UK Football

UK football: Maxwell Smith rests shoulder, expects to be back soon

Kentucky quarterback Maxwell Smith left the field favoring his throwing shoulder Saturday against Louisville. Smith missed action last season for a different injury to the same shoulder.
Kentucky quarterback Maxwell Smith left the field favoring his throwing shoulder Saturday against Louisville. Smith missed action last season for a different injury to the same shoulder. Herald-Leader

Maxwell Smith can still remember the details of the play that changed everything for him.

"Just a freak thing," the Kentucky quarterback recalled as he talked about the hit he took against Georgia in 2011 when he first injured his right throwing shoulder.

"An unlucky fourth quarter," he recalled Wednesday. "We called a play in the middle of the field that was just something the coaches kind of threw in there. We ran it, it wasn't open, I took off and Alec Ogletree just hit me in the ground, and it just happened."

That first injury has led to a succession of shoulder problems for the Kentucky quarterback, including his latest one during the loss to Louisville.

But Smith and his coaches say this latest issue is not connected to the previous AC joint problems in his shoulder.

This week, UK's bye week, Smith is not throwing at all so he can get full rest for when the Cats start preparing for No. 19 Florida next week.

On the Southeastern Conference teleconference Wednesday, Coach Mark Stoops said he expects Smith will be back soon.

"We'll see how he progresses. He seems to be feeling good," Stoops said. "He can throw the ball very lightly right now and has full range, so we'll see how he goes throughout the week."

Smith said he went through a battery of tests this week and confirmed that it's a different issue than the previous ones.

"It's just a different spot than was affected previous," Smith explained Wednesday. "I'm going to be alright."

When asked if it was a sprain or strain or something else, Smith said he didn't "even know what to call it."

He's still experiencing some tenderness in the shoulder, which experienced a decrease in throwing velocity during the Louisville game.

"With my shoulder, I always get some pain," Smith said. "But I'm going to be alright. That's all that matters, really."

While Smith waits for the shoulder to improve, he's still going through every other drill in practice.

"I'm running around, going full speed, doing ball-handling drills, holding the ball high and tight like Coach wants it, doing my run-game stuff," Smith said. "Just being out here helping other guys and whatnot, just trying to be the best teammate."

Smith admitted that the constant thinking and talking about what he called the "nagging" injury wears on him.

"I talked to some people and even if you get the surgery or whatever, it might not return to full strength," he said. "And you can get it to full strength, I guess. But it is annoying, honestly."

On the teleconference, Stoops also fielded questions about his other quarterbacks, including Jalen Whitlow, who started the season as the No. 1 quarterback against Western Kentucky, but has been used as a part of a rotation with Smith in the last two games.

When asked what Whitlow needs to do to perform better, Stoops said the sophomore needs to "settle down," especially when he gets into the game. In Whitlow's first trip into the game on Saturday, he fumbled the ball.

Offensive coordinator Neal Brown said Wednesday that the fumble was "a total, total missed assignment up front on that one."

Later in the game, subbing in quickly for Smith, Whitlow threw an interception.

"He's been shaky at times to start the game," Stoops said. "Once he settles in, he does some very good things. But we need him to just play more natural."

Brown, his coordinator and quarterbacks coach, said he thought Whitlow played well late in the game against the Cardinals.

"What he did in the fourth quarter is what I'd like to see more of," Brown said. "He relaxed in the pocket, and he makes plays outside the pocket. When he's in a rhythm, he's a good passer. When he's in rhythm."

Is that all mental for Whitlow?

"It's a little bit of a combination between mental, fundamentals and then the people around him," Brown said. "I think all of those things are contributing factors."

It's not all on Whitlow, Stoops added.

"We've gotta be more consistent around him," the UK coach said. "It doesn't go very well when we have open receivers and our quarterbacks miss them, and then the next time maybe the receiver drops the ball. So there's a lot of drive-killers out there. We've just gotta be more consistent as a team."

Also, if injuries were to knock out Smith and/or Whitlow, it sounds like there would be a new open quarterback competition between Patrick Towles and Reese Phillips.

"If one of those guys goes down, then it's between Patrick and Reese to see who would be the backup quarterback at that time," Stoops said. "Both of them have done some good things."

Towles has been getting a majority of Smith's snaps this week.

"He had a good day in our team period today, did a good job. A little rusty yesterday, did better today," Brown said of Towles.

Next game

Florida at Kentucky

When: 7 p.m. Sept. 28


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