The Next Big Game!

  • UK FB Blue-White Game:
    in 9 days, 21 hours, 43 minutes

Larry on Twitter

UK football

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.

Click on the photo of Mark Stoops to watch a video of him talking about Jalen Whitlow's transfer.

Click on the photo of Mark Stoops to watch a video of him talking about Jalen Whitlow’s transfer.

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.”

uk football helmetBy LARRY VAUGHT

The first day of spring practice, Kentucky’s offensive and defensive linemen had a few skirmishes. While head coach Mark Stoops can’t condone that, he would like to see more spunk in the line play for UK to have a chance to make a move in the SEC.

“We can’t have it interfering with practice all the time and getting very sloppy. I think they were proud of the work that they’ve done in the offseason. They feel like they’ve got some muscles on them now, so they want to throw it around a little bit, so we’ll get it cleaned up,” Stoops said.

So will the offensive line be more physical this year?

“I certainly hope so. We work that way and guys are bigger and stronger. Again, we’re a work in progress there. It’s not like overnight we can just go out there and manhandle people in the SEC. There’s a lot of teams that are big and strong. But I anticipate us being better, yes,” Stoops said.

 

Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Jalen Whitlow (2) runs in for a touchdown in the first quarter against Alabama State. (Clay Jackson photo)

Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Jalen Whitlow (2) runs in for a touchdown in the first quarter against Alabama State. (Clay Jackson photo)

Note: The following is a statement passed out to the press following Wednesday’s football practice:

Lexington, Ky. – Quarterback Jalen Whitlow has decided to transfer from the university of Kentucky, Coach Mark Stoops confirmed Wednesday.

“We respect Jalen and his decision as we want the best for him,” Stoops said. “I thank Jalen for his contributions to the team during his time at Kentucky. I want everyone to understand how hard he haas worked and the effort he has given since our staff has been here.”

Whitlow, a native of Montgomery, Ala., came to UK in 2012 and started seven games as a true freshman. He completed 54 percent of his passes for 801 yards and five touchdowns. he also rushed for 206 net yards and three TDs.

In 2013, Stoops’ first season as head coach, Whitlow started eight games. He completed 61.6 percent of his passes for 1,033 yards and five touchdowns. He also rushed for 457 yards and six TDs.

“I appreciate the University of Kentucky and what the coaching staff and administration have done for me,” Whitlow said. “I also thank the community and the fan support I have received here. I wish the coaches and my teammates the best of luck.”

Whitlow will finish the semester at UK before transferring. He has two seasons of eligibility remaining.

By LARRY VAUGHT

Kentucky’s defense had just two interceptions last season, a number that defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot knows must improve in 2014 for UK to become more competitive.

“We’ve got to make the plays, and we’ve got to put them in position to make the plays,” said Eliot after Monday’s practice. “It’s something that we’ve been emphasizing. We track it every day in practice. We’ve had some that we had a bunch, and we’ve had some that we haven’t had very many.

“A lot of it just comes down to finishing plays. Sometimes you get them in the right spot then it’s a dropped ball or it’s a tipped ball that we don’t bring down. We do practice it. We practice the fundamentals of that on a regular basis, but we are emphasizing that quite a bit.”

Eliot is counting on junior college cornerback A.J. Stamps, who arrived on campus in January, to help create interceptions.

“A.J. has a lot of ability, and he’s got great ball skills. I hope that transitions,” Eliot said of Stamps, who has gained 10 pounds since arriving at UK. “If you’re bigger, stronger, faster then you’re a better athlete. As long as they continue to keep their speed and they put that size on, it’s good for them.”

Here’ more insights Eliot offered about the defense.

Question: How has middle linebacker Khalid Henderson looked?

Eliot: “Khalid is better. Khalid is a better player. All those reps have helped him last year during the season. You can tell going into spring he’s much further along than he was last year. He’s keying things faster. He’s assignment sound. He’s an improved player.”

Question: What has he learned in the first half of spring practice?

Eliot: “Some of the obvious things are that (end) Bud Dupree has got some great, great skills, and not only that, he’s got some great leadership. I’m really looking forward to seeing how he progresses and plays in the fall. Along with (end) Za’Darius Smith. Some guys like (tackle) Mike Douglas have stepped up, and I’m hoping to see some great things from him in the fall as well. But, we’ve just got to take it one day at a time. You can’t rush anything. You’ve got to make sure that you’re doing little things. The old saying ‘You can’t put the cart before the horse,’ we’ve got to make sure we’re continuing to do that.”

Question: Has he noticed any difference in defensive back Blake McClain since they’ve limited him to two primary positions compared to last season when he played more spots?

Eliot: “Blake McClain, last year was a true freshman. We saw the ability and didn’t know where to play him. That’s why he played in training camp at a bunch of different spots: because we saw the ability and had to get him on the field. I think as much as growing from a freshman to a sophomore, I’ve also seen him become more specialized in his position and what he’s doing. He’s continuing to get better.”

Question: Does Dupree write “savage” on his wrist every day before practice because that’s how he wants to play and is that how the staff wants him to play?

Eliot: “That’s something that he’s come up on his own. I think that’s a self-motivation thing for him. We want Bud to lead by example, a lot like Avery (Williamson) did (last year). That means you have to play that way on the field. Right now, he’s doing that.”

Question: Can he tell cornerback J.D. Harmon is trying to take advantage of the second chance after being academically ineligible last year?

Eliot: “Yes. I’ve seen J.D. getting better. I’ve seen J.D. doing some good things, playing hard and trying to be fundamentally sound. We’ve just got to stay on him. He’s got to continue to put that effort in to do it.”

Question: Was there a time last year when Harmon was making plays on the scout team that he wished he could have played him?

Eliot: “I just concentrated on the ones I had on my practice field, I guess. So those thoughts never went through my mind, but I am glad to have him now. He did some good things. I just worried about the ones I had. But he did do some good jobs over there, did do a good job over there with the scout team.”

Question: How much has Harmon has bolstered the cornerback position?

Eliot: “He’s helped us. We need depth at every position and he’s got a chance to come in and play and so it’s definitely helped us.”

Question: Is Josh Forrest cross-training between linebacker spots?

Eliot: “Basically our mike and our will are kind of mirrored. So we move him around and try him at different spots, but he’s played both of them. He’s played Mike and Will and, you know, last year he played some Sam as well. But this spring he’s been a Mike and a Will. I think it’s important to do that at a lot of positions. Sometimes to get depth it means you gotta dual-train people in order to establish that depth. I think that’s important not only at linebacker but all our positions.”

Question: How are the tackles who did not play last year doing this spring?

Eliot: “Melvin Lewis, I’ve been pleased with. He’s got that girth inside for a good nose guard and he’s moved around well. And Regie (Meant), Regie’s put on a lot of weight. Regie came in at 260. I think he weighs around 300 now and he’s getting better every day. He’s a freshman so he’s still learning how to play and play at this level. But both those guys, I’ve been pleased with their progress.”

Alvin "Bud" Dupree interviewed his Defensive End partner Za'Darius Smith at UK media days last year.

Alvin “Bud” Dupree interviewed his Defensive End partner Za’Darius Smith at UK media days last year.

By LARRY VAUGHT

Coach Mark Stoops had some interesting things to say about defensive end Bud Dupree after Monday’s practice:

Question: How much will defensive end Bud Dupree’s development and leadership impact the defense?
Stoops: “Bud’s a real key part. I’ve said it over and over. But he is. He’s a good football player with good instincts. He’s really done a nice job with the leadership role. It’s key for him to have a great year and to continue to lead us.”

Question: Have Dupree and Za’Darius Smith reached a point where they sort of max out improving personally and end up doing more mentoring of younger guys?
Stoops: “Oh, no, they definitely can get better – and are. With Bud, it’s his versatility and making sure he’s getting enough quality reps to continue to progress with his hand in the dirt as a great D-lineman and then being able to get him some snaps on his feet and doing some other things and being versatile with Bud. So that’s a matter of just keep on getting reps there.

“With Z, you can never get enough reps and you’re always getting better. Again, that’s why Pete Jenkins is in here. It’s something we take great pride in. It’s something we did at Florida State. The better you play up front, the better you’re going to be. It starts up there. I think Coach Brumbaugh does a great job of developing those guys and we’ve got a long way to go with some young guys, but that’s key for us.”

Click on the photo above to view a video of coach Mark Stoops talking after this morning's practice.

Click on the photo above to view a video of coach Mark Stoops talking after this morning’s practice.

By LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON — Kentucky coach Mark Stoops liked that his team came back from what he thought was an impressive scrimmage on Saturday with a “pretty good” practice again Monday.

“We’re starting to move forward, get a little bit better in each phase of the game. Encouraged, again, we’ve got a long way to go. Got some guys banged up and bruised like you’d expect in the middle of spring ball, but nothing major and I feel like we’re heading in the right direction. Again, just got to keep on keeping the foot on the gas and keep on getting better each day,” said Stoops.

Stoops brought in Pete Jenkins, 72, and his 41 years of coaching experience to observe practice as he has done before. Stoops called him an “expert” on defensive line play and says feedback from him has helped him realize that UK is moving forward.

“Sometimes when you see it every day, you want to make those steps faster, but he knows, and he told me, it’s a much different team, a better looking team (than last year). It looks like we’re more physical and all that,” Stoops said after Monday’s practice. “So it’s good to hear that from somebody that spends a lot of time going to a lot of spring practices and has been around the block.

“Like I said, he’s really an expert on D-line play and it’s good to have him around, so that meant something to me. I’ve said that to you: I feel like we’re getting better, we’re getting there. We spent a long winter this year; we went into spring ball late so we could really have some time to lift and put on some weight and get stronger, and I feel like that’s paying off.”

Stoops said there was “more quality football” being played on both sides of the ball in Saturday’s scrimmage even if there was still plenty to correct.

He said all four quarterbacks again did “some good things” as well as missed some plays.

“I’m still impressed. Patrick (Towles) is improving, he’s throwing some balls we all know he has the arm talent to execute. I feel like Drew (Barker) is doing some good things for a young guy out there. Again, that’s not dismissing the other two guys (Jalen Whitlow and Reese Phillips). They did some good things as well,” Stoops said.

Here’s more of what Stoops had to say after practice>

Question: How did the defensive tackles look in Saturday’s scrimmage?
Stoops: “We’re battling; we’re getting better. We’ve got a few young guys in there with Regie (Meant) getting better. Mike Douglas is doing a good job and you know Melvin (Lewis) is getting better. You know, we’re improving.”

Question: What does he look for defensively when he is watching film?
Stoops: “Well, you could be (trails off) It always comes down to fundamentals. If we’re good enough to play and handle guys, then obviously you’re going to have a lot more success. I feel like fundamentally we’re getting better. We need to continue to grow. We need to be able to cover people, you know? But it’s always like that. The better you are, the more simple you can play and execute things and give people things by missed assignments and things like that. We’re getting much better. Things are slowing down for some of our guys.”

Question: What does he like about  junior college cornerback A.J. Stamps and is he getting his hands on balls in practice?
Stoops: “He’s got good instincts. He’s got good size and good athletic ability. He seems to pick things up fairly quick, which is a good thing because it’s a hard position. Things go very fast; things change all the time. There’s different offenses, different plays. Offenses setting you up and all those things. So you have to have some instincts to play that position and so I’m excited about him and his progress.”

Question: How is defensive back Marcus McWilson doing?
Stoops: “Marcus, yeah, he does some good things, he’s got some good ability. We need to continue to lean on him to play with a greater sense of urgency, a greater passion for the game. He’s got the ability. It’s our job to keep on getting it out of him.”

Question: Has he made any John Calipari-like tweaks to his team?
Stoops: “No, I don’t,  … in football, with us, there’s so many moving parts in football that we change things drill by drill and look at what we’re doing schematically, offensively and defensively. We’ll be in there for hours upon hours today making adjustments and just seeing what we can do and what’s best for our team.”

Question: How is new assistant Craig Naivar meshing with the staff and players?
Stoops: “He’s doing a good job. He’s a high-energy guy, a lot like coach Peve (Bradley Dale Peveto), so it’s good. We’re not missing a beat there. We love what we’re doing and, again, he’s high-energy and gives us a lot of experience with being a coordinator for a long time.”

Question: What’s different for him and has his comfort zone expanded after a year on the job?
Stoops: “It really is. Just everything, I think putting it all together and your time demands and being stretched in so many different ways, it’s still difficult at times to find enough hours in the day to do the things you have to do with that. But much more comfortable. Obviously offensively and defensively, where we’re heading and what we’re doing, that comfort level is there. I think just as a program, all the things we’re doing within the program to help develop these players, I feel much better just where we’re headed.”

video courtesy Kentucky Wildcats TV

UK football coach Mark Stoops addresses the media during Wednesday's Football Signing Day. (Victoria Graff photo/all rights reserved)

Mark Stoops photo by Victoria Graff photo/all rights reserved.

By LARRY VAUGHT

Head coach Mark Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown both liked what they saw from freshman receivers T.V. Williams and Thaddeus Snodgrass, both January enrollees, during Saturday’s scrimmage.

Stoops: “The young guys did some good things. Thaddeus (Snodgrass) had a chance to make a real big play, didn’t come down with it. T.V. (Williams) made a nice play where he caught the ball, bounced off some people, made a big play for the offense, which was good.”

Brown: “T.V. (Williams) had some highs and some lows. He had a drop that would’ve been a big play, and then he had a long touchdown reception. So he showed some signs. I think Thaddeus Snodgrass is starting to come along. It’s a lot on a receiver initially. It really is. He’s getting a lot of reps because we’ve got some guys that are banged up. Mikel Horton (running back), he did some good things. I think he got tired probably. It’s a big difference (from high school).”

Josh Clemons (20) carries the ball for Kentucky. (Victoria Graff photo)

Josh Clemons (20) carries the ball for Kentucky in 2011. (Victoria Graff photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT

Here is what JoJo Kemp had to say about Josh Clemons, perhaps the biggest surprise in spring practice, after Saturday’s scrimmage:

Question: Has it surprised you how running back Josh Clemons has come back from a second knee surgery and is playing so well this spring?

Kemp: “Yeah and that is good. I look at him as one of those guys who will never give up. He is going to keep fighting and that’s what you need. When I am down and I have a bruise that makes me want to pop up, I look at him and he is one of those guys that is determined. He had those two major injuries but it is not stopping him. He is still out there fighting and competing. He has been making a lot of plays and that makes me get fired up and makes the coaches get fired up. He is good person.”

Question: Is he making more plays than you expected considering his injuries?

Kemp: “Exactly. Josh, he is one of those guys that is like a man-child. He is big. He is aggressive. He is one of those guys that will fight through anything.”

catalist

For IPhones/IPads, and new for Android devices, the Catalist app by Larry Vaught is the best way to keep up with UK basketball. It's free!

Archives

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.