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By LARRY VAUGHT
With injuries to so many receivers, offensive coordinator Neal Brown spent time after Monday’s practice catching passes from quarterbacks Patrick Towles, Drew Barker and Reese Phillips to help give the quarterbacks extra throws.
“The quarterbacks aren’t getting enough work right now, so we’ve gotta build in pre-practice and post-practice stuff to make sure they’re getting enough reps in the stuff that we’re going to run,” said Brown as UK gets ready for the Blue-White Spring Game Saturday.
Brown again talked extensively about the quarterback race, which is down to three players after last week’s decision by returning starter Jalen Whitlow to transfer when the semester ends.
Question: How big a concern is it that he’ll have a quarterback starter who has played no college football or very little?
Brown: “Well, Patrick’s got very little (experience). You can probably count that as none almost. I think it’s a little bit of a concern. I don’t know. I’ll take talent over experience. As long as they’re talented, which the three kids that are practicing right now are talented; the ones that haven’t played, they’re talented. There will be some mistakes. I think you’ve gotta kind of factor that in. There’s going to be some mistakes. I think you gotta take care of them, especially early in the year, get them some confidence. But I feel good about those guys. They know how to prepare and we’ll do a good job putting them in a position where they can be successful.”
Question: Is there more pressure on Barker, Phillips and Towles with Whitlow gone?
Brown: “No, I don’t think so. I think there’s pressure at that position no matter what. At this level, in this conference, I think there’s pressure. Jalen being here or not being here, I don’t think that affects it. Whoever the guy’s going to be, there’s going to be quite a bit of pressure. I don’t think there’s any question. I don’t think we try to hide from that either.”
Question: Will he try to make sure he does all he can, including stacking the lineups, so the quarterbacks have a good spring game?
Brown: “Oh, I don’t know, that’s the head coach’s decision, man. Two-comma question.”
Question: Will all three quarterbacks come out on the first play of the Blue-White Game like he had Towles, Whitlow and Maxwell Smith do last year?
Brown: “No, I can’t. That wouldn’t be funny this year. That wouldn’t be funny. No, I don’t know. I haven’t even gotten to the spring game yet. We’ve got a big practice on Wednesday and then we’re lighter on Friday. So after Wednesday, I’ll probably start thinking more about the spring game.”
Question: Will he pick a starting quarterback at the end of spring practice or let it carry over into summer/fall?
Brown: “I don’t know. Coach (Mark) Stoops and I are going to have some conversations. We want to get it narrowed down. I don’t know if we’ll pick one on Saturday. Something will probably have to happen over the next week or so to make that determinations. But we do plan to hopefully narrow it down. We’ll see how it goes.”
Question: Is it important for players to know who the starter at quarterback is for summer workouts?
Brown: “I don’t think — I think it’s important we give somebody in camp, within a reasonable time toward the start of camp. I don’t think the summer necessarily matters, but I think toward the start of fall camp or during the early parts of fall camp I think that needs to be done.”
Question: Does he have a gut feeling about the quarterback job he’s just not ready to share yet?
Brown: “Not really. I’ve got an idea who’s looked the best in some pressure situations. Nobody has just grabbed it yet. I hope that happens. I’m really interested to see — and I didn’t mean to avoid it — but I’m really interested to see what happens on Saturday.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Now that Jalen Whitlow has announced he will transfer rather than accept a move from quarterback to receiver, where does that leave sophomore quarterback Patrick Towles?
He couldn’t beat out Whitlow or Maxwell Smith when he was a true freshman in 2012 under then coach Joker Phillips. Last season he redshirted after Whitlow and Smith emerged 1-2 in the preseason quarterback battle under new coach Mark Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown.
“I wasn’t here for the first time, so I don’t know if he really lost that or not, but he has made tremendous strides, now he’s got a long way to go, Patrick does,” said Brown Wednesday. “And he’s still making some decisions that aren’t correct, making some negative plays, but he’s gotten tremendously better from a fundamental aspect. So that should be a positive for him, not necessarily a negative for Jalen.”
With Whitlow gone, that also means Towles, Drew Barker and Reese Phillips will have one less person to split quarterback reps with in practice until a starter is named.
“That’s why we made the decision. We’ve got to get it down to a manageable number. We’re hoping to do that going into fall camp. I think that was part of the issues we had last year is we let it drag out too far and we didn’t get enough quality reps for either Jalen or Max,” Brown said.
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.
By LARRY VAUGHT
LEXINGTON — Rather than move to wide receiver as he was asked to do by coach Mark Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown, quarterback Jalen Whitlow has decided to transfer.
He started seven games as a true freshman n 2012 and started eight games last year in Stoops’ first season when UK went 2-10, the same record in had in 2012. He rushed for 663 yards and nine scores in two seasons and threw for 1,834 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“I’m never surprised. I know Jalen was disappointed. I was hopeful that he would give it a try, but I understand where he’s coming from,” said Brown after Wednesday’s practice. “He’s played quarterback most of his life. He feels like he is (one), so I understand and I’ll support him.”
Whitlow will finish the semester before transferring and having two years of eligibility remaining. Stoops said it would be between him and Whitlow what transfer restrictions, if any, are placed on the player.
“I appreciate the University of Kentucky and what the coaching staff and administration have done for me,” Whitlow said in a statement released by UK since he was not available to the media. “I also thank the community and the fan support I have received here. I wish the coaches and my teammates the best of luck.”
Stoops talked to Whitlow twice Tuesday about where UK was with the quarterback battle that includes sophomore Patrick Towles, redshirt freshman Reese Phillips and true freshman Drew Barker.
“He’s worked very hard for a long time, through high school and through college here, to help this university and be the best quarterback he can be. So I wish him the best of luck,” Stoops said. “We were in a situation where, once we told him where we’re working it out with quarterback, and asked him to play another position (and) if he’d be open to that, he decided that it’d be in his best interest to go somewhere else and play QB. That’s where his heart is. That’s what he wants to do. I understand that.”
Stoops said he had not asked Whitlow to change positions before discussing a possible move to receiver with him Tuesday.
“We’ve given him every opportunity to win the starting job. He deserved that right. He was in there. As you know, he played some good football for us at times last year,” Stoops said. “I’ve said this over and over again, it’s not all about the quarterback position. We needed to get better across the board. If Jalen was coming back here next year and being the quarterback and playing for us, we’d be a whole lot better than we were last year, just because the whole team should look better. It’s not just on him.”
Brown said he was “disappointed” Whitlow was leaving and called him a “great kid” on the team.
“Love the kid, appreciate everything he’s done for the program. I want to make sure that we understand that our lack of success last year, he only played a minor role in that,” Brown said. “We didn’t do enough as coaches and at other positions groups — I want to put that out there too, I want to make sure we’re clear on that.
“Respect his decision, understand, but again, disappointed. We had a couple different conversations yesterday. We made the suggestion about moving positions, and he wants to be a quarterback, which we definitely understand.”
Stoops said he knew moving to receiver would be a hard change for Whitlow.
“When you’re bundled up at the quarterback position, it’s a different position. Again, I don’t look at it like he’s throwing in the towel on us. I wish he was here,” Stoops said. “I wanted him to stay here and play for Kentucky in some position. But he wants to play quarterback, so we understand that.
“It’s hard, as you know. It’s hard to get four and five guys reps. Listen: I want to move on. I want there to be a clear-cut winner or a starter, or at least one and two, so we can start narrowing down reps. But one thing that I can be sure (of) is that I feel very fair that I gave Jalen a great shot to win that job.”
Both Stoops and Brown said the talk with Whitlow was not easy on anyone.
“It was tough. I have a lot of respect for Jalen. He’s a good kid. Worked extremely hard. He’s talented, and he does have the skill set to run the football, and throw it at times,” Stoops said. “He’s maybe not as consistent as we’d like to be in the pass game. But he’s a very good quarterback, and it is tough to have that conversation. I appreciate the work that he did.”
Brown said coaches know they have to make hard decisions as part of their job, but that doesn’t make it easier.
“It’s never fun. It’s not something I enjoy. It’s really one of the worst aspects. What I try to do … and what I did with Jalen … I told him I care about him, which I do. I want him to do what he thinks is best for him in regard to our team. But I also wanted to be up front and honest with him and I knew there would be a decision he had to make,” Brown said.
“I was hoping he’d make the decision to stay, but I do understand. And I appreciate his contributions. I really do. Last year was a tough year. It wouldn’t have mattered who played quarterback; it was going to be a difficult, difficult season. He weathered some things, some adversity, so I’m proud of him for that. But it is: it’s a difficult thing, for sure.”
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.”
By EVAN CRANE, UK Media Relations
University of Kentucky football offensive coordinator Neal Brown said after team’s third spring practice Wednesday that the No. 1 focus this offseason at every offensive position was “fundamental improvement.” After lacing on the shoulder pads for the first time this spring Wednesday morning for a two-hour practice at the Nutter Training Center, Brown and head coach Mark Stoops both said they saw the improvement they were looking for.
“Good workout today,” Stoops said. “I thought it was good to get out there the first day with pads on … Overall, pretty good day. I think we are making some strides in certain areas and obviously we are a work in progress in others.”
The main topic of conversation Wednesday was the quarterback position. The position is loaded with both returners and newcomers in juniors Jalen Whitlow and Maxwell Smith, redshirt sophomore Patrick Towles, redshirt freshman Reese Phillips and early enrollee Drew Barker. All five are on the field, although Smith is not throwing this spring while recovering from offseason surgery.
Stoops said the improvement in the quarterbacks this spring is that they did what they were supposed to do in the offseason and now have to show consistent improvements on the field.
“We have improved (at quarterback), that is the good news,” Stoops said. “Starting with Jalen (Whitlow), obviously Max (Smith) is not out there (due to injury). I think Jalen has improved and I am encouraged with Patrick, Reese and Drew. They are doing some good things.”
Stoops said the coaching staff does not want to go through spring practice, summer workouts and fall camp before finding a “clear-cut starter or at least having narrowed it down.”
The head coach said when one of the quarterbacks jumps up grabs the job, then he will start getting most the first-team reps.
“Just in full command of that offense and can execute that offense and can make the throws when they want to and not be careless with the football,” Stoops said when asked what it would look like when someone has grabbed the job. “All of them do good things at times. We just need somebody to do something right all the time.
“That is why you practice. You see who comes to play and who has done the work in the offseason and who has improved. It is interesting again. We have some guys that we need to work through and see who the leader is. I don’t have an answer for you right now, I wish I did, but I don’t.”
One thing Stoops and Brown mentioned multiple times after practice was the quarterbacks’ improvements are partly due to the improved personnel around them. On top of the wide receiver corps improving, the addition of Nebraska transfer Braylon Heard and a healthy Josh Clemons has helped as well. Stoops said Wednesday that Clemons looks more comfortable now than he did before his injury last season.
“He really looks good, he does,” Stoops said about Clemons. “He almost looks more comfortable right now before his last injury. It is good to see him out there and we are trying to be very smart with him and get him through this spring. We have good backs so we are rotating all those guys and just trying to be smart with him as far as reps are concerned.”
With Wednesday being the first practice in pads – UK wore shorts with shoulder pads and helmets – Stoops said there was some added fire and excitement at practice. The coach also said a positive he and the coaching staff can see is an increased physicality up front, especially offensively.
“We have worked that way and guys are bigger and stronger,” Stoops said about the physicality of his offensive line. “Again, we are a work in progress there. It is not like overnight we can go out there and manhandle people in the SEC. There are a lot of teams that are very big and very strong. But I anticipate us being better, yes.”
UK will have its first back-to-back practice days this weekend, working out Friday and Saturday before a day off on Sunday.
For the latest on the Kentucky football team, follow @UKFootball on Twitter or University of Kentucky Football on Facebook.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown said Wednesday says he wants to pick a starting quarterback quicker than he did last year when he finally chose Jalen Whitlow over Maxwell Smith just before the season started.
Kentucky has five quarterbacks — Whitlow, Smith, Patrick Towles, Reese Phillips and Drew Barker — on the roster (Smith is not competing in spring practice due to a shoulder injury).
“We’re not going to give us a false deadline. It’d be like your editor saying you had to get it done at 12, and it really didn’t matter if you got it done at 12. It’s the same kind of deal. But I want to get it done faster. I think it’s important to the football team. But we’re going to do our due diligence on it also,” Brown said.
“The whole practice is better because they’re better. The receivers are better. The running backs are better. The O-line is better because (the quarterbacks) are better. Our quarterback play the last three practices has been better than it was last year. Jalen’s been there. He’s better now than he was when we finished Tennessee, and that’s not always the case. But they’ve got to improve. We didn’t play well enough last year.”
Brown also denied that Whitlow is the only dual threat quarterback among the group.
“Towles runs better than you think. He’s a big kid. I think everybody 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,” Brown said. “Drew ran it for a lot of yards in high school. Obviously you’re 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 play (as one called with Whitlow in). Now is Jalen going to run it better? Probably. But all of them can run the ball.”
Brown said Towles, who was redshirted last year, has improved getting his feet ready to throw the ball.
“His ball is coming out faster. He doesn’t have that long windup. He worked really hard on it, and you have to give him a lot of credit,” Brown said.
“Reese and Drew – Drew is obviously just getting here – but Reese is getting reps with the first group for the first time really. Both of those guys have added something. They’ve added a little bit of juice, and I’m excited about the progress both those guys are making. We’ve thrown a lot at them.
“We’ve had three days of heavy install, and on all three days we’ve looked as good in the three days than we did at any point last year. We’re better. I don’t think we’ve arrived, but we’re definitely better.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky will have a four-way battle in spring practice to determine who is the No. 1 quarterback. Jalen Whitlow is the returning starter and Maxwell Smith, who also started games, is out after undergoing shoulder surgery. That will leave sophomore Patrick Towles, redshirt freshman Reese Phillips and incoming freshman Drew Barker splitting reps for offensive coordinator Neal Brown as the Wildcats hope to start putting together a more productive offense.
But what if another quarterback was at UK when preseason practice started in August?
No, I have no idea if it could happen, but remember the name Michael Brewer. He was supposed to be Texas Tech’s starting quarterback in 2013 but a preseason back injury sidelined him until October and he never got back to the top of the depth chart. Brewer, who threw for 440 yards and five touchdowns in 13 games during his career, intends to transfer after graduating from Texas Tech at the end of the spring semester and will be a graduate transfer eligible to play in 2014.
Brewer was a three-star prospect at Lake Travis High School in Austin, Texas, and was regarded as a dual-threat quarterback with good speed and an excellent arm — the kind of traits Brown wants in the quarterback running his offense. He was part of four consecutive state championship teams and threw for 2,865 yards as a senior despite missing games due to an injury. As a junior the threw for 4,437 yards and 41 touchdown. He rushed for 593 yards as a junior and 743 yards his senior season. He only lost one game as a starting quarterback.
And check out his bloodlines. His father, Robert, played quarterback at Texas while grandfather, Charlie, also played quarterback at Texas. He has an uncle who played quarterback at Texas, great uncle who played quarterback at Texas Tech and another great uncle who played running back at Oklahoma.
So what could bring him to Kentucky? Simple — his relationship with Brown.
Check out what Mike Graham (@MGraham17), staff writer for RedRaiderSports.com and the Dallas Morning News, told me about Brown and Brewer when I talked to him after Brown was hired to run Mark Stoops’ offense at Kentucky.
“Quarterbacks love Neal,” Graham said. “I think next year’s starter, Michael Brewer, will come out of the chute and be successful because of what Neal taught him regardless of if Neal is in Lubbock or not. Neal was huge in Brewer’s recruitment and Brewer won two state championships at Lake Travis as a quarterback and one as a receiver. Neal has an eye for talent, no doubt. He typically recruited guys Texans knew about but didn’t covet. But those guys would show up on campus and impress you out of the box.”
Maybe Brewer will have no interest in playing for Brown. Maybe UK will have no interest in adding another quarterback, especially since Caldwell County junior star Elijah Sindelar could commit to Kentucky in the next few months. Then again, Brewer likes Brown, knows his offense, could play immediately and has not one, but two years of eligibility, remaining.
Brewer won’t be leaving Tech until the semester ends so he can graduate. Just file the name away and once signing day passes in early February, let’s see what might develop with Brewer’s future plans.
By LARRY VAUGHT
If Patrick Towles is not happy at Kentucky, he’s certainly kept it to himself — something that is normally not easy for a quarterback who thought he would be playing to do.
Towles was Kentucky’s Mr. Football in 2011 when he led Highlands to another state championship. He was the bellcow in then UK coach Joker Phillips’ final recruiting class and was viewed as the savior of UK football. Instead, he got to play sparingly in 2012 only because other quarterbacks were hurt — and then got injured himself.
This season he was redshirted as he tried to cope and learn new offensive coordinator Neal Brown’s pass-friendly offense.
But with starter Jalen Whitlow returning, redshirt freshman Reese Phillips ahead of Towles on the season-ending depth chart, the possible return of part-time starter Max Smith and the arrival of Conner quarterback Drew Barker at UK in January, many have speculated that Towles will transfer.
Don’t count on it based on two messages he posted on Twitter after UK’s season ending loss to Tennessee.
“Big thanks to the seniors for giving all they had day in and day out and for helping in this programs transformation!!! Always #family #BBN,” Towles posted. Then he added, “Can’t wait for Spring Ball in Lexington! All improvement until then!”
Walk-on linebacker Tre Dunn of Mercer County has seen no signs of unhappiness from Towles, who was not available to the media after the season started.
“Me and Towles are really good friends. I always heard about him and (freshman walk-on receiver) Ozzie (Sheehan) both at Highlands. We have been pretty good pals. I am close to all the K-Y (Kentucky) kids. We have to stick together,” Dunn said. “I think Patrick is an extremely hard working individual and adversity is nothing new to him. He has handled everything well. He will continue to work hard because that is what he does best.”
Towles never pouted on the sideline during a game. He was usually one of the first to cheer for teammates. When Jalen Whitlow was injured at Georgia, Towles put on his helmet and was ready to play if needed even though it would have burned his redshirt year.
“He is definitely someone regardless of what his position is on the team, he knows everyone has a role,” Dunn said. “He is someone to bring guys up with him and encourage everybody to keep optimistic on the sideline. He is awesome. That is a trait everyone respects because he’s awesome like that.
“He loves it here from what I can tell. I don’t know all the details, but Patrick is an awesome teammate and I love having him around. He’s great to be with.”
Former UK quarterback Jared Lorenzen is a Towles fan. He coached Towles at Highlands, where he also played, and understands the rigors of playing quarterback in the SEC. He’s never asked Towles about his future plans, but knows he’s heard no transfer talk from those closest to him.
“He always kind of grew up wanting to play for UK. He finally got his wish and he’s on full scholarship,” Lorenzen said. “He got to play (last year), throw touchdowns. I have not heard anything about transferring. He could light it up in the spring (practice). Not anyone is just going to be given the job. Someone has to take it. Maybe he just needs another year for that to be him.”
Some have speculated maybe Towles would stay at UK and change positions. Lorenzen says no way to that.
“He is a quarterback. It’s hard if you have never played another position to switch and do it. It just takes certain mentality to play quarterback,” Lorenzen said.
But what about Danville’s Chase Harp? He was recruited by UK coach Hal Mumme at quarterback, didn’t win the job and eventually became a productive, starting tight end.
“What I love about Chase is that he was a dirty, mean player, and I mean that as a compliment,” Lorenzen said. “I wish I had had more of that in me. Chase loved the weight room. He was going to fight you. That was him. Moving him was fine.
“But at Highlands, if you play quarterback, you don’t play any other position. He did not play much defense in Pee Wee football. It’s just too hard at 21 years old to make a change like that.”
But could he cope with not playing another year if Whitlow, Phillips or Barker wins the No. 1 job over him?
“That’s person by person. He’s one of the most competitive kids I’ve ever been around,” Lorenzen said. “He wants to win and be the quarterback. All quarterbacks do. But a lot of backup quarterbacks realize they are getting school paid for, he’s there with his friends on a team and Pat could be part of teams that turn UK football around. There’s a lot to be said for that. On the opposite side, he could say I’ve given this long enough and I want to go where I can play. Everybody’s different.”
Lorenzen said the “mental maturity” is different for every player and for some, it takes longer.
“Everybody grows up at a different time mentally,” Lorenzen said. “Physically, the kid is a beast. But it’s really different playing quarterback in the SEC compared to the Big Ten, ACC or American whatever. This is where the cream is.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky was close to playing true freshman quarterback Reese Phillips midway of the season when starter Jalen Whitlow was injured, but with only two games remaining coach Mark Stoops says Phillips will not play to preserve his redshirt season.
“If he (Whitlow) was reinjured we were going with Reese, going to put Reese in the game and give him a shot. Now with two games left, no chance of a bowl game or anything, I think it would be in our best interest to keep that redshirt year now,” said Stoops Wednesday on the Southeastern Conference coaches teleconference. “But he was moving up and repping with the twos really the second part of this season. Impressed with the way he’s progressing and excited about him in the future.”
Stoops said Phillips has handled needing to be game ready by not playing fine.
“He handled it very well because we was willing to take his redshirt year off if it helped the team to play, and he was preparing to play and really still is,” Stoops said. “But at this point, I would probably still go with Maxwell (Smith) to keep his redshirt. But I was excited to get Reese some reps in practice. I liked what I saw.
“He’s handled it very well, and very unselfish. Like I said, he was willing to play. I thought he would have went in there and done very well, so in a way I’m kind of disappointed I didn’t get an opportunity to see him play this year, but in the long run for the future of the program I’m glad to be able to keep his redshirt.”
Stoops said Georgia, which hosts UK Saturday night, has an “awful lot of talent” starting with quarterback Andy Murray.
“Very impressed with Murray, once again, and running back (Todd) Gurley is just a very, big, strong, physical running back. Of course, very talented receiving group that’s getting more and more healthy with (Chris) Conley coming back,” Stoops said. “Defensively, again, very good team and very talented. Bunch of linebackers that run all over the place and make plays. Very good up front with Ray Drew and good in the back end with (Josh Harvey-)Clemons and the rest of the crew. So it will be a real challenge for us.”
Stoops emphasized again that despite losing at Vanderbilt, he felt his team “played as hard as we have all year” last week.
“The outcome was not what we wanted. I felt like the team really played extremely hard. I thought we really had the best game defensively since I’ve been here. And again, I feel like we made some good stops and played extremely hard offensively as well. We’ve just got to stop having plays that are killing drives for us — penalties, dropped balls, missed assignments that create negative plays and all those things,” Stoops said. “But, again, I thought we moved it well, we’ve just got to execute better to get the ball in the end zone. We know we’ve got a little way to go, but pleased with the team’s attitude and effort.”
One thing frustrating Stoops is that UK has just one interception in 10 games.
“I like the way the group (secondary) practices, I really do. I think they go out there and really practice well and prepare for the games well. We’ve got to get our hands on some balls. I think a lot goes into that: pressure up front, blitzes getting there, trying to get bad passes. I think leads help. It’s no mystery we’re struggling to score points, so it’s just like last week the difference in the game was the turnovers,” Stoops said.
“So, I think they (Vanderbilt) were very smart with the ball and didn’t turn it over and don’t put themselves in that situation. I think most opponents know when we’re struggling to get the ball in the end zone that it would be very careless to throw the ball up and put it in bad situations. So I think that’s part of it as well. I think you have an opportunity to get lots of interceptions when you’re team’s scoring a bunch of points and teams are playing from behind as well. That’s not been the case this year. But we need to do a better job in the secondary, we need to do a better job creating pressure and creating some negative plays, whether it be tips or different things like that. I think the group’s getting better, but we all know we have a long way to go.”