Don’t expect any quick declarations or decisions about Kentucky’s next starting quarterback.
When Coach Mark Stoops said at the start of spring practice on Monday that the quarterback selection process “is going to take some time,” it wasn’t a cliché.
The battle, likely between sophomore Gunnar Hoak and junior-college transfer Terry Wilson, will go through the spring, into the summer and likely well into the start of fall camp.
Offensive coordinators Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw said as much when they mapped out how the quarterbacks competition was going to go for the next few months.
“I expect this will be a long process,” said Hinshaw, the quarterbacks coach. “But by the middle of spring, I expect us to be a lot better than where we started. By the end of spring, I expect us to be really understanding the offense and making plays and doing what we need at quarterback.”
Just a couple days into spring practices, Hoak is getting a majority of the first-team repetitions because “he knows what to do,” Hinshaw said of the 6-foot-4 sophomore from Dublin, Ohio, who is starting his third spring at UK.
The second-team repetitions so far are in the hands of Wilson and Danny Clark, a redshirt freshman who spent most of his time last season on scout team.
“We’re going to see how that goes as we go through the process,” Hinshaw said of the distribution of snaps for the players, which also could include additional ones for redshirt freshman Walker Wood, who is coming back from shoulder surgeries.
The former Lafayette star is still dealing with scar tissue after surgery, but he’s been able to throw consistent medium-range passes. So Wood hasn’t taken any team repetitions quite yet.
“We’re going to continue to throw him and hopefully by the middle of spring, he can take some reps and go through that,” Hinshaw said. “I’m looking forward to seeing him to finally be able to go out there and go play and be able to go out there and run the offense.”
As a whole, the quarterback group worked in the offseason on mechanics and learning the offense, but it’s different this season without veterans like Stephen Johnson and Drew Barker, who had taken Southeastern Conference snaps.
“You have a learning curve that’s a little bit different than what it’s been the last two years,” Hinshaw said.
But the quarterbacks coach likes what he’s seeing from his quarterbacks.
All of them.
“Gunnar’s way ahead as far as understanding everything and making great decisions,” said Hinshaw, noting that Hoak was at every single game for the past two seasons and was able to get a complete understanding for what the position entails. “His accuracy on his throws is very good. I’m pleased with where he’s at.”
Wilson, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound sophomore transfer from Garden City Community College in Kansas, is at a “really good place right now,” Hinshaw said.
“He’s got a long way to go,” the coach said. “Again, the learning curve is we’re going to be throwing a lot of things at him these next five practices.”
There have been times when it looks like Wilson is “spinning a little bit,” Gran said, “which you would expect of anybody learning a new offense.”
But Wilson’s attitude has been amazing, UK’s offensive coordinator said of the player who amassed 2,133 yards and 26 touchdowns last season for Garden City while rushing for 518 yards and five more scores.
“He comes in all the time,” Gran said of Wilson. “He’s trying to be a sponge and he’s trying to get this thing. It’s a crash course, and it’s going to be kind of something where he’s going and we’re going to have so much in that he’s gonna fall. But then he can just start coming back up again, and he’ll have a chance for sure.”
That sponge-like absorption will continue for the foreseeable future. Kentucky will have one more full practice on Thursday and then take spring break off before diving right back into the playbook.
There will be two additional practices on March 20 and 22 before the first closed scrimmage of the spring.
“There will be a lot thrown on him,” Hinshaw said. “There’s going to be a lot going through his head, so we’re going to simplify it as much as we can for him and really for Danny Clark also.”
Thus the lengthy timeline for a decision to come.
It won’t be quick. Stoops doesn’t see a reason for that, especially for a position group that never sees live action in practice, just simulated situations.
“That quarterback situation is definitely going to need some time to work its way out,” he smiled, noting that even the highest level of professionals in the NFL don’t have a tried and true system for selecting signal callers.
No interviews or drills or film study tell coaches all they need to know about the quarterback position.
“Some guys slip to the fifth, sixth, seventh round and become one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time (like) Tom Brady,” Stoops said. “Or some guys are picked No. 1 and it doesn’t work out. … So we have to let them play and see what happens.”