Maxwell Smith knows more about the human shoulder than many first-year medical students.
He's heard doctors and trainers talk so much about his own throwing shoulder and its many injuries that he can tell you nearly everything there is to know about the joints and how they function.
It's knowledge the Kentucky quarterback wishes he didn't have, but a series of injuries to his right AC joint in his first two seasons have made it necessary.
UK's starter for the first three games last season ultimately was sidelined with an ankle injury that required surgery, but what most don't know is Smith also pondered surgery on his throwing shoulder this spring.
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"It was definitely a discussion I went through," Smith confirmed at the Cats' annual Media Day on Monday.
Darren Johnson, Kentucky's team physician, did the research, especially looking into the case of 2008 Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford, who had a similar injury and subsequent surgery.
"His was just the worst degree possible whereas mine was one degree away from the worst degree possible," Smith said, comparing his shoulder to the former Oklahoma standout who went on to be the No. 1 NFL Draft pick in 2010.
"I easily could've had the surgery, but they're saying Sam Bradford, he still could have the same complications that I'm having right now," Smith said of the joint that connects the outer end of the collarbone and the hood over the shoulder joint. "So the surgery might not have helped that much."
What has helped Smith feel better than he's ever felt in his career — and he hopes well enough to reclaim his quarterback spot in a fall competition against fellow sophomores Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow — are off-season conditioning and constant rehab to strengthen his shoulder.
"I'm the strongest I've ever been, probably the fastest I've ever been, and the healthiest I've ever been," Smith told reporters on Monday, a few yards from where his season ended last year against South Carolina.
Doctors ultimately decided that rehab was the best course of action for Smith and his shoulder.
"They tell me try not to land on your shoulder," Smith said. "It's going to hurt. If a 300-pounder takes me down and I land on my shoulder, I know it's going to hurt like heck. I know that. But we'll see. I've got to make sure when I get hit, that I roll on my back or roll on my other shoulder, just make sure I don't roll on this shoulder."
Other precautions are being taken with the shoulder, including limiting the number of throws in practice, Coach Mark Stoops confirmed at Tuesday's practice.
"He seems to be doing just fine so far," Stoops said. "Absolutely we worry about injury. Just like last year, we know what can happen here with injuries, especially with quarterbacks, so we've gotta have a lot of guys ready. Again, right now it seems to be fine, but we're being a little bit cautious with him and limiting some of his throws."
And doctors and trainers tell him to keep working on strengthening the muscles that can help keep the shoulder stable and strong.
"Just keep doing my bands," he said. "You know: bands, bands, bands, make sure the smaller muscles attached are getting stronger. The way that it works: My AC joint separated so high that it moves around and just hits everything else. It kind of messes up other things."
So how does Smith keep from worrying about re-injury when he's on the football field? How could he not worry about the pain?
"I've got too many other things to worry about with protections, who's going to be where when," Smith said. "Where do I want to throw the ball, what the defense is trying to do. I don't worry too much about it. I'm not worried about it."
More than one QB?
When there are three quarterbacks (or more if true freshman Reese Phillips is thrown in the mix) in the race for the starting job and all of the quarterbacks have different skill sets and strengths, is it possible that more than one will take the field this season?
Is there room for a strong passer like Towles and another like Whitlow, who can throw off defenses with his running ability?
Depends on who you ask. The Kentucky coaches said they haven't ruled anything out.
"I don't think you ever have a closed mind about anything," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "It's always better if you have one clear– cut guy that goes out and wins the job. But if there's no separation, I think that you've seen in the past. Coach (Steve) Spurrier does it a lot, where they used multiple quarterbacks" at South Carolina.
"There's scenarios where that can be successful."
Ultimately, UK would like to have one guy be the guy, Stoops said, but also cautiously added: "You have to make the right choice and if it takes game reps, then that's what we're going to do."
Two of the quarterbacks vying for that top spot didn't seem as flexible in their thinking as their coaches. Whitlow said it was difficult being one of four quarterbacks for Kentucky last season.
"I don't think there's room in no offense for more than one quarterback," he said. "I feel like a quarterback needs to get his rhythm. I think it screws up the team chemistry a little bit when you're playing multiple quarterbacks. Like last year, playing four quarterbacks, that was awful."
Smith was more diplomatic, but definitely seemed to agree with his teammate.
"I think one quarterback maybe is the right way to go."
Harmon off the team
Cornerback J.D. Harmon, a former walk-on from Paducah, is no longer practicing with the team, Stoops confirmed after practice on Tuesday night. The sophomore started in three games last season and finished with 24 tackles. He led the team in interceptions with two last season.
"It doesn't look like J.D.'s going to be with us," Stoops said.
When asked if Harmon was one of the potential "academic casualties" discussed the night before, UK spokesman Tony Neely said the school did not plan to be more specific.