By LARRY VAUGHT
He’s not thrown a football this week, but sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith insists his injured shoulder will not keep him from playing against Florida Sept. 28 in Kentucky’s next game.
“I’m just not throwing the ball this week. I’m doing everything else, though. Every drill we do, I’m doing it. Run game, everything,” said Smith, who is going “full speed” on drills with teammates.
Even though he gets “some pain” in his shoulder and had a shoulder injury last season, Smith said this injury is in a “different spot” and he’s sure he will be fine.
With Smith limited in practice, it has given sophomore Patrick Towels a chance to get more practice reps. He was in a three-way battle with Smith and Jalen Whitlow during preseason practice for the starting job, but finished third and has been slated to be redshirted.
“He’s getting the backup reps right now. He had a good day in our team period today, did a good job. A little rusty yesterday, did better today,” offensive coordinator Neal Brown said Wednesday.
Brown said the quarterbacks have been “up and down” much like the overall offense the first three games. Brown said most of Smith’s bad passes are because of “fundamentals” and believes he has played “better than his statistics looked” against Louisville. Brown said when Whitlow relaxes in the pocket, he’s been fine.
“When he’s in a rhythm, he’s a good passer. He got out of the pocket and made some big plays (against Louisville in the second half),” Brown said. “He converted a 4th-and-14, converted on another long-distance situation with his legs. That’s what we need. Didn’t start very well against Western. Started great against Miami, he came in and had a completion first pass then second play got a touchdown.”
Against Louisville, Whitlow fumbled on the first play to set up a Louisville field goal.
“Fumbling should never happen but we had a total, total missed assignment up front on that one,” Brown said.
Whitlow said the coaches have talked to him about not being afraid to run more.
“I just got caught up in trying to make a play and forcing the ball when I wasn’t supposed to (against Louisville when he threw an interception). You watch the film the next day and you’re like, ‘Man.’ You see a wide-open running lane and you wish you could have it back. But that’s one thing that I’ve just got to grow on,” Whitlow said.
Brown believes Whitlow may try too hard at times to prove he can throw and is more than a runner.
“I think that’s always the tendency for guys who get labeled dual-threat. This is what I tell him all the time: Play to your strength. What’s your strength, the best thing that you can do? He’s a good passer and a good decision-maker and all of those things, but he can really run. He runs the ball. That’s your strength,” Brown said. “Don’t get caught up in what people think. Play to your strength.
“I think Jalen’s not the only one. A lot of dual-threat quarterbacks feel like they’ve got to prove themselves as pocket passers. All they’ve got to do is play to their strength. That’s why they’re playmakers in the first place.”
Smith is trying to stay mentally sharp while he’s not throwing. He’s watching the offense and going through his progressions mentally to make decisions on what he would do.
“That’s really more than 50 percent of the game. The throw is like — I don’t know what the percentages are, but the throw isn’t as important as everything else you’ve got to think about pre-snap,” Smith said.
He says he’s trying to concentrate on his pass drop and alignment when he throws.
“It’s a little bit different than I’ve ever learned before, in terms of what we do. I’m buying into everything coach Brown tells me to do and I’m working to get better at it every day,” Smith said. “Coach Brown has proven that he’s been very successful everywhere he’s gone, so I’m buying into his system and just trying to get better at what he wants me to do.”