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Cats have 'spirited' Wednesday practice

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Head coach Mark Stoops



Offensive Coordinator Neal Brown



With his team in the middle of a bye week, Mark Stoops said on Tuesday Kentucky would hold a less physical Wednesday practice to give the banged-up Wildcats a chance to heal.

But when Stoops walked into the team meeting room to deliver a few pre-practice remarks, he found his players dressed in full pads with loud music blaring, eagerly anticipating an intense day of work.

As much as Stoops liked his team's approach -- particularly on the heels of a Tuesday practice during which UK was "a little bit down emotionally" -- he still opted to stick with his additional plan. Even so, he liked what he saw once the Cats hit the field.

"It was a more spirited practice today," Stoops said. "I thought we got some good work in. Guys enjoyed themselves. I thought we got better. Overall, it was pretty good."

It was a rainy Wednesday in Lexington, but not at the start of practice. Even as the rain picked up, however, UK got done what it needed to.

"It worked out pretty good today, really, because when we first went out there, there was nothing and then it was very light, then during our last 20 minutes it started coming down pretty heavy," Stoops said. "But that was pretty good for us to work in the rain and work a wet ball and all that. We still got the looks we needed."

Getting the "majority" of the snaps at quarterback was Maxwell Smith, who is stepping up in place of the injured Jalen Whitlow (ankle). Whitlow's status for next Thursday's game against Mississippi State is uncertain, so the Cats are preparing as if he will not be available.

Smith is not far removed from an injury of his own after leaving UK's game vs. Louisville early due to a shoulder injury. In spite of Smith's injury history, offensive coordinator Neal Brown says Smith is still capable of making all throws that will be required of him, so long as he remains sound mechanically.

"It's his lower body," Brown said. "He's not using his lower body, which causes him to lose velocity on those maybe hash(mark) to sideline throws. When he uses his body, he's got no issues whatsoever."

Smith understands that.

"It's been a focus to just make sure I keep a good base and use my lower body and throw the ball," Smith said. "Like he said, I know I can make any throw on the field."

Assuming Whitlow is unable to play, UK will have to select a backup between Patrick Towles and Reese Phillips. Multiple factors will go into the decision since Stoops and Brown would ideally like to redshirt both.

"It's gonna be determined by how hurt Jalen is for the backup," Stoops said. "If it's gonna be one game, we don't want either of those backup quarterbacks to play, because we'd like to redshirt both of them. But Patrick sacrificed a little more in that he's the sophomore and he wanted to take that redshirt, so I think we got to be conscious of that as well."

Regardless, the coaches know both Towles and Phillips will do what's asked of them without a second thought.

"We're just looking at the best option," Stoops said. "And either of the guys would do whatever we needed them to do. They've been very unselfish."

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