If one Kentucky quarterback doesn’t separate himself in the next couple of weeks leading up to the season opener, the coaches haven’t ruled out playing more than one of them.
At the team’s annual Media Day on Friday, Mark Stoops was asked if he plans to play both Terry Wilson and Gunnar Hoak early in the season and the head coach simply said: “Right now I do.”
But it’s hard to know how the competition is going to play out, Stoops cautioned.
“You’ve heard me say it, I’m honest about it, but I think at that position you get a good feel for what you have but until you get to a game, you’re not exactly 100 percent sure and that’s not different in many places, not different in the NFL in my opinion,” he said.
Until those players get under center and get live game repetitions, something neither Hoak nor Wilson have yet, it’s hard to know exactly what UK has, Stoops said.
“I think it’s fair to both of those guys to give them an opportunity because it’s very close at this time,” he said.
After the Blue-White Spring Game in April, Kentucky quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw said he had played two quarterbacks before.
After that scrimmage, Hinshaw was asked if there’s a scenario where UK might play both. “There could be, you never know,” he said.
“We’re going to do what’s best for Kentucky football,” he said. “Most of the time, you don’t like to pull people and go back and forth, you want them to be in rhythm. We’ll see what happens when we get to that point.”
When asked about it on Friday just before the Cats took the field for the first time to open fall practices, Hinshaw said all four quarterbacks, including Danny Clark and Walker Wood, would get their fair share of repetitions early, adding that Hoak and Wilson had “earned the right to compete and get more reps.”
Kentucky will have seven full practices before the first scrimmage, Hinshaw said, which might start to create some space between starters and backups.
In previous places, Hinshaw said he’s used multiple quarterbacks in a game. It’s not always perfect.
“It just depends who has the hot hand when you’re doing it like that sometimes,” he said. “It also depends on what defense you’re playing. One thing I’m doing right now is I’m coaching them both the same to go out there and go execute our offense.”
Baker is back
Kentucky coaches are eager to see what a fully healthy Dorian Baker looks like, but they’re going to continue to be cautious with the senior wide receiver.
It was around this time a year ago that Baker suffered a season-ending ankle injury in a preseason scrimmage. A season before that, Baker was slowed by a hamstring injury that held him out of early games in 2016.
“He hasn’t played for a long time. He hasn’t been full-go in a long time,” Coach Mark Stoops said of Baker, who has 88 catches for 1,015 yards and six touchdowns in 24 career starts.
Baker was held out of contact during spring practices and did not play in the Blue-White Spring Game in April out of an abundance of caution.
So coaches will use camp to get him “game ready,” Stoops said.
That doesn’t mean Baker will be full-go all of the time, either. Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran confirmed that the senior probably will have fewer repetitions in practice as he prepares for his final season at UK.
“He wants to go full speed every time and I love that about him,” Gran said of the 6-foot-3, 205-pound senior from Cleveland Heights, Ohio. “But yes, we are definitely going to have a rep count on him. Make sure he knows what to do and looks great and he is full speed.
“We just got to make sure that he can get into some of the scrimmages and he doesn’t need 35 reps. That doesn’t make sense. Just get him banged up a little bit, hit and make sure that he can hit so he can get into that first game and hopefully have a nice, healthy season.”
Other news and notes
It was unclear a few weeks ago how long it might be before inside linebacker Jordan Jones would be back to full strength for Kentucky, but Stoops said Friday that the senior should be “good to go,” in camp.
Jones, who had shoulder surgery in the offseason, will be partially available for the first two days of practice because UK isn’t permitted to wear shoulder pads and trainers can’t protect his shoulder, but from then on, the senior is cleared to play.
Jones, who has played in 30 games with 21 career starts, was fifth on the team in tackles last season with 64 despite missing four games working through a different shoulder problem. The linebacker also had 7.5 tackles for loss, three quarterback hurries two sacks and a forced fumble last season for the Cats. He led UK in tackles in 2016 with 109, including 15.5 for loss and four sacks to go with nine quarterback hurries.
▪ While other position competitions work themselves out, a top punter emerged from the spring, Stoops said. Max Duffy, a 6-foot-1 sophomore transfer from Australia, probably will be the Cats’ starter for the opener.
“Max was impressive in the spring and did a very good job,” Stoops said of Duffy. “He’s still learning some American football, but he’s got a strong leg and he’s talented as far as the things he can do and rolling and moving, so we like Max. … At this point coming out of spring, Max had won the job.”