy in the air. "Everybody was all anxious to get out here and show off their muscles from the off-season lifting and conditioning and all that."

■ Running back Jojo Kemp missed Wednesday's practice after tweaking his hamstring. Coaches said it was precautionary.

■ Former Kentucky and current Green Bay Packers punter Tim Masthay was working out at UK on Wednesday. Several times a booming punt drew away Stoops' attention while he was talking with the media.

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

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