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Quarterback Jalen Whitlow’s transfer best for him and Kentucky, too

By LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON — Jalen Whitlow made the best decision for himself to transfer to another school so he could continue to play quarterback, but he probably also did Kentucky a favor with his choice after being asked to move to receiver.

Whether it was his fault or not — and former coach Joker Phillips and current coach Mark Stoops have said repeatedly that it was  not — Kentucky was just not very good offensively when Whitlow played. The Cats were a combined 4-20 the last two seasons and while many noted how well Whitlow could throw and run in practice, he normally had trouble completing passes in games.

In Neal Brown’s offense, efficiency is the key word. Fans want big plays; Brown wants first downs and accurate throws.

Whitlow was not even a full-time quarterback in high school, but from the day he got to UK he was determined that he would play quarterback, and only quarterback. I still remember at the 2012 media day if he could envision himself being the next Randall Cobb, a high school quarterback who made the move to receiver at UK and is now in the NFL, and he quickly and politely told me he was a quarterback.

But he was not the quarterback to run Brown’s offense — and UK fans were never going to buy into him leading an “Air Raid” offense when in-state favorites Drew Barker and Patrick Towles, both prolific high school passers, and redshirt freshman Reese Phiillips, a much more accurate passer, were potential starting quarterbacks.

“We’re narrowing it down. So we’re making progress. We like where we’re at. We’re improving. We’re getting it narrowed down. It’s just like Jalen, last night, we made that decision with Jalen. I talked to him yesterday. He made that decision last night. I told you today. The other guys, we’re working our way through it. It’s not a big secret, we’re just working through it,” coach Mark Stoops said Wednesday when asked if Whitlow’s transfer meant Brown had picked a starter.

Stoops said it best when he noted that both he and Brown felt “Jalen’s best skill set” for Kentucky was at receiver. That obviously means the two coaches have seen enough of Barker, a true freshmen, along with Phillips and Towles to believe at least one, if not more, would be ahead of Whitlow at quarterback when the season starts.

“As far as the other three quarterbacks that are competing right now, we’re working through that situation. It’s fluid,” Brown said after Wednesday’s practice. “We’ve told you, and it’s going to be the same stance. You all can ask questions about it, but basically is we’re working through it. We want to make a quicker decision than we did last year, but all three guys, we’re mixing up the reps. They’re doing some good things, they’re doing some things that aren’t so good. As soon as we make a decision, just like today, you all will get notified.”

Brown admitted Saturday’s scrimmage, which was not open to the public, played a role in the decision to ask Whitlow, a versatile athlete, to switch positions.

“There’s more weight that goes into the scrimmages, but this decision wasn’t based just on Saturday. It was a year’s worth of work and I think Saturday was eight practices (into spring ball). So Saturday, the other guys probably did some better things, but it wasn’t just based off one afternoon,” Brown said.

Remember, Brown and Stoops had last spring and all last season to watch Whitlow and Maxwell Smith, who is out this spring rehabbing from shoulder surgery, to play quarterback. Most Kentucky fans were convinced neither could be a winning SEC quarterback. That’s why going into spring drills that Barker, Towles or Phillips figured to have a terrific chance to become the starter — and now one will be.

“You have a past performance. And I will say this as well: Jalen made strides. He was better this spring than he was in the fall, but the other three guys who are competing are better, too. And maybe they made bigger strides, OK? But this wasn’t premeditated, this was something as we went through the nine practices, we made a decision on, it was clear,” Brown said.

What about Whitlow being the most mobile?

You always try to tailor your offense and your plays to the skill set of your players. With him (Whitlow) in there, obviously there’s a few more options. But ultimately we want to throw the football,” Stoops said

Throw the football? That’s not Whitlow’s strength and that’s why he was not the right for UK or Brown.

“We’re always going to fit around our personnel. I don’t think the offense that we ran last year is ideally what we want to do, but I thought it gave us the best chance to win,” Brown said. “We can fit around his skill set. It came down to consistently making throws. That’s what it came down to.  He made really good throws, but not on a consistent as a basis as he needed to.

“This is not a negative on Jalen, OK? The other three guys are performing well. I feel good about where we’re at the quarterback position, now we’ve got to go do it with the lights on, but Saturday in the scrimmage or game atmosphere, that was the best that any quarterbacks have looked since I’ve been here for a calendar year.”

Which is why Whitlow is now headed for another school and UK is guaranteed to have a new starting quarterback next season.

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17 comments

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  1. RJ

    I hope Jalen does well wherever he goes. I just think it’s a poor decision for him. Yeah he might end up playing QB at a smaller school but clearly QB is not his best position for making it to the next level. Fate deals lousy cards sometimes but guys that make to the next level play what they are dealt to their advantage, al la Cobb. Good luck Jalen.

  2. Ira

    I didn’t think he’d get the nudge as the starter with the way the staff has talked up Towles and Barker repeatedly. But I wish he’d had made the decision to stay. Think Jalen would have made a great Wildcat QB and could have contributed right away as well as a WR.

    Wish him the best wherever he decides to go. Know he gave it his best while at his time here.

  3. Scott A.

    Like I have been saying since he has been here…”We can’t win with Whitlow”, at least at the QB position. I wish the kid the best, and wish he stayed to play some WR. Everytime I watched him QB the team it was like going to the dentist and having a root canal….I did not want to be there. I look forward to the future, I am sure with some growing pains.

  4. Mike

    If in fact Jalen was told last week that if a starter had to be named that day, he would get the call then it does appear that the situation was not handled that well from coaching standpoint. He did have good elusiveness in open field and wish he had decided to stay but wish him well if quarterback is his only position.

    1. Anonymous

      How would you have handled it since he didn’t want to switch positions? The coaches were just trying to give him a fair shot at the QB position, and did so, and finally had to make a decision going forward. What else could they do?

      1. Love SEC F-Ball

        I agree. I think the coaches handled this well. They were up front with him and their advice could have given him the opportunity to play at the next level. He is very talented and I will miss having him on the team.

  5. dandr

    I don’t think it is in the interest of Jalen or UK. He would be a threat in our offense at receiver and wildcat (WC), with options to throw out of WC or pitches to him in the backfield. He is a good athlete capable of making plays. But is has been obvious that he does not have the skill to stretch the defense with passes into the secondary. If simply finishing college as a quarterback is his goal, then transferring is his only option. But if securing a selection to the next level is his goal, then repositioning to exhibit his skills at receiver and WC, ala Cobb, is in his best interest. Unless, of course, his goal is to play in the Canadian Football League. Ultimately it is his choice, but I don’t see it as best for him or UK.

  6. Bernard III

    What is going on? This makes 5 players who have left the team and transferred in the past two weeks?

    1. Anonymous

      Besides Whitlow, who else Bernard III? I knew Mobley had left.

      1. Love SEC F-Ball

        Thought Mobley left in December.
        Who else left in last 2 weeks, Bernard?

  7. Nick Lyons

    I hate to see a good player leave, but well put, Larry. If Whitlow wants to play QB, another school would be best for him. I hope Towles can pull ahead and we can RS Barker, but ultimately the best throwing QB needs to be on the field. Good luck to Jalen wherever he lands.

  8. Kokamo Joe

    Whitlow played hurt much of last year. He deserves our respect. I do think that the expected air raid offense could not be achieved with Whitlow, so it is better that he play some other position or leave if he wants to play quarterback.

    I do think that it was wrong to tell the kid a week ago that he could be the starter and then spring this on him. I think that it would be worse to restrict his transfer options.

    1. Anonymous

      He said if they had to play a game tomorrow, he would be their starter. Not September, tomorrow. The other QBs have gained significant ground since Stoops said that. Passing is key and he was not consistent in that aspect.

  9. GeorgiaJim

    Kind of a Tebow situation. You really can’t blame someone for trying to live their dream. Sometimes you can’t see what’s best for you because your emotions get in the way especially when you are young. Sometimes what other people think is best for you isn’t what you want. I hope some school that needs a running qb gives him a shot. Go for it Jalen. Don’t let your life be shoulda, coulda, woulda. It’s your life and your dream.

  10. Gene T.

    I would love for him to reconsider and come back as a slot receiver/wildcat QB on some sets. I wish him well where ever he goes. he is an exceptional athlete. I really like that we have narrowed down the QB situation. Now the air raid can move forward!!!!!

  11. Blue Boy

    Whitlow had to leave before Towles actually had a shot. Towles might have worked on his physical part of the game but his mental part isn’t SEC caliber.

  12. TheProfessor

    Whitlow was not the future for UK at QB. He was not that last year, and he would not be that this year. In my opinion, last year was a waste because 2 wins with a QB that is not the future while the future of the program sat idle so he could redshirt. But, with Barker coming in, the future would have been better served losing last year while letting Towles get game experience while he learned how to play at this level. With that approach, when the light did come on for him, and all believed it would, and some are saying now that it has, he would be much further up the learning curve than he could be today. As for that extra year of eligibility, he has 3, would have had 2. With Barker here now, and a redshirt likely in 2014, how many more than 2 do you really need from Towles.

    Yes, the coaches may have handled the current situation with Whitlow well, or then again, maybe they didn’t. I don’t know, and don’t care. But the coaches did not make use of Towles to the best interests of this program last fall.

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