FRANKFORT — Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops didn't say it exactly, but he got a few yards closer to officially naming junior Patrick Towles the Cats' starting quarterback this fall.
In a June news conference to preview a Governor's Cup rivalry game with Louisville in November, Stoops said that last year's starter has a "leg up" in the competition with redshirt freshman Drew Barker.
"Obviously you guys can read between the lines: Patrick Towles did some very good things a year ago, has the experience," Stoops said in front of a large luncheon crowd at the Frankfort Country Club on Wednesday.
"He probably has the leg up right now, but we'll see moving forward," Stoops continued. "Again, we're certainly going to leave that open to compete throughout the summer and throughout fall camp."
It was Towles' experience — which includes starting every game last season and throwing for 2,718 yards with 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions—-- that Stoops pointed to after leaving the podium.
"He did some very good things in the spring," Stoops added. "We're constantly evaluating that. We went back and watched a lot of tape, a lot of cut-ups, and trying to be very critical. Yeah, I said Patrick probably has the leg up."
Towles, who also ran for 303 yards and six touchdowns for Kentucky last season, worked hard to get better in the offseason, Stoops said.
"He improved in areas we wanted him to improve on," the head coach said. "One of them was accuracy. I feel like he throws the ball down the field very well, some intermediate throws, he needed to be more accurate, put the ball in spots to give our receivers and some running backs a chance to make some yards. And I felt like he improved in that area. Decision making, being more comfortable, several things."
But as he's done so many times in the spring and in the months since the Cats finished the season 5-7 with a six-game losing streak, including the loss at Louisville last year, Stoops didn't shut the door completely on Barker coming from behind and seizing the spot.
"Drew is young and playing better and better every time he steps on the field," Stoops continued. "He's still going to have an opportunity throughout the summer and throughout camp to win that job, but Patrick's probably got a leg up at this point."
There's nothing wrong with having competition at a spot, which is something UK hasn't always had in Stoops' first two seasons.
"Competition helps us at every position," the head coach said. "You hear me talk about that often: Every position you need great competition. It helps step up everybody's game and elevate everybody's game.
"I feel like we're getting more and more competition at a lot of spots and it's good to have two guys playing quality football at quarterback."
While discussing the quarterback race between Towles and Barker, Stoops gave an update on the Achilles tendon injury for sophomore quarterback Reese Phillips.
"That's a significant injury as you know. He's limping and slow to move right now, but we expect him to be ready probably mid-August."
■ As for other injuries that might keep Cats out of fall camp, Stoops said he didn't think any with the possible exception of redshirt freshman linebacker Kobie Walker, who missed the end of spring with an ankle sprain that required surgery.
"I don't anticipate anybody missing the year with the exception — and I don't expect him to miss the year — is Kobie Walker's going to take some time to come back from that injury as well."
■ Wide receiver Rashad Cunningham is forgoing his senior season, but Stoops said he isn't expecting there to be similar departures.
"Not at this point," the head coach said. "There could still be some attrition that you generally see when you're dealing with as many guys as we are. So that could happen. We'll see. Nothing at this point."