Drew Barker had loads of quarterback tangibles, but it likely was those intangibles that had been holding him back in position competitions of the past.
“Talking with everybody about how he handled himself before and talking to Coach (Mark) Stoops, he was not in a position where he was going to be able to lead this football team,” Cats quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw said Friday.
The redshirt sophomore has an accurate arm and improving footwork, but there were other, less visible things that kept him from being named the starter before now.
At a kickoff luncheon with UK fans overlooking a sunny Commonwealth Stadium on Friday, Hinshaw talked about rebuilding Barker’s mindset and helping him become known for things other than a couple off-the-field incidents early in his time at Kentucky.
“If you want to be a leader, you have to be a leader all the time, on the field and off the field,” Hinshaw said he told Barker, who was named the starter in April after 15 spring practices.
Hinshaw pointed to Barker’s team-best 3.75 grade-point average this spring and his desire to make other positive changes off the field.
“You’ve got to lead by actions,” Hinshaw said. “You’ve got to lead by being the first one in the weight room. They’ll follow you, but you’ve got to do it. And he has done it.”
In an interview with the Herald-Leader in June, Barker said he was excited about the changes he was making.
“I feel like I’ve taken the steps to change my brand,” he said. “I feel like I’m taking steps in the right direction. I don’t plan on looking back.”
Extra work this summer has been a big help.
“He’s anxious,” Hinshaw said. “He wants to go out and prove to everybody that he’s the quarterback that will lead this team. We’re excited about that.”
In a week when fall camp begins for Kentucky, Barker will be able to show off some of the football skills he’s gained, too.
“He’s strong. He’s powerful,” Hinshaw said of Barker, who played in five games last season, starting two. He completed 35 of his 70 pass attempts with one touchdown and two interceptions. “He can run the football and we are going to run.
“His accuracy is one of his best traits. His feet were a little slow when we got here. He’s worked on getting himself in position where he can go get that ball and deliver it with accuracy all the time.”
The quarterbacks coach also discussed UK’s other options at that position, noting that junior-college transfer Stephen Johnson has added some bulk.
Johnson is listed at 183 pounds. In January, he said his goal was to get to 195 pounds by the start of fall camp.
“He’s very fast, and his arm is very accurate,” Hinshaw said of Johnson. “He’s going to compete. He didn’t come here just to back up. He’s going to compete this camp, which is going to make Drew better.”
True freshman Gunnar Hoak, who enrolled in January and played in the spring game as the third-string quarterback, “is going to be outstanding,” Hinshaw said. “I’m really excited about him and seeing him continue to develop.”
A need for speed?
Apparently, head coach for offense Eddie Gran takes the Secretariat silks on Kentucky’s uniforms quite literally. When asked at the annual kickoff luncheon on Friday how fast he wanted the offense to go, the Cats offensive coordinator smiled.
“As fast as we can go right out of the gate,” he said.
A few seconds later, Coach Mark Stoops chimed in: “As fast as we can go as long as we’re getting first downs and points.”
It’s seemingly been a sticking point for Stoops and offensive coordinators since he arrived at Kentucky. Three-and-outs have plagued the Cats and at times doomed the defense.
That concept didn’t seem lost on Gran, either.
“It’s critical to understand the game and where we’re at,” he added. “We like to dictate to the defense and not them to us. We can go fast, and we are going to go fast. When we need to slow it down, we’ll slow it down.”
It was a carryover from a discussion the two coaches had on the stage at the Galt House a day before speaking to a different fan group at a luncheon in Louisville.
As the men ate lunch, a fan at their table noted how much he loved the speedy offenses run by Darin Hinshaw and Gran at Cincinnati the past few seasons.
“Well, I do, too, but we play in a different league,” Stoops joked.
Before he hired Gran and Hinshaw, Stoops noticed how the Bearcats moved the ball “all over the place.”
Watching the film, though, Stoops thought: “You’re not going to get that in this league. People don’t understand that. There’s no space. The D-linemen come at you. Big monsters that try to make you throw into windows, and there’s people all over you.
“You have to create your own space; you have to make plays and that comes from us.”
Because of the coaches he’s served under in the past, Gran said he tends to have a defensive mentality as a play-caller.
“I do understand — especially in this league and conference — that you have to slow it down sometimes, too,” Gran said. “It’s all going to depend on what’s happening on that side of the ball, too.”
Southern Mississippi at Kentucky
7:30 p.m. Sept. 3 (ESPNU)