It’s not about fancy footwork or pretty passes.
This weekend as Kentucky’s quarterbacks attempt to impress their coaches in the first live scrimmage of the spring, it won’t be about the most aesthetically pleasing parts of the position.
It’s all about one simple thing on Saturday at Kroger Field: “Just take care of the football,” said offensive coordinator Eddie Gran in his most matter of fact, dad handing out curfews kind of way.
“I want them to take care of the football, be efficient,” Gran continued. “We’re not going to have a ton in, so that’s what I’m looking for.”
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Kentucky made big-time headway in the turnover department a season ago, averaging just 1.2 giveaways a game, 35th best in the country. The season before that, it was quite the opposite, with only six other programs averaging more miscues per game than the Cats’ 2.2.
So even though the Cats are replacing their leader and signal caller at quarterback, they are looking for the candidates to replace him to be just as careful with the football.
“Ball security is the No. 1 thing we talk about and No. 2 is we’ve got to make great decisions and great target throws,” quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw said.
After managing double-digit interceptions in each of the previous three seasons, UK had just five regular-season interceptions before coughing it up twice in the Music City Bowl, when senior Stephen Johnson’s throwing shoulder was badly injured.
In the past 20 seasons, Kentucky has kept its interceptions total in the single digits only six times.
Hinshaw wants to keep the picks numbers just as low this season even though he’s working with quarterbacks who have never thrown a pass in a Southeastern Conference game in sophomore Gunnar Hoak, junior-college transfer Terry Wilson and redshirt freshman Danny Clark.
“Our decision-making was much better (last season) and we’ve got to continue that this year,” Hinshaw said. “Now this year I have a different learning curve. Stephen Johnson had played in a bunch of games to get to that point. He also made a bunch of mistakes going through that.”
Good decision-making and taking care of the ball are things that have been drilled into the quarterbacks’ heads since the start of spring practice, Wilson said.
“We work it every day right before practice,” the newcomer said. “For quarterbacks, it’s the No. 1 priority to take care of the football.”
It’s discussed every day in the stretch lines, Gran said. The quarterbacks need to have a loud, desperate clock in their heads.
“If you haven’t checked it down, you better run,” he said after counting down for emphasis. “Just throwing it up to throw it up, that’s bad ball.”
The Cats coaches also will be keeping close tabs on something that makes taking care of the ball a little easier: setting protections.
“That’s where our learning curve with Terry and Danny and those guys right now is, to learn how to slide protections and do that,” Hinshaw said. “We’ve got to be able to protect ourselves to be able to even throw the football down the field.”
All of Kentucky’s coaches have made it clear that they don’t plan to make any decisions about their future starter this spring. But the players competing see the spring as a chance to leave a lasting impression.
Clark, who spent all of last season on scout team, said all of them are excited to have some live repetitions in the stadium.
“Everybody wants it,” he said of the starting job, “but it’s going to come down to who is helping the team the most. It’s not about us, it’s how can we make sure the Kentucky Wildcats are ready to go this season.”
Hoak, who has been unavailable for interviews this spring because of class obligations, has received a bulk of the first-team reps with Clark and Wilson working with the second team.
They’ll all get a chance to show what they have picked up so far on Saturday in the closed scrimmage.
Wilson’s goal is to please his coaches and have a little fun in the process: “It’s been a lot of learning going on, just soaking everything in, but just going out there and letting loose, playing ball, not thinking too much, just playing football.”
Blue-White Spring Game
When: April 13, 6:30 p.m.
TV: SEC Network