Time is now for Kentucky's starting QB to step forward

jsmith3@herald-leader.comAugust 8, 2014 

  • MARK YOUR CALENDAR

    Important upcoming dates for UK football

    Saturday: Fan Day

    Aug. 11, 12, 18: Practices open to the public

    Aug. 30: Season opener vs. UT-Martin

Rock-paper-scissors can solve many a problem on the playground.

Apparently it also can solve some issues on the football practice field.

The game has become the Kentucky quarterbacks' favorite way of deciding who gets to play the role first when there are walk-throughs with offensive coordinator Neal Brown.

And if that game's outcome is any indicator, Reese Phillips will be the next UK starter.

He can't lose at rock-paper-scissors.

"I don't know what he does," fellow quarterback contender Patrick Towles said at the Cats' annual Media Day on Friday morning. "He has some sort of theorem that he uses, but it's been pretty effective."

The redshirt freshman from Chattanooga, Tenn., has beaten Drew Barker a few times, too.

"I've never seen him lose, honestly," Barker said laughing. "He has beaten me five times in a row, but I will have to say I own Reese in probably everything but rock-paper-scissors."

By Phillips' count, he's beaten Towles four straight times, too.

The silly game is a pretty good indicator of just how close the guys in this Kentucky quarterback race are, including junior Maxwell Smith, who is still on the mend from shoulder surgery and is limited in his number of throws.

"We all are great friends," Phillips said of the quartet. "This summer, no one got the job so we all kind of gave each other equal opportunities to step up. We make it fair. We all make it fair for each other."

The coaches probably wish the answer to Kentucky's quarterback question could come via something as simple as rock-paper-scissors.

But as of right now, it's still anyone's position.

"It is wide open," head coach Mark Stoops said. "Somebody needs to take the reins and be the clear– cut winner of this job, and they need to do that. We're giving them plenty of opportunity. Somebody needs to take it and run with it.

"We absolutely would love to have somebody take the reins of that position and say, that's my spot. Right now it's just too even."

Neal Brown is hopeful that the team's quarterback will become clear in the next week as it buckles down and gets ready for the season opener on Aug. 30 versus Tennessee-Martin.

"I hope within the next five or seven days, one of those guys are going to stand out," the offensive coordinator said.

The coaches were equally as hopeful that last year's quarterback would grab the reins and lead the offense. That never happened, but they seem more confident that it will this time.

And whoever has his named called as the starter will be better.

"We have a long ways to go at that position, but we're going to be more talented, and they're going to be more fundamentally sound," Brown said.

In the spring, the quarterbacks coach said he tried to take a fun approach.

"We're going to have fun," he told the QBs. "We're going to enjoy this. Focus on getting better, you individually getting better. That's what we focused on. "

But now that camp has opened, the only fun should be via rock-paper-scissors.

"We're looking for a guy to win the job," Brown said. "Go win the job. Everything that you do during the course of a practice is getting judged. Yeah, you'd better have fun with it, but understand we are keeping score."

Even though the quarterbacks are doing their best to have fun with it, Towles said they all know what's on the line.

"He's been keeping score since we got here," he said of his offensive coordinator. "I'm treating every practice as 'This is the one.' Every throw, I think, 'This is the one that counts.'

"It's not my job to worry about Max, Reese and Drew and how they play. It's my job to worry about how I play and how I perform."

The heat has been turned up a few notches for all of them.

"Now that it's camp, the pressure's on," he said. "You want to show that nothing's too big for you, that if you make a bad throw you can bounce back."

Stoops is hopeful that UK's quarterback of the future is on his practice field ready to seize the opportunity.

"It's a very important decision, and, sure, we'd like to have that done, but it's not," he said. "We'll see how it plays out. I'm confident we will play better at that position regardless of who's in there."

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

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