Towles, Barker both improved as QB competition begins

Patrick Towles has his coach’s admiration.

Two years ago the redshirt junior not only lost the quarterback battle, but was also beaten out for the backup spot. Instead of sulking, he went to work.

On the strength of that work, Towles won the starting job last year. Getting the lion’s share of the playing time, Towles showed his talent and at times produced at a high level in leading UK to a three-win improvement in 2014.

Logically, he seemed primed for a breakout in 2015 if he took care of business again.

“I could go back to the story when he was named to third team and a high profile talented quarterback could have put his head down and walked away and quit, and all he did was get better,” Stoops said. “I've asked him to get better from last year to this year, and that's what he's done.”

Combine all that and it sounds like Kentucky has a shoo-in starting quarterback heading into fall camp, but that’s not quite the case. Drew Barker has refused to make thing so easy.

“I think it's more of a compliment to Drew and his capabilities than anything negative in Patrick, because Patrick has done everything we've asked him to do,” Stoops said. “He's getting better. I think he's going to have a great year. But I feel, again, I go to Drew and the good things he's done. He deserves that opportunity, and we're going to get a good look at him.”

And so, for the third time in as many seasons, Stoops has a decision to make in August.

Does he go with the veteran who accounted for 20 touchdowns and more than 3,000 yards in 2014? Or does he opt for the redshirt freshman who came to Lexington a prized recruit?

“Nothing's going to be given to you in this program,” Stoops said. “You're going to earn it. You're going to work for it. I've made no bones about it.”

Towles, even though he’s the incumbent, has no issue with that and is taking nothing for granted in spite of the fact that Stoops has proclaimed him the leader in the clubhouse to win the job.

“If it’s a quarterback competition, it’s a quarterback competition,” Towles said. “I’ve been in one since I’ve been here. You treat everything like it is. I go out today like I need to win the job, like I don’t have it right now.”

Towles has had that approach throughout the offseason, whether he’s studied film or been in the weight room. The 6-foot-5, 240-pounder has made gains most notably in one area.

“I needed to be more accurate with the football,” Towles said. “And I’ve done that.”

Barker, meanwhile, spent time this offseason with quarterback guru Bob House in California. House has worked with the likes of Drew Brees and Tom Brady and helped Barker realize he was too reliant on his upper body, which led to arm and shoulder pain.

“Throwing is just a series of movements,” Barker said. “Disassociating my hips with my shoulders, getting my hips to transition the power through the throw. My arm motion looks the same. It’s just trying to generate more power with my hips.”

Away from football, Barker has focused on maturity. The Burlington, Ky., made headlines for the wrong reason as a freshman with a pair of off-field incidents. Stoops said Barker has done everything that has been asked of him since, while new offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson has been consistently impressed with his pupil.

“I’m glad I’m not judged on what I did at 18 and 19,” Dawson said. “That was my overall theme to him at the beginning. I’m not here to have a preconceived notion about people. I’m here to give people opportunities. The kid’s a great kid, he’s a talented kid. His maturity since I’ve got here has grown. You can put him in those positions more and more, and he’s going to get better in every situation – socially, athletically, everything. The kid has grown leaps and bounds like we all did at that age.”

Dawson has impressed the quarterbacks as well.

Though his scheme is similar to Neal Brown’s, Dawson’s approach is different.

“Coach Dawson’s played the position,” Towles said. “So he can offer kind of a new perspective to it. He’s all about what we see there. He’s not out there making the decisions like we are. He’s all about us doing stuff and if it’s working we’ll keep it, but if it’s not we’ll fix it. I like that philosophy a lot.”

Having played quarterback at Wingate University before eventually becoming offensive coordinator at West Virginia, Dawson doesn’t try to pretend he can understand everything quarterbacks face on a given snap. As a result, he knows he can’t expect them to be robots.

“I think it’s kind of a soothing mechanism to those guys mentally to just relax and understand that maybe that throw that that kid made is not something that looks good to me, and I’m going to go through my progression to get it to this guy,” Dawson said. “I just think that ultimately your job as a quarterback is to distribute the ball, to put the ball in play. And so if you get that done, then that’s a plus. I want you to be an individual out there.”

Now it’s time to find out who that individual will be on Sept. 5.

“It could work its way out in one day,” Stoops said. “It could work its way out in two practices, it could work its way out in two weeks or through the first game. I don't know.”