UK Football

UK needs to test QBs’ ability to make decisions. So Cats changed the way they practice.

Head coach Mark Stoops, left, and offensive coordinator Eddie Gran changed up their practice routines in the spring and probably will in the fall to help simulate games while the quarterback competition plays out.
Head coach Mark Stoops, left, and offensive coordinator Eddie Gran changed up their practice routines in the spring and probably will in the fall to help simulate games while the quarterback competition plays out. cbertram@herald-leader.com

The radio voice for Kentucky football did his best to yank important answers from Coach Mark Stoops in front of an audience of Big Blue backers on Thursday.

“So you’re not going to announce the quarterback today?” Tom Leach asked slyly.

Immediately, Stoops pounced. “You know better than that,” he smiled.

It’s a regular cat-and-media game Kentucky’s coaches are going to be playing during talking season before the opener on Sept. 1 against Central Michigan.

But Kentucky’s coaches have been willing to talk about some of the things they’re looking for in a signal caller and some of the steps they took in the spring — and probably will take in August — as they try to decide on their future quarterback.

“The quarterback is the big decision,” Stoops said at the Wildcat Kickoff Luncheon overlooking Kroger Field on Thursday, one day after meeting with a partisan UK alumni crowd in Louisville.That’s a big question mark, but I love our options. …

“There’s a comfort level because our team has experience all around him.”

The three players competing for the starting job — sophomores Gunnar Hoak and Terry Wilson, a junior-college transfer, as well as redshirt freshman Danny Clark — will be some of the only newcomers on the field for UK this fall.

At the annual kickoff luncheon, Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran talked about what he will be looking for during the team’s quarterback competition. Sophomores Terry Wilson and Gunnar Hoak are the top candidates for the starting job.

The Cats return five veteran offensive linemen, play-makers at running back in Benny Snell and tight end in C.J. Conrad and veterans at wide receiver like Dorian Baker and Tavin Richardson.

There are few players who will line up for the opening snap with less college game experience than the quarterback, which Conrad thinks will make the transition easier for whoever ultimately wins the job.

“Knowing they don’t necessarily have to take that huge leadership role yet is going to be beneficial for them for sure,” Conrad said two weeks ago at Southeastern Conference Media Days.

“Guys like me and Benny can help them get to that moment. When we get into a game, their natural ability, their leadership ability will take over.”

Because of the game-day inexperience, Kentucky’s coaches adjusted their practice plans in the spring, turning almost every snap into a game-like scenario.

“We did try to be as (close) to game simulation as we could,” offensive coordinator Eddie Gran explained this week. “We’ll continue to do that for sure as we get into this next 29 practices or however many we have.”

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Gunnar Hoak (12) dropped back to throw a pass during one of UK’s spring practices. Left to right were quarterbacks Danny Clark (8), Walker Wood (17) and Terry Wilson (3) and quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw. Kentucky’s coaches discussed their plan for picking their next signal caller during luncheons this week. Charles Bertram cbertram@herald-leader.com

Having an almost near-scrimmage daily this spring “really helped our quarterbacks,” Gran said. “We’ll continue to do that and hope that somebody just takes the job.”

During that process, the coaches also discovered that when they cut the playbook back, they saw a significant jump in offensive productivity.

“As we limited in the spring … we got better,” Gran said Thursday. “As we move forward and we’re successful, we’ll add. But right now I like where they’re at. … When they know what to do, they can play fast and that’s good for us.”

It’s not a situation where the playbook is next to nothing, Gran said in the spring. He noted then that there was enough installed that UK could comfortably go into a game with it.

Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops talks to the media after his team’s spring game on Friday night.

When Leach pressed Gran about what a UK signal caller could do to separate himself this preseason, the offensive coordinator kept his answers short.

“It comes with leadership and how you run the offense, especially in scrimmage-type situations,” Gran said. “We’re going to be grading, we’re going to be really looking at that carefully, everything we do from practice to game one.

“Obviously being on target is important and being able to move the ball, just decision making. That’s such a huge part of it, especially when the bullets start flying. There’s going to be a lot we take into account when we make this decision.”

Important upcoming UK football dates

Saturday: Women’s Clinic

Aug. 2: Players report for camp

Aug. 3: Media Day

Aug. 4: Fan Day

Sept. 1: Season opener at home vs. Central Michigan

At Kentucky football’s annual kickoff luncheon, defensive coordinator Matt House complimented outside linebacker Josh Allen. The senior enters the 2018 season high on the draft lists of many NFL scouts.

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