By LARRY VAUGHT
LEXINGTON — Running back JoJo Kemp is never one to hide his emotions or enthusiasm and he didn’t try when asked how about freshman quarterback Drew Barker fared in Kentucky’s scrimmage Saturday.
“Drew looked real good. He was out there making plays. He stood out,” said Kemp.
No statistics were given for the scrimmage that was closed to fans and media members, but the consensus seemed to be that even though all four quarterbacks — Barker, Patrick Towles, Jalen Whitlow and Reese Phillips — performed well, Barker had the best day.
“Pretty good, pretty good. Did some good things,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said about Barker.
He said “completions and touchdown passes” stood out the most to him about Barker’s play.
‘You have to look at the tape and see who it was against, what happened, a few things, but overall pleased. Pleased with how he handled himself, how he operated the good offense. Had some good throws. I also think the other guys had their moments as well,” Stoops said. “Again, Patrick— I’ve talked about several times this spring — saw him make a couple very nice throws that I haven’t seen for awhile on our practice field. Really some good, strong throws in some tough spots. So that was encouraging to see. And again, Reese and Jalen had their moments as well.”
Offensive coordinator Neal Brown also liked what Barker did and the maturity he showed in his first outing at Commonwealth Stadium.
“I think the biggest thing about Drew is, if you would’ve came out and just watched us today, you wouldn’t have know he was a high school senior. And that’s the most impressive thing to me. Because the mechanics of the game and not being in awe of being in that stadium for the first time and playing, that was what I was most impressed with,” Brown said. “You wouldn’t have know that here he is, went to the (high school) prom two weeks ago or gonna graduate in June, you know what I mean? You wouldn’t have known that, which is a credit to him.”
Brown said other freshmen who enrolled in January midway of their senior year in high school made plays, but also got tired during the scrimmage. But not Barker.
“That’s why I was saying it’s such a credit to Drew, because you could’ve watched some of those other guys and thought, ‘OK, they’re young; they’re making some mistakes.’ Well, Drew, you would’ve thought he was here for a year, he’d been here for a while,” Brown said.
Stoops and Brown both insisted it was still a four-player battle at quarterback with no clear separation yet for the job that Whitlow had last year.
” I know that we didn’t make as many big mistakes,” Brown said. “All four of them threw the ball better. Towles made some throws in live situations that he hadn’t made here, so I was pleased with that. They all got about equal reps and everybody got a chance with the ones and the twos.”
Brown said Towles, who played as a freshman in 2012 and then redshirted last year, made throws the staff had only seen him make before in non-game situations.
“Like when he comes out here and throws routes on air and we don’t have defenses, and y’all watched him throw the other day … he’s making throws that he’s always made on air, but he made those against the defense being out there,” Brown said. “I know he’s got really good arm talent; he always has. And you’ll see — even last year, I would see snippets of that when we were throwing on air, OK? Or maybe we were in a seven-on-seven drill. Well, today I saw some of those throws in a game atmosphere, which was encouraging.”
Brown doesn’t want the quarterback competition to go until close to the season opener like it did last year between Whitlow, Maxwell Smith and Towles.
“I want it to get narrowed down. The thing I’m pleased about is they’re all much, much better. We’re better. Whoever the quarterback is going to be, they’re going to be better than we played last year,” Brown said. “So that’s pleasing. But I do want to get it narrowed down quicker. When we do that, I don’t know. I’m not going to put any false deadlines.”
Does he want that done by the end of spring practice in two weeks?
“I don’t know. You’re putting words in my mouth now. I’m not saying yes or no. We haven’t had that discussion. I’d love for one of them to take it and run, but nobody’s done that necessarily yet,” Brown said.
Kemp said he would hate to pick a starting quarterback based on what he’s seen.
“All the quarterbacks did good. They all looked good,” he said. “They all stood out. To me, they all looked great. Don’t count none of them out. They are focused, going through reads. They are all talented and trying to get the starting job and do what is needed to do that.”
Linebacker Khalid Henderson has the same view after going against all four quarterbacks Saturday.
“Each guy is making plays. They are all doing good,” Henderson said. “Barker is showing good leadership and making a good effort. I see a real good competition.”