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UK moving forward with quarterback competition after Whitlow's transfer

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Jalen Whitlow announced his decision to transfer on Wednesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Jalen Whitlow announced his decision to transfer on Wednesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Mark Stoops and Neal Brown knew the conversation wouldn't be easy.

They had decided to narrow their options at quarterback to Patrick Towles, Reese Phillips and Drew Barker. The next step was to tell Jalen Whitlow.

"When you decide you want to coach, that's not something they go over," Brown said after practice on Wednesday. "It's never fun. It's not something that I enjoy. It's really one of the worst aspects."

The discussion happened in two parts on Tuesday afternoon and later in the evening. Stoops and Brown approached it the best way they knew how.

"I told him I cared about him, which I do," Brown said. "I want him to do what he thinks is best for him with regard to our team. But I also want to be up front and honest with him."

Honesty, in this case, came in telling Whitlow he was the odd man out at quarterback, but also explaining there would be an opportunity to play wide receiver at UK, if he chose to. Whitlow -- who started eight games in 2013 and accounted for more than 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns -- decided transferring was the best course of action.

"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," Stoops said. "That's where his heart is. That's what he wants to do. I understand that."

Both the coaches and Whitlow, of course, are disappointed in the result. Stoops and Brown would have loved to have an athlete as dynamic as Whitlow at wide out, while Whitlow wanted to win the quarterback job.

That doesn't mean there are hard feelings on either side.

"I appreciate the University of Kentucky and what the coaching staff and administration have done for me," Whitlow said in a release announcing he will transfer after finishing the spring semester. "I also thank the community and the fan support I have received here. I wish the coaches and my teammates the best of luck."

The same goes for everyone involved with the UK program.

"I appreciate his contributions, I really do," Brown said. "Last year was a tough year. It wouldn't have mattered who played quarterback. It was going to be a difficult season and he weathered some things, some adversity so I'm proud of him for that."

Now, UK moves on.

Stoops and Brown both cited consistency throwing the football as the reason they have narrowed the contenders at quarterback. Last season, Whitlow gave UK the best chance to win. With the way Towles and Phillips have improved, the addition of Barker, the talented freshman, and Maxwell Smith recovering from an injury, that's changed.

"This is not a negative on Jalen," Brown said. "The other three guys are performing well. I feel good about where we're at with the quarterback position. Now we gotta go do it with the lights on, but Saturday, in a scrimmage or game atmosphere, that was the best that any quarterbacks have looked since I've been here for a calendar year."

In that scrimmage, Towles and Barker were particularly impressive.

Towles, a redshirt sophomore, made an offseason commitment to refining his mechanics. The results showed as he made a number of throws that showed why he was so highly touted when he arrived in Lexington.

"He has made tremendous strides," Brown said. "Now he's got a long way to go, Patrick does. He's still making some decisions that aren't correct and making some negative plays, but he's got tremendously better, there's no question."

Barker, meanwhile, is hardly looking like a player who went home to Burlington, Ky., a few weeks ago to attend his high school prom and has only 10 practices under his belt in UK's no-huddle attack after playing a different system at Conner High School.

"I'm not surprised because he had big talent," Brown said. "What I am excited about is the maturity that he's shown. He's shown great maturity through this. We've thrown a lot at him. It's tough."

Brown called the competition "fluid," while Stoops said UK is still "working through" the process of settling on a quarterback.

"It's hard to get four and five guys reps," Stoops said. "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."

The first step was cutting it down to three.

"That's why we made the decision," Brown said. "We gotta get it down to a manageable number. We're hoping to do that going into fall camp. I think that was part of the issues we had last year, is we let it drag out too far we didn't get enough quality reps for Jalen or Max."

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