The Kentucky Wildcats hit the field for their first practice of the 2014 season on Monday. Head coach Mark Stoops and his staff have upgraded the talent in the program significantly since arriving in Lexington, and the Wildcats should be better at nearly every position this fall.
But at this point, there is one position that is stealing the spotlight, and that’s the quarterback. In the attack of offensive coordinator Neal Brown, known as the “Air Raid” offense, having the right player behind center is crucial.
Take last season’s Wildcats as a prime example. Kentucky had Jalen Whitlow and Maxwell Smith playing quarterback. Whitlow was more of a runner than a thrower, while Smith was just the opposite, a pocket passer with very limited mobility. Neither of these players were ideal for Brown’s offense, although Smith’s abilities were more compatible.
This season, Brown has three (or four) options to choose from when picking his starting quarterback. Those close to the program think it will be either redshirt sophomore Patrick Towles or true freshman Drew Barker when the season starts. Both players are native Kentuckians and both have the arm, accuracy and mobility to make plays in Brown’s offense.
The two other options would be redshirt freshman Reese Phillips and Smith. Phillips is perhaps the most accurate passer of the group, but his ability to stretch the field has been questioned. Smith, who has by far the most experience of the group, is still recovering from shoulder surgery and is not expected to be healthy enough to play. If he is healthy, he could be in the mix.
The coaches have not indicated when they will name a starter. Last season, it wasn’t until Kentucky took the field in the season opener that fans knew who the starter was (it was Whitlow). The same could happen this season.
Until a starter is named, this question will hang over the program. At this point, it’s not a distraction, but it could become one the longer this process goes on.
Tim Letcher is a contributing writer for RantSports.com and a member of the Football Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter @TimLetcher , on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.