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Barker Hasn’t Missed a Beat; Stephen Johnson’s Greatest Improvement

Kentucky’s top two quarterbacks are off to a fantastic start at fall training camp.  Stephen Johnson has taken steps forward while Drew Barker has returned to the player he was before his injury.

After an exceptional performance at Saturday’s open practice, offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said he doesn’t notice a difference between the Barker he sees now, and the one that earned the starting spot at camp a year ago prior to his season-ending back injury.

“I don’t.  That’s been really encouraging. He’s doing everything right,” Gran said. “Coach Hinshaw is doing a great job of getting him doing grass drills, some stuff where he’s actually going and twisting and getting on the ground, without him being hit.  It’s been really good so far.”

The person currently holding the title of “QB1” has taken notice as well.

“He looks really good.  I mean, just with his passes, especially today with the seven-on-seven period we had, he looked really well,” Johnson said.  “He just got the ball down the field and scored a touchdown.”

The added competition is not a threat to Johnson.  A person who is not affected by pressure, he sees depth as a positive.

“To have a guy right there with me, for us to be able to really push each other, really helps out…just to have that competition really drives everybody to do better.”

He ain’t lying.  Johnson needed to use the offseason to improve in intermediate passing.  Gran said today the most improved part of Johnson’s game is in his intermediate throws.  It’s opened up the middle of the field and created new opportunities for the offense.

“Space is the name of the game.  If those guys can go in there and work linebackers and work the nickel players, and we can be consistent at that, we’ll be a lot better,” Gran said.

Johnson knows how important it is to be able to find guys like C.J. Conrad and Juice Johnson in important situations, a focus of today’s practice.

“They’re are extremely important,” Johnson said.  “Those are drive extenders.  To be able to hit third-and-six, third-and-eight passes, instead of having to punt the ball.  Those extend drives and give our defense a little bit more more time to recover and gives us an opportunity to score the ball.”

Regardless of your opinion on UK’s top two quarterbacks, there’s one certainty: quarterback play in 2017 will be the best it’s been in Lexington in a long time.

Article written by Nick Roush

"Look upon the doughnut, and not upon the hole." @RoushKSR

45 responses to “Barker Hasn’t Missed a Beat; Stephen Johnson’s Greatest Improvement”

  1. katfan33

    It’s nice to have both! I just hope the fans don’t start pushing for Barker if/when Johnson throws his first pick or has an off game. Johnson is the guy and needs to be the guy unless something goes WAY off the tracks. Go Cats

    1. chris gettelfinger is not walking through that door

      I’m more worried about the fumbling problem he had last year raising it’s ugly head, but they’ve been working on his strength and ball control, so hopefully that issue has been resolved.


    2. TBW3011

      He doesn’t need to be the guy. Whoever gives us the best chance to win needs to be the guy. Makes no difference to me who that is, but QB play must improve from last year for this team to be better.

  2. daddy43040

    Really seems like every year we hear all iffseason how much better our qb looks

    1. maximumscott

      Wrong. Last year no praise given to johnson (work in progress) barker was good in practice last year. However, i do remember the coaches honestly complaining about effort and loafing and the defense not showing up all camp. Seems to me that the leadership from the Seniors have fallen down the ranks and everyone is taking the camp seriously. Hence, lack of mental errors and being further ahead. One thing I like about Stoops amd Co. is that they wont fill heads with false hope. They compliment when deserved and are open about short comings. Its the media who focus on all of what you speak.

  3. maximumscott

    Cbssports already out with the practice report.

  4. maximumscott

    This will be a year to remember. 9-3 and we win SEC East.

    1. Booby Petrino

      wondering if I should have some of what you’re smoking or if I want to stay far away from it. I love UK but, 9-3 isn’t happening.

    2. maximumscott

      It is possible. Honestly, the road to SEC East comes through Lex. The UF game is the most important. UGA has a super tough conference schedule. UFs is way easier playing tougher opponents at home. We could still lose UGA and win East with a head to head against UF and other wins obviously. 9-3 isnt smoking anything. I see 9 wins on the board if we are an improved team. Worse case is 8-4.

    3. Luether

      Very optimistic – hope you’re right…

  5. damage_control

    Barker hasn’t missed a beat? He missed pretty much all of last year (he was 0-2 on the way to 0-3 when he went down), and he had one good half in the time he did play. I don’t want him on the field as long as Johnson is healthy. I don’t care how good Barker looks in practice. I saw Johnson do it on the field with way more consistency, and the offense was still pretty fun to watch.

    Benny, Conrad and the O-Line should be the main offensive tools. Johnson just needs to avoid fumbles, hit mid range throws and connect on an occasional deep bomb to make their offense good.

    1. chris gettelfinger is not walking through that door

      I agree with much of that, but didn’t Barker get injured in the Southern Miss game, and then got it worse against Florida? I may be wrong, but I seem to remember hearing last year that his original injury was in the first game, hence the lack of production in the 2nd half. Granted, that doesn’t explain our defense completely taking the gas pipe in the 2nd half against SM.

    2. damage_control

      Supposedly he did get injured in the Southern Miss game. I shouldn’t have sounded so down on Drew, but to me his play is kind of irrelevant because Johnson came in and won the spot hands-down. A lot of the credit goes to him and also Eddie Gran for what seemed like a complete restructure of the offense; allowing Boom, Benny, and Kemp to run wild. More will be asked of Johnson with the loss of Boom and Kemp, but I like the run-first offense. I don’t want them to go back to an air-raid style offense this year and with Barker, I think that’s more likely. They need to use their strengths, O-Line, Benny, and Conrad.

    3. damage_control

      I wouldn’t be too surprised to see Lynn Bowden in the Wildcat formation a lot this year too. I’m really excited to see what Gran comes up with to utilize all his talents too.

  6. secrick

    That’s right he got hurt in the first half of the first game and was on fire until he got hurt. Johnson is the man but i think Barker is a better QB.

    1. damage_control

      Okay maybe, but you say Barker’s a better QB based on what exactly? Star rating coming out of HS? That one half against a team that he should’ve excelled against? He’s barely thrown 100 passes (50% completion %), and 5 TDs in his entire UK career.

    2. TBW3011

      You say Johnson is better based on what? A couple deep throws, missing wide open receivers 8 yards away and being a turnover machine?

    3. damage_control

      Seriously?? I have to remind you?? Unbelievable but okay- starting with the game that he was thrown into down a touchdown vs NMSU, 17-22, 310 yds passing, 3 TD/0 INT, 50 rushing yds, qb rating 240. Mississippi St. 17-33, 300 yds passing, 2 TD/0 INT qb rating 145.8. And of course (since you obviously forgot one of the biggest wins and performances in recent UK football history) against UofL 16-27, 338 yds passing, 3 TD/1 INT, 83 yds rushing, 193 qb rating.

    4. damage_control

      Btw- I still haven’t heard what you’re basing your assertion that Barker’s better on? Care to make a legitimate rgument or you just want me to continue spoon feeding you information that proves my point?

  7. BobNWeaver

    A 9-3 record is possible. But a 5-7 record is also possible. I am expecting a 7-5 season but preparing for a 6-6 season.

    1. damage_control

      What, no 8-4 contingencies?

  8. shelby

    Actually barker went into the first game with a bad back and tried to play through it. He was fantastic against so miss until he took a hit that hurt him more and aggravated the injury. He was not the same after halftime. He tried to tough it out and keep playing but finally had to give in to the pain after he took another big hit against florida. He won the job fair and square last year; i love johnson, but if u look at his stats, he was very mediocre with the exception on one or two games, most notaboy against louisville. We won 7 games primarily because boom and benny were crazy good. Not because johnson was a great qb.

    1. UK Fan In Nashville


    2. UK Fan In Nashville

      I was at the Southern Miss game. Barker was unstoppable in the first half. It seemed like something switched at halftime, though. I think the coaches knew he was injured because they started to go away from the pass, saving it for third and long. We became one-dimensional in the second half and they just plain beat us. Johnson did a lot of good things but I still think Barker is the better quarterback when healthy.

    3. BBNDan7

      This is all true, however in my personal opinion, and I’m not a coach so it doesn’t even matter, I tend to lean more towards dual threat QB’s. Seems in this day and age all the best teams have dual threat qbs and Johnson is better in that department when he isn’t fumbling.

    4. damage_control

      The offense relied more on its strengths after Barker went down (running). That included running with Johnson who had over 300 yds on the ground in addition to over 2000 in the air. Why anybody puts more weight on of ONE HALF of a game against a below average team that Barker ended up losing instead of Johnson’s 7-3 record is beyond me!

    5. TBW3011

      Johnson wasn’t 7-3. Assigning records to one guy is laughable. The offensive philosophy totally changed when he took over. It changed for a reason. To hide him.

    6. damage_control

      Barker has 5 TDs and 7 INTs and a 50% completion percentage in his time at UK.. How the heck are you ready to throw him in over the guy who beat Louisville on their home field and won more SEC games than anyone in a long time?!

    7. JusSayin

      Well the hell with Johnson then! Barker played a great half of football against Southern Miss HE should be starting. Not this lame guy who has the best record as a starter since Andre Woodson.

    8. TBW3011

      Yes. Absolutely. Not sure why more can’t recognize this. He was average. Which isn’t a bad think for a back up that gets thrown in the fire. He did his job. Now if he’s going to be the guy this year he needs to be much better. He’s no longer the backup.

    9. damage_control

      TBW – obviously sarcasm isn’t your strong suit

    10. BBNDan7

      Being competent isn’t his strong suit either

  9. 2thepoint

    The team supposedly improved from last year. The talent level has improved every year under stoops, but he still has to rely upon his early classes a good deal of the time. Even so the offense should be better this year and hopefully the defense will be much better this year too. Trying to predict wins and losses are futile. Sure somebody will be right guessing the win/loss record. Upgrades in talent, strength, maturity and coaching continuity should make UK a better team whether it shows up in wins is still to be determined.
    The comment that we should run the ball more gets a “no” from me. They should mix things up, but to me the run on 1st down is the most wasted play in football. A team has to make 10 yards which is easier with the pass. Now that they say the tight ends will get more touches should help in that regard. After a sizeable gain then run or pass, but please do more passing on 1st down than they have in the past.

    1. damage_control

      Yea- no need to keep doing what works utilizing the best parts of your team. Awesome strategery

  10. BLUEsky

    My hope is both can get playing time this year, if there isn’t a clear winner for the #1 job in practice. I’m a Stephen Johnson fan like everyone else, but I’m also high on DB. I think the first half of SM last year is the real Drew Barker. I was there. He was unstoppable. I was ready to put him on the Tim Couch pedestal. Then the second half happened. I’ve had a severe back injury myself. My guess is it stiffened up on him at halftime. 2nd half was very obvious something was wrong. The rest is history.

    Flame on, but IMHO this is Couch/Kelly Holcomb all over again, except it is here in Kentucky and not Cleveland. Holcomb took advantage of the opportunity that presented itself. But, history has proven he never should have been the starter.

    We are never going to know how good Drew can be until he gets some PT.

    If I were coach (go ahead and laugh), every time SJ fumbles I would sit him out at least one series. See what happens. If Drew lights it up, leave him in to finish. If not, bring SJ back in. Good way to teach SJ to hang on to the football, and gets Drew some PT to see what he can do. Win Win.

    1. az1006

      Stephen Johnson is the starter and has earned it. I hate for Barker that he got hurt and that led to him losing the job, but that’s football…Drew Bledsoe got hurt and in comes an unknown by the name of Tom Brady. The rest is history. Am I saying Johnson is anywhere in the same stratosphere? Not in the least. But, he’s proven he can run the offense, he’s proven he has a short memory, and he’s proven he can win games. Barker has done none of the above, even when healthy.

      Johnson has struggled fumbling the ball, but again, he’s never let it affect the way he plays. Time and time again he’s proven he can fight through adversity and lead this team despite some mistakes. He’s earned it. I hate it for Barker that he lost the job due to injury, but Johnson proved over and over again he was up to the challenge and it is his job to lose. I, personally, don’t think he will, and continuity is always a plus. Changing QBs just because of one mistake is going to end up causing more harm than good. To me, the most important stat is W’s…Johnson has far more of those under his belt than Barker.

    2. TBW3011

      Maybe a longer memory would help. Remember to stop fumbling?

    3. 3Goggles

      You know what they say, if you think you have two QB’s then you really have none.

  11. Kindergarten Cop

    Here’s the truth – A lot of people were ready to bench Johnson until the Louisville game. With that being said he’s a tough kid that is a game manager. Our offense didn’t have an identity until he took over.

    Drew Barker must be one hell of a practice player because he has done nothing for all this hype. I am serious…Think about it. One half against Southern Miss where everyone was wide open doesn’t mean he’s good.

    I think we should roll with Johnson as long as we can. He’s tough and plays great on the road. He may not make the throws Barker makes in practice but he is a better football player IMO

  12. PillsburyThrowboy

    Sorry, I can’t read this article because my brain is having an aneurysm with all these videos popping in my face and advertisements covering the screen.

    1. Razor Ramon

      Upgrade your PC from the 1996 Compaq Presario you have…

    2. Luether

      Get an add blocker…

  13. CatsfaninFL

    I don’t care what game or part of life you are in, but you don’t throw away something that’s working. Was Johnson perfect last year? Nope. But we won 7 games, beat our rival/Heisman QB, and went to the Gator Bowl. You have to go with the guy who got you over the hump. We were 0-2, staring squarely at 0-3 against an awful NM team before him. I want Drew to be the guy as much as every other Kentuckian, but come on. You don’t take out what’s working. Now if Johnson falters, fine. Go for it. But so far Barker hasn’t been what we thought he would be in games (injury or not). Johnson has. Period.

    1. TBW3011

      Boom is gone and Benny isn’t a QB. We can’t go with the guy(s) that got us over the hump. For God sakes. It drives me nuts how much credit/blame a QB gets. We won by finding an identity and running it down people’s throats. Not because Johnson was under center. We have plenty of guys who can turn around and hand it off. We need someone to makes simple and accurate throws. If Johnson can do it this year, great. If he can’t, then get him out and move on.

    2. damage_control

      This time last year we barely knew who Benny Snell was. Who’s to say the Rose, King or someone else in the RB group won’t make a huge jump to contribute? Regardless, the strength of this team remains RB, OLine, and TE. I also think Lynn Bowden will be used a little in the beginning for special teams and taking direct snaps in the Wildcat formation. If we take Gran at his word, Johnson’s biggest improvements have come in those intermediate/over the middle passes which will keep Conrad involved and the offense moving the sticks. There’s no reason to believe that sticking with what worked last year won’t work again or even better this season.