After improved practices and much-improved scrimmages the past few days, Eddie Gran was a tad more playful than he usually is with the media.
When asked how much performances in Kentucky’s upcoming Blue-White Spring Game would be a factor in the race for starting quarterback, Gran paused.
“Zero point zero, zero,” the UK offensive coordinator said.
That’s also about the percentage chance that Coach Mark Stoops will name a starter after the spring game on Friday night at Kroger Field. But fans will get their first chance to see what Kentucky is working with in its effort to replace two-year starter Stephen Johnson at signal caller.
If they’re honest, Kentucky’s coaches are using every snap to make mental notes and chart four key things that will determine who the Cats’ starter will be in September: ball security, targets, decision-making and setting protections.
“It matters,” Gran said a few minutes later of the spring game. “It all matters. Every rep matters.”
Ultimately, with no Southeastern Conference snaps on the résumés of Gunnar Hoak, Terry Wilson, Danny Clark and Walker Wood, all live game-like situations are going to be important for grading and for developing.
“We’re going to try and get them all in for the game,” quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw said. “That’s the idea. You have to go handle those environments if you play. That’s why Stephen Johnson did an unbelievable job is he thrived in those environments.”
Coaches have to see the players perform under duress, see if they can make good decisions without coughing up the ball, make the right reads at the right times. Things that can’t come in drills or practice.
“What we need to work on is playing the game,” Hinshaw said. “That’s going to happen all summer, going against the defense and then it’s going to happen in the fall when we put it all together.”
Accuracy will play a key role in the competition as well, with both Gran and Hinshaw saying that they’d like UK’s next quarterback to be able to connect on 65-70 percent of his throws next season.
Some things Stoops said he will be watching with the quarterbacks include: “How they move the chains, how the team responds to them, their decision making when they need to pull it down and run, decisions on (run-pass options).”
So much will go into making the right call at the right time.
“We have so many practices before our first game,” Stoops said. “We’ll take our time and make the right decision. We all understand that it’s an important decision and you have to make sure you pick the right guy.”
Sometimes a stellar spring game performance doesn’t guarantee you work the next season. Ask Hoak, who has gone a combined 20-for-29 for 288 yards and three touchdowns in two spring game appearances so far, with a 5-yard scoring run, too. He would like to have a similar showing this spring, and Hinshaw said the sophomore clearly has settled into the offense now.
Hoak’s mission has been to get better in the film room, watching his own work as well as Johnson’s in games last season.
“That was one of my biggest goals in the spring, going through and learning more not on the field, but off the field, knowing what I can do so I can put it together out there,” he said.
Wilson, a junior-college transfer, seems to have a much greater grasp of the offense than even a few weeks ago, Hinshaw said.
“I’m really proud of him,” the quarterbacks coach said of Wilson. “He’s really been working hard off the field to get himself ready, to know where to go with the football. His decision making was much better in the scrimmage, too. So was Gunnar. We played winning football, which is what you want to see at quarterback.”
Wilson is excited to see how it all comes together on Friday.
“I’m fired up,” he said of the spring game. “I can’t wait. I’ve been dreaming about it, waiting on it, so I’m going to be really excited to go out there, score some touchdowns and do what we do.”
While much of the starting quarterback talk has been focused on Hoak and Wilson this spring, Clark has been quietly making an impact, too. On the six drives he’s piloted in closed scrimmages this spring, UK has scored on five of them, Hinshaw said.
“I’m really proud of Danny,” his quarterbacks coach said. “He’s come a long way from day one. He’s had to re-learn the offense … He’s done a phenomenal job of getting himself in contention to go compete. That’s what I wanted to see from him this spring.
“I told him don’t worry about depth charts, don’t worry about nothing, just get better every day and he has.”
• As for Wood, the former Lafayette standout, he’s been banged up since he arrived on campus in one way or another and is just now getting into playing shape.
“He’s finally playing football, but it’s like he’s been a year removed,” Hinshaw said, noting that Wood is just now returning from a torn bicep tendon last year. “He didn’t get an opportunity to compete or do anything, so he’s getting to do it now, but he’s rusty, very rusty.”
Now that Wood is full go again, Hinshaw is interested to see what happens next. Adding: “The summer’s going to be big for him to get him back to where he used to be, but you see signs of him getting there.”
Blue-White Spring Game
When: 6:30 p.m. Friday
TV: SEC Network