The Kentucky football team held their first open practice this morning at the outdoor practice fields behind Nutter Training Center this morning. The practice was Kentucky’s third of the spring practice period, and coaches seem to be happy with the way things are going.
“All three days we have looked as good in the three days as we have any point last year. We are better. I don’t think we have arrived, but we are definitely better,” Offensive Coordinator Neil Brown said.
The coaches would not name a clear cut favorite for the starting job at quarterback just yet, but Head Coach Mark Stoops did indicate that he would like to name a start sooner rather than later. “I don’t want to go through all spring and all through camp and summer without having a clear-cut starter or at least having it narrowed down,” Stoops said. Stoops did say however that he believes they are getting closer. “We’re not at that point after three practices. I think we’re moving in that direction, so we’ll see where it goes.”
One of the big developments to come out of today’s practice was the marked improvement of redshirt sophomore Patrick Towles. Towles took a redshirt last year after not winning the starting job in fall camp. “Patrick’s mechanics, I’m impressed with,” Stoops said. Neil Brown added, “Towles has really improved fundamentally. I’m impressed with that.”
Towles said last year was a learning experience but, “I’m miles ahead of where I was last year.” Towles was asked if ever considered transferring with a crowded stable at Kentucky. “No. I’m Kentucky. I’m here for the long haul,” he said. When asked whether he thought he could win the starting job Towles said, “Yes. That’s exactly right.”
Neil Brown also praised the other quarterbacks saying, “All four of them going through spring practice have improved fundamentally. Jalen has missed a little time with a tight hamstring. Towles is really improved fundamentally, which gives him a chance. He has gotten a lot better. The ball is getting out on time, his feet are putting him in a position to throw the ball, which is a big improvement and I am excited about that. Reese and Drew, both getting good reps. Obviously, Drew is just getting here, but Reese getting reps with the first group for the first time, really. Both of those guys have added something. They have added a little juice and I’m excited about the progress both of those guys are making.”
Freshman Drew Barker, the heralded recruit from Conner High School in Northern Kentucky, also impressed in today’s open practice. Barker ran reps with the first team and even earned praise from fellow quarterback Patrick Towles. “Drew had a great day today. He balled out,” Towles said.
Barker who is trying to become a starting quarterback as a true freshman in the SEC said he thinks enrolling early has been a huge help. “I’m glad I made the decision (to enroll early), because if I didn’t and came in only two months before camp, I would be so far behind,” he said. “I feel like I’m right in the mix of things. (The other quarterbacks) have already had the offense, some of them for two years. I’m just learning everything day by day. … Everybody likes each other. It’s just a good, friendly competition, and they’re quick to help me.”
While a starter has not been named yet fans, players, and coaches alike can’t help but be excited by what seems to be improved play at the quarterback position; a position which UK has struggled at greatly since the departure of Mike Hartline in 2010.
Kentucky doesn’t have any more open practices scheduled for media viewing and none will be made open the fans. Both fans and media will have to wait until the spring game which will be held at Commonwealth Stadium on April 26th.