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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.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
With questions continuing to swirl about Kentucky’s quarterback situation, coach Mark Stoops knows what he would like to see happen against Alabama State Saturday night.
“I think in a perfect world we’d keep our quarterbacks healthy and whoever was in there would be running the offense efficiently,” said Stoops. “And in this case, Jalen (Whitlow) starting the game, it would be really nice to have him start a game and finish a game unless we decide to take him out for good reasons. So that would be nice to happen.”
If that happens, then Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown would not have to decide if former starter Maxwell Smith or true freshman Reese Phillips, who is scheduled to be redshirted, would go in if Whitlow was hurt or ineffective.
“If something happens early, then we got a decision to make,” Stoops said.
Brown said that Phillips is “looking good” in practice even though Whitlow has got all the first-team reps this week.
“We’ve gotten him a decent amount of work the last couple of weeks. Ideally, I think we’d like to keep the red shirt on him this late, but I think we’re mentally getting him ready and we’re getting him enough reps where if he needs to play, he’ll be ready,” Brown said. “Jalen will start the game and hopefully finish it and be healthy and all those type of things. And Maxwell (Smith) and Reese are splitting those two reps.”
Stoops said on the Southeastern Conference teleconference that he was “not ready” to say if Smith or Phillips would be the primary backup Saturday night.
“Right now, he (Smith) is our No. 2 on the depth chart, but we have been pushing a little bit with Reese and getting him ready and there’s a chance that he could see some action if Jalen was injured.
“Jalen should be ready. Like most SEC quarterbacks, a little banged up, a little bruised up and all that, but he should be healthy. The last game it was his ankle, and this week seems to be better, he’s a little dinged up on his shoulder, but he should be fine.”
Stoops knows it is important to have a valid backup plan at quarterback. Smith has battled a sore shoulder all season and Whitlow was challenged last week by Stoops to play with more toughness.
“There’s some big boys out there, very physical like we all know. It’s been troublesome to us. We were sorting through our quarterback situation most of the spring and most of the summer and into the fall here and then once we settled in, we felt like we were making some progress and really starting to click offensively with Jalen, then he goes down and gets injured and you go back to Max (Smith). You need to have some depth at that position,” Stoops said.
Stoops has seen signs that Whitlow has accepted the challenge of playing with more toughness.
“He’s beat up, but the deal is this late in the season, most people that are playing college football are beat up, regardless of positions and quarterback’s probably — their wear and tear through the week is a lot less — I always tell them they’ve got the easiest job Sunday through Friday and the hardest job on Saturdays,” Stoops said. “I think he’s accepted the challenge. He’s got a little bit of a sore ankle, a little bit of a sore shoulder, neither one of them anything major. But he’s been out here every day, hasn’t missed any time, so I think he has responded.”
Stoops admits the one unknown with Phillips is how he will actually perform in a collegiate game.
“He’s good and comfortable. Seems like he’s got one of those personalities where he doesn’t get too worked up about anything,” Stoops said. “Of course, that’s easier said than done on the practice field, right? With quarterbacks, you never really know until you get them out there in game situations and see how it goes and all that. So we’ll see, but I like the way he’s gone about his business.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Quarterback Jalen Whitlow has a “dinged up shoulder” and a continuing sore ankle, but Kentucky coach Mark Stoops insisted Monday that he “should be fine” for Saturday night’s game against Alabama State.
“He’ll be sore. He’ll be out there practicing today,” said Stoops Monday. “He should be fine.”
However, who would play if Whitlow is hurt and/or ineffective remains a bit of a mystery after Stoops confirmed that true freshman Reese Phillips has moved ahead of sophomore Patrick Towles, a former Kentucky Mr. Football.
Stoops said that Phillips, who has not played this year, will get “some reps in practice” this week. Stoops did not mention Maxwell Smith, last week’s starting quarterback at Mississippi State when Whitlow was slowed by an ankle injury. Whitlow and Smith have battled for the No. 1 spot since spring practice, but Stoops said “I don’t know” when asked if Phillips would be UK’s second or third option at quarterback this week.
“We’ll work on it this week. He’s definitely going to be an option,” Stoops said.
That sure sounds like if Smith does not have a good week of practice and Phillips does, then Phillips likely would be the backup Saturday and could well get into his first game at UK even though the plan has been to redshirt him. It could also signal that Towles has to rethink his future at UK — something that never seemed possible when he was the marquee recruit in UK’s 2012 recruiting class after his storied prep career — because Whitlow, Smith and Phillips could all be back next year along with recruit Drew Barker.
Stoops said Phillips has done a “nice job of managing the game” from his play in the Blue-White Game to end spring practice to every scrimmage he’s been in.
“If nothing else, if we get ourselves with certain plays and checks and run‑pass options, if we just execute the call, we give ourselves a chance. We’re not even doing that at times, and that’s frustrating, let alone throws or different things,” Stoops said. “It’s just putting ourselves, putting our team in a position to be successful with decisions. I think he does a nice job of protecting the football, and I think he does a nice job with his decision making.”
Offensive coordinator Neal Brown has been looking for consistency play after play from a quarterback — and has not got it yet this season.
“He’s a true freshman, and we have other options. He didn’t get as many reps all along, but he has gotten reps and he has been impressive. We keep on waiting, and you know that; we all do. We wait for our other quarterbacks to take it and run,” Stoops said. “I think Jalen has been there. I think Jalen is the guy that has been very close to leading us, and then we get an injury and set us back, and that can’t happen.
“We’ve just got to stay healthy. We’ve got to be stronger, we have got to protect him better, and if he does go down we’ve got to be better prepared for somebody else to lead us.”
Stoops clearly wants to see Whitlow take charge at quarterback, something he seemed poised to do with his play against South Carolina before injuring his ankle against Alabama. Whitlow told UK coaches he felt “gimpy” warming up for Mississippi State, but at halftime Stoops went to him to see if he could not play — and he did.
“I see it as a guy that’s leading the program in the SEC and I see other SEC players banged up and leading their team to victory, don’t you? That’s what we need to do,” Stoops said.
The Kentucky coach admitted there was a “fine line” between being injured and playing through pain and that he does not ever tell a player he should be playing.
“But if somebody is sore, then yeah, I’m going to challenge them. If somebody is —‑they (medical personnel) make all those decisions. I can’t get into that,” Stoops said. “But yes, we have to learn to differentiate between being injured and just being a little bit banged up. That’s for the players and for the trainers to decide. But if they can go, they need to go.”
Stoops noted how South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw twice has been injured but each time came back to play, including Saturday at Missouri when he rallied South Carolina to a comeback victory.
“It’s up to the players, and they have to decide what they can handle, and our medical people do a great job. But I think that toughness comes from a culture, and we’re trying to build it,” Stoops said. “I don’t think we’re there yet, and we’re going to get there. I can promise you.”
But while he’s mulling who the backup quarterback will be and if Whitlow and others can play with toughness, he is seeing signs his team is maturing.
“I think I saw a group that was hurt after the game (at Mississippi State) that they know — the more you invest, the more it should hurt, and I think our team is starting to hurt,” Stoops said. “They’re starting to understand that we can do this. If we, again, just do some things better, control the things we can control, and execute in some critical situations. I think they see us looking like an SEC football team at times. We’re just not consistent.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky starting quarterback Maxwel Smith lost the “velocity” on his passes and had to leave Saturday’s 27-13 loss to Louisville, but anticipates he will be fine when UK plays again in two weeks.
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said after the game only that Smith “banged up his shoulder” and he was not sure of his status.
Smith was 9-for-20 passing for 109 yards, but had at least four passes dropped before he left the game. Jalen Whitlow went 8-for-17 passing for 105 yards and one score, but he threw an interception. Both quarterbacks lost a fumble.
Smith, who hurt his shoulder last season, said he was throwing a pass when his arm “got jerked back” by a Louisville defender. On the next play, he threw a pass into the ground.
“I could throw, but I did not have enough velocity,” Smith said. “I was not the best choice (to play quarterback). I could have gone back in, but I just didn’t have the same velocity.
“I think I will be fine and ready for our next opponent (Florida on Sept. 28). As far as I know, I will be fine but I really haven’t been checked out or anything like that yet.”
Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown said he was told Smith could not go back into the game. If something had happened to Whitlow, he would have gone to sophomore Patrick Towles even though freshman Reese Phillips was also warming up on the sideline after Smith came out of the game.
Brown said Smith “throws the ball pretty well” and that he has not noticed any lack of arm strength this year.
“He’s seemed fine,” Brown said.
Whitlow’s interception stopped a potential scoring drive in the second half just as Smith’s fumble did late in the first half. Whitlow did run for 37 yards.
“I thought Jalen did some good things but obviously he made some crucial errors,” Stoops said. “He can’t afford to make those mistakes. We had to go with him a good portion of the game. But we have to play better around him.”
Six Kentucky receivers combined to drop eight passes during the game, mistakes that Stoops said were “drive-killers” for his team. He noted an early screen pass that was dropped that would have given UK a first down instead of facing third down and 10.
“Until we start making the routine plays, we are going to have a hard time beating a top 10 team. If we had (made the plays), then we had a chance,” Stoops said. “It has not been that bad (in practice dropping balls). Unless coach Brown and coach (Vince) Marrow go out there, we just have got to keep working. I believe in our players. They can do it. That is something we have to do. We have to make routine plays. You can’t drop passes.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky had what offensive coordinator Neal Brown felt was “one of our best practices” on Monday after the offense had not pleased the coach the previous two practices.
“I thought we really competed on offense. We did a lot of situation work where we made some mistakes but (they were) good learning points. I thought our kids really bounced back from not playing well in the second half of that scrimmage on Saturday, competed, made lots of plays, caught the ball today, which we really have all spring with the exception of on Saturday,” said Brown.
However, he’s still not ready to name a starting quarterback.
“We’re working through that right now. We’ll keep that in house here for a little bit. A starter has not been named, but we’re getting in order,” head coach Mark Stoops said.
Stoops did confirm that the quarterback battle was a two-player competition. All indicators are that would be sophomores Maxwell Smith, the starter last year before he was injured, and Jalen Whitlow, who became the starter after Smith went down. Others who have been competing are sophomore Patrick Towles and freshman Reese Phillips.
“You know what they say about assuming,” Brown joked.
He would not name the two and said that was something for Stoops to announce.
“I’m not really going to discuss who those two are until he does, but we have to get our reps focused in,” Brown, who spent time talking to Whitlow and Smith before they left the practice field, said. “We gave two guys the majority of the reps today and we’ll continue with that. I think if one of them jumps up and takes it, then that will be our guys and if not, we’ll get used to playing two.”
Brown wouldn’t say if there was a definite plan for the third quarterback to be redshirted to save a year of eligibility.
“Yeah, I think that would be a good option,” Brown said.
Kentucky opens the season Aug. 31 in Nashville against Western Kentucky. Brown senses that all his players have an urgency about preparations now.
“I’ve been preaching that to them, wanting to put the pressure on them. Because again, we’ve got a lot to get done this week. Really the first week you’re in there, everybody’s excited. Then week two and week three of camp, that’s where your team is formed,” Brown said. “We’ve got to come out of these two weeks knowing who we are and what we can do and all that. I was pleased with the way we executed and the way we practiced today.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
A number of former Kentucky players who know far more football than me watched UK’s open practice Friday. Here is how one analyzed the quarterback competition and more in a concise, blunt way that I think you will enjoy:
“Here is what I saw:
“Whitlow. sharp with swagger. Acts like the job is his. MUCH improved passer and just carries himself with confidence
“Towles. great long passer. Looks much better physically. Has trouble getting the ball out of his hands on short passes more so than Whitlow or Phillips BUT he is much more ‘together’ than in the spring.
“Smith. I think he will be third or fourth string. Has trouble getting the ball out on short passes and misses long touch passes. Best on 12-15 yard crossing patterns and out patterns. I guess you would call him a classic intermediate dropback passer. Which does not get it anymore. I hope I am wrong but it looks like the injuries are taking their toll. Hope I am wrong. Great kid.
“Phillips. EASILY the most natural passer. NEVER throws a duck or a bad pass. Kid looks like he really has got it. Wonder what happens when Barker and him and Towles and Whitlow are all around.
“CONCLUSION: Whitlow is the man. Why? The air-raid style offenses have changed. Having a QB that is a run threat makes the defense one player short in coverage. Don’t believe me? Look up RG3 and Johnny Football for further evidence.
“TEAM as a whole. I loved the looks of the new receivers and the new linemen. Ramsey Meyer looks enormous and Jacob Hyde looks like one of those Crimson Tide guys. The drills were crisp. NO wasted time. NO jacking or jiving around. Players were LOCKED on to coaches when they were talking. NO SLOPPY FAT guys, either. Just a whole different style of coaches and coaching.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown was at the Kentucky Football Coaches Association Clinic in Danville Saturday and shared a variety of thoughts.
Question: How many scholarship quarterbacks do you like to have on the roster?
Brown: “I think everybody would like to have five. The perfect world is five. You have four classes with a redshirt in there, so you would like to have five. But I think you need four. Quarterback is so much different than any other position because only one plays, but you have to make sure you have depth. A prime example of that is last year at Kentucky (when they played four quarterbacks). They were one (more) injury away from really having a catastrophe there. So I think you want to have five, but I think four is what you can get away with.”
Question: Since your offense is based so much on timing, how do you get enough practice work for quarterbacks who are not No. 1 on the depth chart during the season?
Brown: “You have to be creative. You have to get those guys reps. If you look at the track record in this league, your second and sometimes your third quarterback are going to get quality playing time. You have to keep those guys sharp but at the same time you have to make sure your starter is ready to go. You have to be creative in how you practice. Sometimes you can go two groups so your backup quarterback is getting reps. I think you get your second team quarterback more reps than you normally would in some other leagues. I think it is all about creativity. They have to understand — and it is in their face from last year — that recent past shows stars can get hurt and they have to be ready to roll.”
Question: Even Reese Phillips came to UK in January expecting to be redshirted in 2014, but did his spring practice performance change that thinking?
Brown: “He played really well in the spring game. The thing I like about Reese is how he handles himself. He is a calm guy. The situation is never too big for him. He played in front of 55,000 (at the spring game), which is by far the most he has ever played in front of, and handled himself extremely well. I think a lot of it will be how he matures over the summer and how much more of the offense he can pick up and the first two weeks of the fall camp. If he can continue to make strides, maybe he could be a factor.”
Question: Since he was already committed to UK when you were hired and you had little time to evaluate him, did he surprise you in spring practice with his play and is he maybe better than you thought?
Brown: “I think that is fair. I didn’t really know a whole lot about him. The first time I saw him throw was at our spring practice. I liked his film. I liked his body makeup as far as his size. He is a big, strong kid. He had good grades, good family. All those things were positives, but as far as him as a football player, I didn’t know a ton about him. There were a lot of unknowns. It definitely was positive impression in the spring.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Freshman quarterback Reese Phillips graduate from Signal Mountain (Tenn.) High School in December so he could enroll at Kentucky and go through offensive coordinator Neal Brown’s first spring practice with the Wildcats. Phillips completed 172 of 274 passes for 2,274 yards and 15 scores with just three interceptions his senior season and was named the MVP of the Tennessee High School East/West All-Star Classic after going 10-for-10 for 95 yards and a touchdown.
He offered his insights into his play, the quarterback competition and more after practice Friday.
Question: How has spring practice been for you?
Phillips: “It has gone pretty well. It has been a big adjustment, but I have got used to it somewhat any way. It is a big learning curve, but it has gone well.”
Question: How different is it to think you could still be in high school getting ready for maybe prom and instead you are competing with SEC athletes?
Phillips: “It is a little bit different for sure. If I was home right now, I probably wouldn’t be doing anything but out getting ready for prom maybe, so you are right about that. It is a big change, but it is good for me. It is hard, but it will pay off.”
Question: Has it been as hard academically and socially as it has been athletically?
Phillips: “They all kind of mesh together. Academically, my grades are good but it is different as far as lecture halls and stuff like that. I am not used to anything like that yet. Socially, everybody up here is real nice. I have met a lot of friends and people. It is different because all my best friends are at home, but it all kind of meshes together.”
Question: Do you feel you came in equal with returning quarterbacks because they had to learn new coordinator Neal Brown’s offense just like you did?
Phillips: “That’s the thing I have noticed is that everything is new, but still the speed of the game and stuff like that … even though Pat (Towles) and Jalen (Whitlow) have just been here a year, the still have had experience. As far as the material, we all ask each other questions because that is all new. As far as experience, it is definitely different.”
Question: What is easiest and hardest about coach Brown’s system?
Phillips: “It is pretty easy to understand. It’s not like the concepts are real hard or anything. The hardest part is the tempo. I went fast in high school, but it was huddle. I am not used to no-huddle. That is the biggest difference just the tempo.”
Question: Are you anxious to see what happens when other freshmen arrive in June, especially with a lot of skilled guys arriving?
Phillips: “Coach Brown says for us and some older guys we get four weeks of spring practice to prove ourselves and then those guys get two weeks in the summer to get a spot or whatever. The summer will be very important. Those guys are very skilled and can play. It will be up to them to get going.”
Question: Do you think a redshirt year is likely for you?
Phillips: “Probably. I don’t ever have that kind of mindset, but realistically yes. I am very realistic person. If I am redshirting, even being in a stadium watching someone else play is an experience. I might not be out there, but obviously playing in front of 70,000 people is a lot different than 3,000. That is an experience in itself.”
Question: What will the Blue-White Game Saturday with maybe 30,000 to 40,000 fans be like for you?
Phillips: “I am excited. Obviously it is different. I do get nervous before stuff like that, but I will be fun. Just relax and have fun. That’s what it is all about.”
Question: Will you have a lot of people from home come to the game?
Phillips: “Yeah. Actually I tweeted that probably half of the attendance will be my family and friends. Everyone is coming. I am excited and they are excited.”