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2014 starter Patrick Towles is competing with Drew Barker for the quarterback job this spring. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics) 2014 starter Patrick Towles is competing with Drew Barker for the quarterback job this spring. (Britney Howard, UK Athletics)
For the third time in as many Kentucky seasons, Mark Stoops is leading his team through spring practice without an officially named starter at quarterback.

Redshirt junior Patrick Towles and redshirt freshmen Drew Barker are splitting time at the position with no clear leader yet emerging. Stoops understands how that may be perceived by some, but he doesn't agree.

"I know the old adage that if you have two you don't have any, but I don't believe that," Stoops said.

After Reese Phillips suffered an injury to his Achilles tendon this winter, Towles and Barker became the only healthy quarterbacks on campus for spring practice. The resulting battle, new offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson says, has been good for both.

"To me if you've got one guy playing really good and one guy not then it's not making anybody better," Dawson said. "I think that the key to those guys right now, and both of them go out and one day one of them might be a little better, the other day the new one might be a little better but they're pushing each other. So, that's the best part of it."

It's familiar territory for Towles and Barker, who both competed for the starting job in 2014. Towles would of course win out and show flashes of brilliance in leading UK to a five-win season, an improvement from a 2-10 mark in Stoops' first season.

Towles started all 12 games, completing 57.3 percent of his passes for 2,718 yards and 14 touchdowns and adding 303 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. His coaches have said his experience does give him a leg up, but by no means makes him a lock to beat out Barker. It's a challenge he embraces.

"I've been in a competition since I got here," Towles said. "I'm not new to this at all and I'm going to go out there and worry about me. I can't worry about what any other quarterback's doing. I can help when I feel like I can teach a little bit, but I'm worried about how I play and how the guys play when I'm in there."

Barker is doing the same.

The highly touted Burlington, Ky., native redshirted last season after Towles won the job, taking the year to adjust to college life. His adjustment has been marked by two off-field incidents that have been addressed and addressed again by his coaches.

"He's a good kid that made some mistakes, and he's got to go out there and be consistent on the field and off the field," Stoops said. "He knows that. I like him, but what I like about him right now: He's just going about his business, trying to be the best quarterback he can be, take care of himself off the field. So far so good."

That doesn't mean every day is perfect.

"There's good and bad and there is every day," Stoops said after UK's 11th practice of the spring on Wednesday. "There's days when one or the other does separate himself, but not consistently, not every day. As I said throughout the spring and I saw it again today, we're improving at that position. Both guys are improving."

Improving and taking hold of the job are two different things, though it seems unlikely a decision on a starter is forthcoming based on what Stoops and Dawson are saying.

"It doesn't matter to the point to where I'm going to sit here and I'm stressing about making a decision, because we don't play Saturday," Dawson said. "So that doesn't matter to mean. I mean I'm pleased with where both of them are at. Obviously both of them do some things that are bad at times, but those things are slowly getting less and less."

The Wildcats might not be playing this weekend, but they will hold an open scrimmage at noon on Saturday at Nutter Training Center. The scrimmage will give the staff a chance to evaluate Towles and Barker in a live setting, but it's by no means a be-all, end-all situation.

"It's important, but you're not going to win a job in one day," Towles said. "It's a whole body of work kind of thing and I feel confident about my body of work and I feel confident going forward."

Head coach Mark Stoops


Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson



Two days after Kentucky's first scrimmage of the spring, the Wildcats returned to the practice field on Monday.

Mark Stoops called UK's work on Monday decent, saying the Cats took some time to get their feet under them for the morning practice.

"Started a little sluggish, had to get them going a little bit," Stoops said. "Once we picked up the tempo I thought execution got a little bit better. Defensively probably had a little bit better day today than the offense but got some good work in."

That was a departure from Saturday's scrimmage, when the offense had the upper hand with a number of big plays. In further film review over the weekend, the offense looked as good at it did live.

"I really felt like we did a very good job, for six practices in, offensively," Stoops said. "We had a few pre-snap penalties, a couple holds and like you would anticipate, a few sloppy plays here and there. But overall, the execution and the amount of plays and the versatility of our plays, I thought they were very effective. And I think that's part of the beauty about what Coach Shannon (Dawson) does offensively, keeping it simple within certain personnel matchups."

Dawson was similarly pleased with the Saturday scrimmage, and the same is true about the spring as a whole. In taking over as offensive coordinator for Neal Brown, Dawson hasn't seen as many of the growing pains as he expected.

"We still, we busted a few things today, but overall we haven't really busted signals and everything," Dawson said. "It's been good. We busted a few, mental lapse, just coming out every day and competing at the same level. I thought we had a little lull today with that, but overall, the communication has been good; it hasn't been as frustrating as I thought it would be. Pleased with that."

UK will be back on the field for its eighth practice of the spring on Wednesday morning.

Video: UK football's first spring scrimmage

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Head Coach Mark Stoops did not mince words Wednesday when he voiced being displeased with how the Kentucky football team practiced for the first time since returning from spring break. Stoops gave no excuses and challenged the Wildcats to get better. They answered the bell Friday morning with a spirited session in the Nutter Field House.

"A much more efficient practice today and I felt that the guys had a much better focus about them and competed better," Stoops said. "We executed better and threw and caught the ball well. It was much more competitive plays. It wasn't just one side having success because the other was inept at times. I just felt that today when sides won it was because they made competitive plays. If we work with that kind of mentality and that kind of effort each and every day, we will have a chance to put together a good football team. We have to be consistent and we challenged them to come back tomorrow and have a good practice."

Stoops said the staff was not happy about Wednesday's practice on either side of the ball and the offense made a concerted effort to get the ball downfield more and they achieved that Friday. Although a defensive guy, Stoops was happy to see the offense stretch the field.

"As you know, going back to Wednesday's practice we were just not very efficient on either side of the ball, so today, offensively, we made a conscious effort to get the ball down the field and they did. That is never good if you look at it from a defensive point of view, but I do find myself cheering for the offensive to make competitive plays because if we don't make plays down the field we aren't going to win football games. I just felt there were some very good individual efforts today and the ball was in the right places and we made some plays down the field. So if you are looking for something tomorrow, I hope they don't make as many plays down the field," Stoops joked.

Defensive coordinator/inside linebackers coach D.J. Eliot said Friday was a good day of work for his squad and although they didn't win every battle, he echoed Stoops' praise of the team's overall competitiveness.

"Good practice today, which is good, but we didn't win every battle," Eliot said. "I am one-sided and Coach Stoops isn't. We didn't win every battle on defense and we have to fight to do that and that is our goal, to win our one-on-one matchups. We have to improve on that. Besides that we had a very competitive practice and had our fair share of success and we are looking forward to tomorrow."

The strong practice comes a great time for Kentucky as Stoops and Co. will open up the gates to practice Saturday for fans and media. The open practice will start at 10:30 a.m. ET and is scheduled to take place at the Tim Couch Practice Fields at the Nutter Training Center. Practice may be moved inside to the Nutter Field House. Parking will be available free of charge in the C8 Lot behind the rightfield fence of Cliff Hagan Stadium; E-Lot beside Cliff Hagan Stadium; Small E-lots on Sports Center Drive; Green Lot near Commonwealth Stadium (if practice is moved to the Nutter Field House).

Saturday's practice will mark the sixth of the spring for the Wildcats, who will take the next three weeks to complete the 2015 spring schedule. The Wildcat's last practice is scheduled for April 15.

UK football's first day in pads a success

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Spring practice began in earnest for Kentucky football on Wednesday, as the Wildcats wore pads for the first time.

Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot called it a day of good work, specifically praising the way his defense played in the run game.

"Emphasis was on being physical and for the most part we were able to do that," Eliot said. "Played the run well today."

Wednesday was the first step in a spring-long effort to take UK's physicality to the next level in Mark Stoops' third season as head coach. To continue the growth that carried that Cats from two wins in 2013 to five in 2014, there's no choice in the matter.

"I expect us to be more physical every year," Eliot said. "That's the emphasis. We have to--in this league, that's the key and we're harping on it. Today is first day of pads and we're going to continue to harp on it through the spring."

With the likes of Bud Dupree, Za'Darius Smith and Ashely Lowery having graduated, UK is having to adjust in terms of personnel. That's resulting in some fits and starts, but Eliot isn't concerned.

"You got some new guys in some new spots so still making some assignment mistakes, but nothing that we can't get cleaned up by the end of the spring," Eliot said.

The important thing at this point, says Eliot, is effort. That part the Cats have covered.

"Emphasis on playing with intensity and playing with enthusiasm and running to the football and for the most part we've been able to get that done the first three practices," Eliot said. "Very excited about this group and excited about finishing the work with these guys the rest of the spring."


The Kentucky football team held its second practice of the spring on Monday morning.

To follow up a solid day of work on Saturday, the Wildcats took another step forward.

"Guys had good energy for a Monday morning, came out and had a real good practice," Mark Stoops said. "Still obviously got a lot of work to do, but overall pleased, pleased with their attitude, their effort. Playing a little bit cleaner. There weren't as many footballs on the ground today and execution was a touch better. Just overall pleased with the effort. Continuing to get better and work hard."

Stoops is preparing for his third season as UK head coach and is already noticing growth from his first two springs with his team. The evolution continues.

"It's just another year in the program," Stoops said. "As we would expect, just more progress, more bodies, a little bit cleaner, more efficient in what we're doing. We're certainly further ahead than we were day two last spring, but we should be, and that's good to see."

Under Stoops, UK has been blessed with continuity on the coaching staff for the most part, but a new face has been added to the equation this spring. Shannon Dawson is replacing Neal Brown as offensive coordinator and though two coaches' scheme is similar, there's learning to be done.

That's especially true when it comes to communication.

"They're getting signals from me, and then they're communicating with the group," Dawson said of quarterbacks Patrick Towles and Drew Barker. "That's all like learning a new language. It's like if I told you to learn Spanish in two days. That'd be tough, right? I mean just communication is -- and you've got some miscommunication. You've got the quarterback flashing signals quickly to the receiver and the receiver not getting it, which is typical."



UK football held its first practice of the Spring on Saturday morning. Check out what Mark Stoops had to say about a productive day right here.

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