By LARRY VAUGHT
LOUISVILLE — Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown said he would like to see improvement “as quickly as possible” but insists the overall program is in a “good spot” now.
“Things are going well recruiting-wise. With renovations at the stadium, Commonwealth (Stadium) will be a little bit of a mess this year but everything is on pace (to be finished) for the first game of 2015 and it’s going to be beautiful. And recruiting is going really well,” Brown said.
Brown knows he will need to move quickly in preseason camp to pick a starting quarterback among sophomore Patrick Towles, redshirt freshman Reese Phillips and freshman Drew Barker. Towles did play some in 2012 and seemed to emerge from spring practice No. 1. Phillips was the most consistent quarterback during spring practice. Barker was one of the nation’s top prep quarterbacks last season.
“I actually feel pretty decent about the quarterback. Regardless of who it is, I feel like we’re going to be considerably better than we were a year ago in that position just based on the performance we had during spring practice,” Brown said. “I’m not necessarily lying awake at night and worrying about who the quarterback will be.
“We’re going to have some ups and downs because whoever the starter is going to be will probably be a first-time starter and playing their first significant game in college football. That’s always a bit of a worry. I feel like we’re talented enough in that position that we’ll be okay. There will be some ups and downs and I realize that going in. I’ve got to do a good job, from a play caller’s standpoint, of taking care of whoever’s behind center.”
Junior Maxwell Smith, who started games in 2012 and split time most of last season with Jalen Whitlow, apparently will not be in the mix. He missed spring practice after having what Brown called “extensive offseason shoulder surgery before Christmas.” He has recently been released to “just toss” the football.
“He really can’t let balls rip and throw much distance,” Brown said. “We’ll go up to fall camp to see where he’s at. But he played really good against Tennessee (in the final game last year) with a hurt shoulder.”
Brown made it clear that he wants a starting quarterback and prefers not to have to rotate quarterbacks like he did last year in his first season at Kentucky.
“I would like to pick a guy in practice and practice that guy 65 percent of the time and play him every snap until the game is in hand,” Brown said. “This is going to be my seventh year as a coordinator and the first five (at Troy and Texas Tech) what we did was successful. Last year I played two because of injuries and they were really different players and we were not getting as much out of either as we would have liked. We played two and it didn’t work, and I wasn’t surprised it didn’t work.
“I would like to just play one quarterback and invest a ton of reps in him, but you have got to make sure your starter stays healthy. Only two quarterbacks in the SEC last year started every game. I have got to give the backup more reps here than at my previous stops. But I do want to pick one and play him.”
Brown said he has yet to play a true freshman quarterback like Barker.
“It is really tough,” Brown said. “A receiver, you can get him ready to play. We have a kid from Tampa named Garrett Johnson and I would not be surprised to see him break into the starting rotation (at receiver). He’s really been working hard this summer. But I think it is tough on a freshman being the guy even at wideout.
“Javess Blue was our best receiver last year, but struggled being the guy. I think he can have a big jump this year. You can contribute at receiver as a freshman but it is hard to be the guy. At quarterback, everybody is different. Some can handle it, some guys can’t. We’ve got a kid (Barker) this year and we’ll find out in the next few months if he’s ready or not. But it is tough at quarterback.”