After Kentucky's six-game slide to end last season, one of the much-discussed topics was what happened to quarterback Patrick Towles, who threw 10 of his 14 touchdown passes in the first six games.
Coach Mark Stoops stressed that the Cats' offensive struggles weren't just Towles' fault.
But more than once, Stoops and then-offensive coordinator Neal Brown emphasized the need for Towles to improve his accuracy in the offseason.
"There are throws and there are plays that he has to do better," Stoops said after the Louisville loss, when the Cats quarterback completed a season-low 48.3 percent of his passes, including two interceptions.
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"The quick throws and the plays that we're counting on that are an extension of our run, that has to be on the money. That can't be at the shoelaces."
So just like last offseason, when Towles worked with a trainer to ditch a hitch in his throwing motion, the UK quarterback set out to become more accurate.
The offseason work was not nearly as dramatic this time around, said Donny Walker, who runs his own quarterback academy and helped Towles this season and last.
While so much of last season's changes involved Towles' arm, this offseason was focused more on his footwork, timing and body alignment.
"Think about shooting a bow and arrow, you pretty much have to have your front shoulder and your front hip and your front foot all pointed at the target you're going to shoot at," Walker explained last week.
"Throwing a football is very similar to that. If you don't have your body aligned in that type of position, you don't have enough control over the ball."
The footwork part of it has changed as well under new offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson, who encourages less pitter-pattering of feet in the pocket.
Dawson prefers a shorter drop in the pocket from his quarterbacks than Brown did.
"The funny thing is this one is a little more natural for Patrick to do it this way, so it didn't take a whole lot of work for him to do it and it's worked out really well to be able to do that," Walker said. "It's been good for him."
Towles' career completion percentage is not terrible; it was 57.3 percent last season. That would put him ahead of all but six of Kentucky's 15 most accurate passers.
For instance, Jared Lorenzen, who threw for a UK-record 10,354 yards in his career, completed just 56.9 percent of his passes.
André Woodson, Tim Couch and Mike Hartline all completed 61.2 percent of their passes or better in their UK careers.
Towles certainly is capable of throwing at a high completion rate. The junior quarterback connected on 76.7 percent of his throws against Vanderbilt and 69 percent against both Tennessee Martin and South Carolina.
"We saw flashes of some great play last year," Stoops said of his quarterback. "He has a big arm and he throws the ball down the field very well. We need to be more accurate intermediately."
It's not always about the completion percentages either, especially in an offense built around giving receivers space to make plays.
"A lot of times when you talk about accuracy, it doesn't mean that they completely missed or that they even threw an incompletion, but they may have thrown a completion that was a little bit behind and didn't give the receiver an opportunity to run with it," Walker explained. "Those are the kinds of things you work on and a lot of it has to do with timing and body alignment."
If a quarterback doesn't anticipate a receiver getting open, it's often too late to make the throw.
The more Towles becomes familiar with the offense, the more accurate he likely will be, coaches said.
Much of the time, accuracy is about having a clutter-free mind that can make a quick decision.
"There's probably a better chance for you to be accurate if you have a clear mind," Dawson said. "So just another year of experience is going to help with that."
Open practice tidbits
Random notes from an open practice:
The thermometer read 30 degrees for the two-hour outdoor practice, but that didn't stop 100 or so fans from watching Kentucky on Saturday morning.
The cold also didn't stop center Jon Toth from wearing a jersey that showed off his bare arms and nearly his entire abdomen, which became a running discussion.
"I thought maybe we'd get a little break from that today, but definitely not, that's for sure," Towles joked afterward, after the UK offense had a big day.
Toth was talked up for more than his clothing decisions on Saturday, though, with Towles calling the center the "brains of the operation," and Coach Mark Stoops added equal praise.
"He's really playing some good football, toward the end of last year and this year he's gotten better. He's really improving. He's got a chance to be a really good player."
■ Kentucky's running backs had a strong showing on Saturday, including three touchdowns from Jojo Kemp in a scrimmage-type situation. Two of those runs were 30-plus yards.
On his final scoring play of the day, Kemp high-fived nearly every fan that stood on the sidelines for the open practice. "I had to make it worthwhile coming," the junior said. "I had to make sure they enjoyed their time here."
Stoops said he loved Kemp's attitude and enthusiasm. The head coach jokingly asked the official standing next to him if there should be some kind of penalty for high-fiving every fan there.
"I thought we were at Lambeau for a minute," he said. "Felt like Lambeau out there today."
Kemp's joy for the game is contagious, his quarterback said.
"People kind of downplay the effect that can have on an offense, but when something's going bad and you have Jojo running around giving everyone high-fives, it lightens it up a little bit. It lets you relax," Towles said. "I love it. I hope he does more of it."
■ As for the other UK running backs, Stanley "Boom" Williams missed the last part of the scrimmage with a hip-pointer, but made a couple of nice runs and even caught an underthrown pass on a wheel route and took it for significant yards.
■ Towles said he's seeing a much different Mikel Horton as well, noting that the sophomore spent his offseason working on his body, shedding 15-20 pounds. "He's a lot more cut and he's running a lot better," Towles said. "He was kind of that big, lumbering guy last year, but he's going to surprise a lot of people this year with his speed, that's for sure."
■ New defensive tackle turned fullback Jacob Hyde caught some eyes with a catch in the backfield to start practice. And while the 6-foot-2, 333-pound player hasn't figured it all out, he's made some of the UK running backs happy.
When asked about the kind of holes Hyde opens up, Kemp said: "Big ones, ones his size."
Going back and forth from defense to offense provided a little bit of confusion for his coaches, too.
"The official was back there telling me there were only 10 on defense," Stoops relayed. "I kept on saying, 'Are you sure?' He said, 'Yeah, there's 10,' and Jacob was in there with the blue (offense) shirt on. He was trained. Jacob's such a good kid. He just wants to play, wants us to be better. I love his attitude."
■ Both Towles and Drew Barker led UK's offense on some nice drives in the faux scrimmage. Towles had a touchdown pass and Barker added two. In general, Stoops was pleased to see them put two solid back-to-back practices together.
"I thought they looked more calm and more confident out there," Stoops said. "I thought they were as poised as they've been since I've been here, sitting in the pocket and throwing the ball down the field. As I've mentioned the past two days and even today with the success they had, yesterday we got the ball down the field even better. They're doing a better job."
They got a nice boost from two new tight ends in true freshman C.J. Conrad and Darryl Long. Conrad caught one of Barker's scoring passes near the corner of the end zone.
Both players will have an immediate impact, coaches and teammates said.
"C.J. and Darryl are playing really well," Towles said. "They're a quarterback's best friend, so I'm excited about that."
■ Alex Montgomery's surgically repaired knee was a little banged up today and he didn't practice, but he has been able to go through much of spring. ... Kobie Walker had an ankle sprain ... Nico Firios hurt his shoulder on Friday, but is expected to be back on Monday. ... Regie Meant and Fred Tiller were in red jerseys on Saturday and didn't practice.
■ Some defensive players who made some nice plays included Darius West and Mike Edwards at safety. ... Denzil Ware, Blake McClain and Melvin Lewis blew up a couple of plays for the UK offense. Stoops likes Ware's explosiveness, but said the defensive end needs more game/scrimmage experience.