UK Football

UK Media Day: Kentucky QBs anticipate fair fight for starting job

Running backs coach Chad Scott, a former UK player, chatted with quarterback Patrick Towles during UK Football Media Day last week.
Running backs coach Chad Scott, a former UK player, chatted with quarterback Patrick Towles during UK Football Media Day last week. Herald-Leader

Side by side their lockers sit: Maxwell Smith, Reese Phillips, Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles.

It's a fitting visual, Smith said on Monday when asked how Kentucky avoids a quarterback controversy with so many names in the mix.

"They're right next to each other," Smith said of the lockers. "So we're always talking to each other, we're always hanging out. We did all of our drills together this summer, so we're always around each other. We get along great. It's not a problem at all."

The coaches would like to keep the good vibes as they sort out the quarterback position in fall camp. It shouldn't be too difficult, Whitlow said. They just have to keep the competition on the field.

"Off the field, we're friends, teammates. We hang out. We talk, we laugh, we joke," he said. "It's not a controversy at all. We've got three or four guys that are fighting for a quarterback job."

At UK's Media Day on Monday, offensive coordinator Neal Brown discussed the strengths of the three main players vying for the job — sophomores Smith, Towles and Whitlow — for the first time.

He also talked about how he hopes to keep it a fair fight.

"We talked about it this morning when we met; just talked about, 'Hey, this is going to be about we, not about me,'" Brown said. "This is how the reps are going to be distributed and everybody is going to get an opportunity to prove themselves, and the most productive guy will win."

■ On Smith, who was the starter for four of the first five games last season before various injuries slowed him down: "Maxwell, I think he has potential to be really accurate with the football," Brown said of Smith, who completed 61.7 percent of his passes (eight touchdowns, four interceptions last season) before being sidelined for the season with an ankle injury in the fifth game.

"He has been productive when he's been healthy. Now, he has not been healthy a whole lot, which is an issue. But he's been productive and he's accurate with the football and he's done it against good people."

■ On Whitlow and Towles, both true freshmen when called into service after Smith went down, Brown also had positive things to say: "(Whitlow) is a play-maker, one of the better athletes on our football team and he makes plays.

"Another thing I like about Jalen is he got thrown into the fire and he doesn't shun away and even though the end results didn't show it, he got better as it went on last year."

Whitlow started the Cats' final seven games of the season, completing 54 percent of his passes. He threw for 801 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.

The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder also adds an offensive wrinkle with his ability to run the ball. He was the Cats' third-leading rusher last season with 206 yards and three scores.

For his part, Towles can stretch the field with his long ball.

"He's a big kid that runs better than most people think and he's got a big– time arm talent," Brown said of Towles, who also battled his share of injuries last season. The former star at Highlands passed for 233 yards and a touchdown last season, completing just 47.5 percent of his throws.

Phillips, a true freshman who participated in the 15 spring practices, has his upside as well, Brown said: "Reese has no fear. Reese Phillips, he went out, by far the biggest crowd he's ever had to perform in front of in the spring game and performed admirably."

Of course, actions speak louder than words. After one day of practice, Coach Mark Stoops said he's confident one of them will be able to lead the Cats' new up-tempo offense.

"They all look better right now," Stoops said. "They look better in this first day from just watching it. We had two drills going on — we had a lot of things going on today — but from what I've seen, we're much-improved."

At Media Day, Stoops said he ultimately would be making the quarterback decision with help from Brown. The head coach said he will do his part to make it a competition and not a controversy.

"As we go through camp and we build what we are doing here, there's a trust factor there," Stoops said. "Our players need to trust that we are going to put every one of them in a position to be successful and they have to trust and be confident that whoever is behind center can lead this team and help us win."

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