From the sound of it, the Kentucky quarterback competition will carry through the summer and into fall camp.
On a Southeastern Conference teleconference Wednesday to wrap up spring practices, UK Coach Mark Stoops said it was nice to have a veteran quarterback returning.
But he made it clear that it's still not Patrick Towles' job.
When asked about having a 12-game starter back to lead the offense in Towles, Stoops said it "means an awful lot to us."
He added quickly that Towles is "still in a competition with Drew Barker," though.
Stoops went on to note that he's seen Towles' comfort level grow this spring with a full season under his belt in which the junior quarterback threw for 2,718 total yards and 14 touchdowns with nine interceptions. He also rushed for 303 yards and six touchdowns for Kentucky, which finished the season 5-7.
"He's getting more and more of a leadership role within our team and getting more and more comfortable," Stoops said of Towles.
There was an adjustment for both Towles and sophomore Drew Barker with new offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson, but Stoops said both settled in nicely.
"It was really a pretty smooth transition with the offensive coordinator," he said. "So, I'm excited about Patrick and Drew as we move forward."
Kentucky also is expected to return Reese Phillips, last season's backup who played in three games. He missed all of spring practice after having surgery on a torn Achilles' tendon.
Near the end of spring practices, Stoops had said the Cats coaches were getting closer to naming a starter.
"We'll name a starter," he said. "We'll name one. No, we will. And I think there's some merit to that surely with getting that leadership going through the summer and letting the guys know where they stand and being fair with them if we know."
Both Towles and Barker had standout moments in the spring, Dawson and Stoops said regularly.
Stadium 'on target'
With two separate snows of more than a foot in the Lexington area over the winter, there was bound to be some work stoppage on the renovations at Commonwealth Stadium.
But Stoops seemed confident that it will be ready to go for the Cats' season opener on Sept. 5 against Louisiana-Lafayette.
"Our stadium is under construction right now and on target to be ready for the home opener," Stoops said on the teleconference. "So, getting ready for that and also the new football building is under construction and that'll be a year away or so.
"But good things are happening and we're excited about the future here of Kentucky football."
Kentucky had its share of bumps and bruises during the spring as well as a few surgeries, but Stoops sounded optimistic that his team will be well healed when fall camp starts in August.
"I actually think we should be at full strength," he said. "Nothing major happened throughout spring or late in spring. I feel like we'll be in good shape."
He noted that true freshman tight end C.J. Conrad did have his sports hernia surgery, but that he should be ready to go for fall camp.
■ Stoops was asked about a couple of hot-button topics while on the teleconference Wednesday morning, including the cost of attendance variables among schools.
For instance, schools like Tennessee, Auburn, Mississippi State and Louisville each are going to be paying their athletes an additional $5,000 or more based on their cost-of-attendance calculations, whereas UK reports that it will be paying athletes an added $3,598 annually.
Since the totals are based on numbers that come from the student financial-aid office, not his office, Stoops didn't feel comfortable commenting.
"The big thing with that is it's determined by the institution, not the athletic department, so there's really not a lot to comment on that," Stoops said.
"I don't think anybody within athletic departments are trying to alter that rule in any way, shape or form, so until something's done nationally, I don't think there's really much for me to comment on about that."