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Offensive coordinator Neal Brown with quarterbacks Maxwell Smith, Drew Barker, Reese Phillips and Patrick Towles. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Offensive coordinator Neal Brown with quarterbacks Maxwell Smith, Drew Barker, Reese Phillips and Patrick Towles. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Mark Stoops and Neal Brown didn't miss a chance in spring practice to say that UK would be improved at quarterback this season.

Even so, Brown left the four contenders to start at the position with a simple directive during the summer months: improve even more.

"I really wanted to see from the end of April from the spring game until when we started on Monday, was how much (more) they improved fundamentally because I gave them a lot of different things to work on," Brown said.

A week into fall camp, no decision has been made at quarterback. What is clear, however, is that Patrick Towles, Reese Phillips, Drew Barker and Maxwell Smith completed their offseason assignment.

"The guys have really done a nice job," Stoops said at Media Day. "They're better rounded, and I expect them to go out and play well. I think we have good competition there. They're all doing some good things. They're not perfect, but they're much improved."

Towles, to start with, has continued to speed his release, according to Brown. A combination of mental and fundamental work has been the driving force behind that.

"With making decisions, that comes from just understanding the offense," Towles said. "You know the offense better, you know when people are going to come open, you know where people are at. So then it's easier to get the ball out. And then fundamentally, last year my release was too long, so even if I made a quick decision it still might have taken a little bit for the ball to get there. Now my release is quicker and I have a better understanding of the offense to where I'm on time all the time."

Phillips, praised repeatedly as the most consistent quarterback of the bunch, has upped his arm strength. Like Towles, that's due in large part to a team-wide focus on fundamentals.

"My drops have become a lot faster," Phillips said. "With that, I can use my legs more. I don't have to rely on just using my arm."

Along those same lines, Barker has cut down on the mistakes that plagued him in the spring, when he arrived a semester early after graduating high school in December. Even though Barker reported he led the quarterbacks in touchdown passes during spring practice, he also threw the most interceptions.

"In the spring, I was learning something in the meeting room 15, 20 minutes before practice and then I would go out and have to do it against a live SEC defense," Barker said. "Sometimes, to be honest, I wouldn't know what I was doing. This summer, I really sat down and studied the playbook; tried to learn more about defense, coverages, blitzes, stuff like that; and just make better reads and be more confident in my decisions."

Smith, practicing fully every other day, has been more effective throwing the ball over the middle of the field.

"My mindset is just to come out every single day, work as hard as I can, do everything the coaches ask, help the guys around me, not just these quarterbacks, but everybody else, making sure they know what they're doing and make our team as good as we can be," Smith said.

Though Smith -- the veteran of the group -- is committed to helping his team, don't mistake that for a concession. He's out to win this ongoing battle.

"If I didn't have my eyes on the job, I might as well just call it quits now, in my opinion," Smith said. "Of course I've got my eyes on the job. I'm not the kind of person that's just going to lay down and just hand it over, like 'you guys can take it now.' That's not me. That's not who I am."

Smith is wise not to give in because Stoops says the competition remains "wide open," though that figures to change quickly.

Over the first days of practice, coaches avoided turning the intensity in practice up to the highest level due to a study by High Performance coach Erik Korem that revealed more injuries occurring during finals week. With summer classes now over, that will change with a practice on Friday afternoon and two more on Saturday.

"Now we're going to pick up starting this afternoon and do a lot of good on goods, throw our quarterbacks in a lot of different situations," Brown said. "I hope within the next five or seven days, one of those guys (is) going to stand out."

Each of the four quarterbacks hopes to be the one, but they know getting caught up in that will do them no good.

"Every week is a big week," Towles said. "The spring was the biggest spring of my life. Each practice, the next practice is the most important practice. Each play, the next play is the most important play. So I really can't think about two days from now. I gotta think about today. We've got practice at 3. I'm just worried about that."

Brown has done everything in his power to give the quarterbacks plenty to worry about in practice.

"In the spring, I took this approach," Brown said. "We're going to have fun. We're going to enjoy this. Focus on getting better, you individually getting better. ... Now I'm telling them, hey, we're looking for a guy to win the job. Go win the job. Everything that you do during the course of a practice is getting judged. Yeah, you'd better have fun with it, but understand we are keeping score."

With more third-down work, lots of talk and harder coaching, Brown is trying to simulate the pressure whoever wins the job will face on game day.

"I think it's just the intensity from Coach Brown is a lot higher now than it has ever been," Phillips said. "He's an intense person, but at the same time he kind of knows how to keep us relaxed. Now he's not doing that. He's trying to get in our heads. When we do blitz or team, he tries to put in situations to where it's going to be hard and we have to overcome stuff."

Clearly, Brown has no intention of making it to the season opener on Aug. 30 with no quarterback taking hold of the starting position like last season. Stoops, however, won't make a decision until it's appropriate, regardless what happened a year ago.

"Right now it's just too even," Stoops said. "I've said it before, it would be too reckless just to make a decision because I want to make a decision and not answer those questions. I'm not going to do that. It's not fair to the players. It's not fair to our team. It's not fair to the future of our program."

Video: Brown, Eliot preview season at media day

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Offensive coordinator Neal Brown


Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot


Video: Stoops' media day press conference

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Video: Barnhart's media day press conference

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Video: UK football media day press conference

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Before head coach Mark Stoops even stepped up to the podium to recap Wednesday's practice, one could conclude the early-morning session wasn't up to the second-year head coach's standards.

"Average practice today. Not good enough. Just didn't feel like we had the mentality that we needed. I don't know. Too early in camp for guys to be feeling sorry about themselves getting up early," Stoops said.

The Wildcats practiced for the third - and final - time this fall in the early-morning sunlight due to an overlap between fall camp and summer classes. Stoops, however, wasn't willing to point to that as an excuse.

"You know I'm not giving them any place to hide," Stoops said. "Not good enough. Just not tough enough, not enough energy, weren't clean enough in our execution on either side of the ball. So, just wasn't good enough."

Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot echoed Stoops' words, adding with the team putting on shoulder pads for the first time he was expecting an energetic session.

"First day of pads and we didn't play physical, that is disappointing," Eliot said. "I was (surprised) because they haven't put pads on in a long time. So I thought they would be excited and flying around and that we would have to slow them down not speed them up."

But out of the haze of a disappointing practice, Stoops and Eliot hope leaders emerge. Both coaches said they will lean on the team's leaders to get the team to regroup for meetings and walk-throughs Wednesday afternoon and Thursday with no full practice scheduled for Thursday.

"Leaders have to do what is right, not what is popular," Eliot said. "We need guys to stand up and point out what guys are doing wrong and not care what other people think, those will be your leaders."

When asked if Stoops and Eliot feel they have those type of leaders on the team this season, both said yes without hesitation. 

"They know it wasn't good enough," Stoops said. "I told them it wasn't good enough. We'll correct them in meetings. We'll get out here and have walk-throughs. We'll push them and we'll do what we need to do, but we absolutely need leadership in our program to take charge."

On the injury front, Stoops announced after practice that true freshman safety Darius West will miss the rest of the season due to injury. West, from Central Catholic High School in Lima, Ohio, was a four-star recruit by nearly every recruiting database.

"He got hurt yesterday," Stoops said. "So, it's a real shame. He's a good player. He's everything we thought he was going to be. He's a really talented football player. He came in with an injury and we thought it was healed up. But it didn't work out, so he'll be out for the year."


After UK's first practice of fall camp on Monday, Mark Stoops pointed out there were some areas to "clean up" on offense on an otherwise encouraging day.

In another early-morning practice on Tuesday, the Wildcats took a step in the right direction.

Settling in on the second day of fall camp, UK executed much more cleanly, particularly in the passing game, while sustaining the energy displayed the day before.

"I thought we were nervous day one, especially the new guys, the freshmen, and it showed," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "We dropped some passes. But we caught the ball really well today. I don't anticipate that being an issue at all, like it was at times last year. During team period, we may have had one drop. I don't anticipate that being a problem going forward."

Five members of UK's highly touted incoming class are wide receivers, giving UK much-needed depth at a position that severely lacked it a season ago. So far, Brown has been encouraged by the group.

"Really, really excited about some of the young freshmen wideouts," Brown said. "They're catching on quicker. The new rules in the summer obviously helped us."

Asked for detail on which of the five impressed him, Brown named Dorian Baker and Blake Bone, "the two big kids."

"We need those guys," Brown said. "We need length. I talked about it in detail last year: we need some guys with some size. I've been impressed with those guys. Dorian probably had a better day one than day two, but excited about both those."

Big receivers like Baker and Bone, 6-foot-3 and 6-5, respectively, can be safety blankets for a quarterback. Considering UK will play with a first-time full-time starter at quarterback whether Patrick Towles, Reese Phillips, Drew Barker or Maxwell Smith wins the job, that's a plus.

Speaking of those signal callers, there's still no word of any separation in the battle between them. Brown, however, did give some insight into how he's applying the added pressure on the quarterbacks he said he would.

"The defenses kind of installs how they're going to install, so we're seeing the pressure packages at kind of a normal rate, but really I'm keeping track of every throw they make," Brown said. "I'm talking about it, talking about situational football a lot, probably coaching them harder and being more intense with them early in camp than I normally am."

Those quarterbacks are working in a slightly simplified system this fall, with most calls featuring one word and one syllable. That, along with a full year of experience in Brown's offense and a summer of film study, is helping ramp up the pace in practice.

"When you're trying to play fast -- and we weren't capable of playing as fast as we would like last year, because guys were thinking," Brown said. "They'd have to think about alignments and assignments. Now it's more natural. They're used to getting signals. They're used to getting lined up fast, used to operating fast."

Even playing at that pace, Brown has liked what he's seen from the offensive linemen who redshirted a season ago as well as freshman running backs Mikel Horton and Stanley "Boom" Williams. But on Wednesday, they'll be subjected to another kind of test. That's when the pads go on.

"So overall, two productive days, but we are playing flag football," Brown said. "Tomorrow the truth will be shown."

Video from day one of fall camp

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Stoops gets it started


Quarterbacks get in work


New arrival Flannigan learning on the fly

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Ryan Flannigan. (Photo via Blinn College) Ryan Flannigan. (Photo via Blinn College)
Even compared to his fellow newcomers in UK's record-setting 2014 recruiting class, junior-college transfer Ryan Flannigan is facing lofty expectations.

Playing linebacker -- one of the thinnest positions on the roster -- Flannigan is projected by many as an immediate contributor.

Flannigan isn't shying away from his potential importance -- he came to Kentucky in part because of the prospect of early playing time -- but he also knows he has a long way to go.

"I figured I was pretty important," Flannigan said on the first day of fall camp, "but I'm not important if I don't know what I'm doing."

On that front, Flannigan is playing catchup.

Twenty-six of his 27 fellow newcomers were on campus over the summer, but Flannigan only arrived this past weekend. He missed out on the time his teammates spent in the film room and Mark Stoops confirmed Flannigan is behind.

"I'm just trying to learn each positon at the linebacker position, take it day by day," the former Blinn College standout said. "I felt like today I did pretty good learning the new stuff. So, first day, it was great, I'd say."

Had it not been for all the work Flannigan logged this summer, he might have been singing a different tune. Flannigan, aware of what he was missing in UK's High Performance strength and conditioning program, put himself through a rigorous running routine.

"I didn't want to be out of breath and not conditioned well and stuff like that," Flannigan said. "I just really wanted to stay in shape because I knew there's a lot of running in the SEC and I knew I had to get my running right. So I just ran a lot. A lot a lot. And I lifted weights too."

When he wasn't training at his high school in Missouri City, Texas, you likely would have found Flannigan either eating or studying film defensive coordinator and linebackers coach D.J. Eliot sent him. Based on that independent film study, Eliot would then ask Flannigan questions over the phone.

"He quizzed me," Flannigan said. "I passed a couple of tests. But yeah, he quizzed me. Coach Eliot's been great. I'm happy to have him as a coach. He stuck with me all through the summer. He didn't just leave me out to dry. He made sure I knew everything I needed to know and he just said I need to execute my job."

On day one, Flannigan lined up at weakside linebacker. Early returns were positive.

"Did a good job," Eliot said. "He's very athletic, caught on quick. It's what he needed to do, so I was impressed with him on the first day."

Still, Flannigan has lots of work ahead. To get it done, he plans to call on the help of anyone who will answer.

"I'm asking linebackers, defensive line," Flannigan said. "I mean, (anything) I'm confused with I'm asking everybody I can, everybody I can get my hands on I'm asking questions because I know that's the only way to get better. They know the defense and I don't and I have to stick with somebody that knows it."

Though he'll use every resource available to him, Flannigan knows Eliot is his best bet.

"It's not going to be easy, but we will get it done," Flannigan said. "I will stay in Coach's pocket, I'll stay in his hip and we're going to get it done."

UK gets head start on first day of fall camp

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Alarms sounded early for the Kentucky football team - 5 a.m. ET in Bud Dupree's case - as UK opened fall camp with a 6 a.m. practice

While most other teams were still sleeping, the Wildcats were working without pads on the fields at the Nutter Training Facility.

"It was good to get out here," Mark Stoop said. "Good first day. I really liked the energy for an early morning practice. I thought we did a good job defensively, great communication, good competitive plays. Need to continue to clean up offensively like you'd suspect, a little rusty, but overall good first day."

A later end to summer classes is the reason behind the morning practices Monday through Thursday, but the Cats didn't let the early wakeup call affect them. In fact, they hardly remembered practice started well before sunrise by the time it ended.

"We did pretty good for it being so early," Bud Dupree said. "The hardest part was waking up and once we got up it felt like a real day. It feels late right now to me. ... Every guy was excited to be here and that's always great."

Not only were they excited, they were also prepared. With more than a year and a half of instruction from Stoops and his staff under their belts, the Cats have come a long way since last fall in terms of knowing schemes and assignments.

"It's way easier," Dupree said. "I know what they expect. I know what to do. I know the playbook inside and out. So my biggest key is staying healthy on the field and just better at the small things each day. I'm just trying to progress each day and be great for my team."

Two springs and a full season of practices obviously make a difference, but Stoops says the work his team did this summer can't be forgotten either.

"I think obviously year two helps a great amount just because (players) are just familiar with how we practice, and then also the work that we did through the summer, that the players did, and the film study that we did with them," Stoops said. "You could tell that we're further along."

The same is true from a physical perspective. Add the highest-rated recruiting class in school history to a group that has transformed in UK's High Performance program and you have a team beginning to resemble what Stoops envisioned when he took over.

"You know with the addition of the freshmen even -- you know how it is in the spring, you're always a little bit thin in the spring -- so seeing the whole crew here and the depth that we have, we're getting there," Stoops said. "Obviously, it's tough as you know, to count on too many young guys, but definitely they'll be here to give us some depth and help out."

Stoops mentioned defensive tackle Matt Elam as a potential early contributor. Dupree can see why.

"Just by looking at him, he will be a great bulldozer," Dupree said. "Anytime he's in, I think people will have to account for him. He's just gotta keep progressing each day and he'll be pretty good."

Elam was one of 26 newcomers on campus over the summer, using the time to work his way into shape. Junior college linebacker Ryan Flannigan - who arrived over the weekend - didn't have that luxury, but he wasted no time jumping in with his new teammates.

"Fun," Flannigan said, describing his first practice at UK. "I was happy to be back playing football, honestly. It was a great day for me, great day for the team, great practice. We got better today. Even though it was my first day, I feel like we got better today because we ran fast, we went to the ball. Everybody was running. The sideline was hyped when the first(-team) defense was out there."

UK's linebacking corps is thin, meaning Flannigan will be a boost if he's ready to play immediately, but it's still too early for Stoops to say which newcomers will play.

"Certainly after day one it's too hard to make that decision," Stoops said. "They're a good-looking group. They are, for the most part, very mature and handled themselves the right way. They've been doing a good job this summer. We'll see where it goes. It's hard to tell. I think there's certain positions where we need to use them."

Stoops on quarterbacks


Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot



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