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.