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April 3, 2014
Five Cats competing for quarterback spot
It's like a game of Survivor. Or the Bachelor.
Candidates are showing their worth, and competing to be the best -- or the most appealing. But it's not a game. It's for a chance to start in games. It doesn't involve torches or roses; instead footballs and quarterbacks.
The winner: to be determined. The prize: the starting spot at Kentucky when the season opens in about five months.
But unlike popular, dramatic TV shows, this is real and there's no timetable for a winner.
"I want to get it dwindled down," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said Wednesday. "I think so from a reps standpoint. We want to name a starter sooner than we did last year, but we're not going to give a false deadline."
If this seems like déjà vu for Wildcat fans, it's not. This year isn't a race between two quarterbacks, but instead five.
The popular names are last season's starters Jalen Whitlow and Maxwell Smith. Then there is potentially the biggest recruit in recent UK history, Drew Barker.
Patrick Towles once had high expectations coming out of high school. His college career hasn't gone as expected, but he's in the thick of things this spring.
And last but certainly not least is Reese Phillips. Phillips committed to Joker Phillips and the old UK staff, but hung around. Though many consider him an underdog, he doesn't, and neither do the people making the decision.
"I feel like an underdog with maybe the media, but not the coaches," Phillips said. "I understand, there's two guys that were big recruits from Kentucky. That's part of it. But I definitely don't feel like an underdog as far as the competition goes."
Phillips and Towles redshirted last season. And while the Cats struggled, going 2-10 for the second straight year, quarterback play was a big reason why.
But UK coaches are happy they stayed patient and kept Phillips and Towles off the field.
"I definitely think it helped them," Mark Stoops said. "Again, it's no mystery there we times I thought about taking the redshirt off both of them. In hindsight I'm glad we got them to redshirt. I think it helped them. It helped them mature. Patrick has definitely matured. He's much quicker with his release and he's throwing the ball really well so I'm encouraged."
Smith isn't practicing, but he's active throughout practice. Injured players aren't made available to the media, but Smith will be considered for the starting spot.
As of now, all five are being considered. And as long as they all keep improving they'll all be considered.
"We've improved; that's the good news, we have improved," Stoops said. "Starting with Jalen. Obviously Max is not out there. I think Jalen has improved, but I am encouraged with Patrick, Reese and Drew. They are doing some good things."
And each one feels they bring something different.
Phillips is on target.
"I think the biggest thing is accuracy," Phillips said. "This offense is a lot of short passes and hitting people deep. It's a lot of management, just manage the game, and I feel like I do that well."
Towles is committed and has improved.
"I love Kentucky," Towles said. "I'm going to be here for the long haul, I'm not going anywhere. When you get frustrated you tend to get your guard down and you think of other options but I recognized what I was doing wrong and I feel like I fixed everything. It's up from here and nothing is really holding me back so it's time to ball out."
"His biggest improvement is he's getting his feet ready where he can throw it," Brown said. "The ball is coming out faster. He doesn't have that long wind up. He's worked really hard on it and you have to give him credit."
Everyone knows Whitlow is quick, but now he has the brain to go with his fast feet.
"Knowledge of the game," Whitlow said. "Knowing defenses, knowing offenses more. Just little things that most guys at this level really don't know unless they have someone in their corner teaching them that. I think I have a couple people in my corner teaching me little things that I'll get better at."
And Barker brings hope.
"(The others) already have a little leg up already playing in the offense a few years," Barker said. "They've got some knowledge. They know some more stuff than me right now. But I feel like I can bring some excitement and some positive energy as much as I can and I think that would be good for the team."
Everyone made their case for how they've gotten better, but the good news for UK fans is no matter who starts game one, they'll have a better quarterback than at any point of last season.
Brown said he has seen improvement after just a few days.
"Here's what I think: The whole practice is better because they're better," Brown said. "You know what I mean? The receivers are better, the running backs are better, the o-line is better because they're better. The quarterback play the last three practices has been better than it was last year.
" (Whitlow) is better now than he was when we finished with Tennessee. That's not always the case. But they've got to improve. We didn't play well enough there last year. You all watched, you all know."
While there are plenty of options at quarterback, all fit UK's system.
Whitlow is the runner, but the offense doesn't change for him. And it doesn't change for the four other quarterbacks who are considered pocket passers.
And Whitlow isn't the only quarterback who can run.
"Towles runs better than you think," Brown said. "He's a big kid. Everyone gets labeled because he's a big kid. His Highlands film, he ran pretty well. He times pretty well, he really does. He can run it.
"Drew ran it for a lot of yards in high school. Obviously he's playing against faster guys now, but he's a natural runner. Reese ran the ball well in high school. So all three of those guys we can run the same plays. Can Jalen run it better? Probably. But we can run the same plays."
And again, there's no timetable for Brown or Stoops to select a quarterback. More so there's a feel.
UK's coaches want to be confident in what they see from a possible starting quarterback.
"(We want to see) just full command of the offense and execute the offense and make the throws when we want to," Stoops said. "Not be careless with the football. So all of them do good things at times, but we just need somebody to do something right all the time."
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