UK Football

Kentucky coach confident about QB situation

Kentucky quarterback Drew Barker threw a pass in the second half. The University of Kentucky hosted the University of Louisville, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015 at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington.
Kentucky quarterback Drew Barker threw a pass in the second half. The University of Kentucky hosted the University of Louisville, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015 at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington. Herald-Leader

Are you a little undersized? That’s OK.

Are you a pocket passer? That’s fine.

Are you a true freshman quarterback with no college experience?

Darin Hinshaw believes he can work with you. And the new Kentucky coach thinks you have a place in the new offense.

“The key, I really believe, to coaching quarterbacks is to maximize what they do well and continue to understand what your deficiencies are,” Hinshaw said in an interview with select media members this week.

When Kentucky’s new co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach and Eddie Gran, the assistant coach for offense, go on the road the next two weeks wearing UK blue for the first time, they’ll be selling a system that is flexible and adaptable.

That is especially true of the quarterback position.

Drew Barker, the only remaining Cats quarterback with any game experience (two starts), true freshman Gunnar Hoak or even a potential wild card from the junior-college level — like Stephen Johnson who was taking his official visit to UK late this week — can find success in this system.

“The good thing about this offense is we can do anything we want, which is good,” Hinshaw said. “So we’re going to maximize what’s the best thing for the University of Kentucky.”

Every quarterback has his deficiencies, but the new coaches’ goal when building an offensive game plan is to put that quarterback in the best position possible to succeed.

Even if a quarterback has failed at another stop or not put up the numbers most predicted, Hinshaw shrugs that off.

“Over the years I’ve learned that if you put a quarterback in the wrong system, the wrong place, he will fail,” said Hinshaw, whose Cincinnati offense threw for 4,679 yards last season.

“I believe I can go get anybody and make them better. Now, how good? I don’t know. I won’t know until I can get into the nuts and bolts and get my hands dirty and go work and go do it.”

The flexibility of the offense the two piloted together at Cincinnati for the past three seasons — and Hinshaw helped guide at Tennessee before that — helps it adapt to its personnel and “maximize the best out of the players we have.”

The only non-negotiable on quarterbacks for Hinshaw is their throwing motion. If the quarterback has a good one, he can work within this offense.

“You have to be able to get yourself in position and have your feet underneath you and ready to throw,” he explained.

When Gran, a longtime friend of UK head coach Mark Stoops, approached Hinshaw about possibly leaving Cincinnati together to take over the UK offense, Hinshaw looked closely at the Cats’ QB situation.

While at Cincinnati, they recruited Barker and know what they have with the player that Stoops said will get the first snap of spring ball.

From there, it’s up in the air.

But Hinshaw seems confident with what UK has (even before Johnson has made his decision official, which likely will come this weekend).

“I knew Gunnar Hoak. I recruited him,” Hinshaw said, and was complimentary of the true freshman, who is on campus and will participate in spring practice.

“I knew those two were going to be here and after I talked to Coach Gran, I said that’s something I can definitely work with.”

Hinshaw also recruited Davis Mattingly, a walk-on quarterback from Louisville Male.

“And when I got here with Coach Stoops, I said, ‘We probably need to get another guy in here to have the right competition, the right numbers to go compete.’”

Other QB questions

Unlike former offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson, who seemed to prefer quarterbacks run as a last resort, Hinshaw’s quarterbacks should be ready to run.

“Every week we’re going to have a plan to run the quarterback,” he said in his opening news conference two weeks ago. “It just depends on what the defense is giving us and where. We call it plus one. You always gain a blocker or an advantage running the quarterback. So we run our quarterbacks. We zone read, all those kind of things where the quarterbacks are involved in running the football.”

▪  Hinshaw prefers to have one primary quarterback, not go back and forth between two.

“I feel like that guy needs to know whoever’s starting that the head coach and the offensive staff is behind you 100 percent and let’s go play ball,” he said. “But if we have an opportunity to play two that’s going to benefit us and winning football games, we’ll do whatever we have to do to win football games.”

▪  Play-calling and changing play calls at the line of scrimmage are all possibilities for a quarterback within this offense, but it’s all dependent on how much he can handle.

When Hinshaw was at Tennessee and he was coaching true freshman Tyler Bray “we took a lot off of him and success happened.”

But when he arrived at Cincinnati and inherited Brendon Kay, the fifth-year senior was able to absorb more and take on more responsibility, especially at the line of scrimmage.

“Very smart, works very hard, off the field, does an exceptional job in the film room,” Hinshaw said. “We put a lot more on him.”

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader