Spring Failures Paving Way for Fall Successes for UK QBs

Learning the system of new offensive coordinator Eddie Gran and the approach of quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw, mistakes are inevitable for Kentucky’s quarterbacks.

In fact, they’re embraced.

The way Hinshaw sees it, Wildcat signal callers are failing now so they can succeed in the fall.

“It's like riding a bike,” Hinshaw said. “They're gonna have to fall down before they're gonna get good at riding wheelies and doing stunts and all that kind of stuff.”

At this early juncture of spring practice, slip-ups are still common.

"We're still in the infant stages right now,” Hinshaw said. “We have progressed from Day 1 to Day 3. The goal is to go from Day 1 to Day 15 and really progress so that we can go into the summer and then we're gonna re-install and re-go through everything and detail it even more.”

The idea of that installation process is to equip UK’s quarterbacks with everything they need to attack opposing defenses. Hinshaw – clearly a fan of analogies – put it another

“You have to have plays that can pull from, from your toolbox, to go attack different defenses at different times,” Hinshaw said. “So we're gonna build our toolbox so we have tools that we're able to go work with, and once we've got the toolbox built, we're gonna get good at using those tools, and that's gonna take time and process, but we're in the process of doing that right now."

And in Hinshaw’s mind, there’s no tool more important to a quarterback than his footwork.

Hinshaw has noticed some issues with accuracy early in the spring, issues he believes can be linked directly with the way UK’s quarterbacks are moving their feet. The former quarterbacks coach at Cincinnati and Tennessee has gone to work addressing that, which marks a change in philosophy for his new pupils.

“I don't know what they've done in the past, but their footwork wasn't where it needs to me,” Hinshaw said. “What I mean by that is what I coach is not taking big steps in the pocket. When you take big steps, you're not able to throw the whole time that you're stepping, OK?

“So I teach 'em to take smaller steps so they're feet are underneath them, and they've got to be able to move their feet quick in the pocket to be able to deliver the ball.”

Hinshaw is willing to go to any lengths necessary to teach that, even if it means literally throwing tackling dummies. That might seem a little silly, but Hinshaw needs only reference Gunner Kiel – who threw for 50 touchdowns over the last two seasons under Hinshaw and Gran at Cincinnati – and another even more famous believer.

“When we’re doing them, it’s not just we’re doing drills to do drills,” Hinshaw said. “We’re doing drills we actually use. When I’m throwing dummies at them and they’re having to get out of the way, then I show them a clip of Drew Brees having a linebacker fly right at his face. He gets out of the way and throws a completion.”

Hinshaw doesn’t yet know who will be putting the lessons learned in those drills into action on opening day, as his quarterbacks are still competing for the starting job. Redshirt sophomore Drew Barker and junior-college transfer Stephen Johnson are getting the most reps, but early enrollee Gunnar Hoak, redshirt freshman walk-on Davis Mattingly and Cincinnati transfer Luke Wright are in the mix, though Wright will sit out this season.

“They're all at the same level as far as learning,” Hinshaw said. “Now, you got different maturity levels, obviously, with Drew and with Gunnar Hoak. Gunnar still should be in high school, and he's doing a good job of learning for where he's at. They're all gonna have a little bit different learning styles, so I've got to learn them as we're going, too, on how they learn and how I coach them and what to do.”

Mark Stoops, Gran and Hinshaw aren’t going to rush decisions between quarterbacks. The spring is about getting better, no matter what it takes.

“The whole key is to be comfortable at being uncomfortable,” Hinshaw said. “We have to be comfortable at being uncomfortable in the pocket. If you get so comfortable back there and then they bring a blitz, and you threw a ball 50 feet over the receiver’s head because you’re not used to being uncomfortable, that’s what’s happened here in the past.

“That’s what I’ve got to get them to understand: We’ve got to complete that ball even though the linebacker is in our face. So we’re going to be doing drills and all kind of things to get them to understand. Then we’ve got to go play the game, because at the end of the day we’ve got to go play the game. So, as much reps as we can get it’s going to make us better and better.”