Quarterback Barker catches coaches' eye with poise in practice

broberts@herald-leader.comApril 12, 2014 

Drew Barker, who enrolled early at Kentucky to take part in spring practice, threw for 6,264 yards and 62 touchdowns in his career at Conner while also running for 3,931 yards and 51 scores.

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Kentucky's latest "quarterback of the future" made the most of his first practice in Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday morning.

The Wildcat who most recently held that unofficial title didn't look too bad either.

There have been no big breaks in UK's four-man quarterback competition — at least, none that the coaches want to publicly acknowledge — but it was Drew Barker and Patrick Towles who had the most buzz coming out of the first full scrimmage of spring practice.

Coach Mark Stoops said he was pleased with how Barker handled himself at the position Saturday, the first day he's been on the Commonwealth Stadium field as a player after many visits as a UK recruit.

Offensive coordinator Neal Brown talked up Barker's poise and approach during his first scrimmage as a Wildcat. "If you would've came out and just watched us today, you wouldn't have known he was a high school senior. And that's the most impressive thing to me," Brown said. "The mechanics of the game and not being in awe of being in that stadium for the first time and playing, that was what I was most impressed with.

"You could've watched some of those other guys and thought, 'OK, they're young; they're making some mistakes.' Well, Drew, you would've thought he was here for a year, he'd been here for a while."

Barker — the four-star recruit who left high school early to join the Cats for spring practice — was the buzzword even before UK's coaches met with reporters following practice.

The freshman quarterback apparently threw a touchdown pass — on the run — from around midfield and drew praise from coaches and teammates alike.

"He looked real good today," said sophomore running back Jojo Kemp. "He was out there competing, making plays and just doing everything. Half of the time, I just thought one of the older guys was in and it was him. He stood out."

Towles also played well.

The former Highlands star sat out last season as a redshirt after faltering in that quarterback competition. Stoops and Brown have been talking about a new-look Towles this spring, and there was more of that Saturday.

Brown said he saw Towles make some throws that he'd never previously seen from the sophomore QB. The UK coach has seen those passes when there's no pressure, but never against live defenders.

"He's making throws that he's always made on air, but he made those against the defense being out there," Brown said. "I know he's got really good arm talent, he always has. And you'll see — even last year, I would see snippets of that when we were throwing on air, OK? ... Well, today I saw some of those throws in a game atmosphere, which was encouraging."

Stoops said Jalen Whitlow and Reese Phillips "had their moments as well" in Saturday's scrimmage.

Both Stoops and Brown — the two men who will ultimately decide who starts at quarterback — said that it's still very much a four-man competition.

All four players are getting nearly equal reps in practice and all four are playing with both the first- and second-team offenses.

UK's coaches have warned against putting an "artificial" deadline on naming a starter, but they've also made it clear that they want to have their guy much earlier than last season, when the battle stretched into the fall and left uncertainty even when the games began.

The bad news for Stoops and Brown is that this won't be an easy decision.

The good news: The quarterback that wins the job should put the Cats in a better position to win this fall.

"The thing I'm pleased about is they're all much, much better," Brown said. "Whoever the quarterback is going to be, they're going to be better than we played last year. So that's pleasing. But I do want to get it narrowed down quicker. When we do that, I don't know. I'm not going to put any false deadlines."

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