What a difference a year makes. Last year, at this time, I posted my first annual position by position preview for the football ‘Cats. I began with my analysis of the quarterback position. Showing why Matt pays me the big bucks, I declared to the Kentucky Sports radio masses, which were, by the way, much less “massy” than today, that although Andre’ Woodson clearly possessed the skill set, Curtis Pulley boasted intangibles that Woodson seemed incapable of possessing. Woodson had better size, better arm strength, better touch, and a better grasp of the offense, but Pulley had that indefinable “it.” Pulley had flash, a feel for a pass rush, an unquestionable on-field command of the huddle. He seemed to play the game with joy and abandon. Woodson, by comparison, seemed to be almost robotic on the field. Based on this, my maiden post confidently declared that Pulley, not Woodson, was the quarterback of the future. Of course, in the months that followed my ill-fated preview, Woodson’s preparation and leadership knocked Pulley out of the starting slot, and his dazzling play on the field relegated Pulley to the bench for the remainder of the Fall. Woodson’s play, and Kentucky’s surprising success, also led the two quarterbacks, locked in such a tight battle in last year’s camp, to two very different summertime destinations. Looking for Andre’ this summer? He could be found on football magazine covers, billboards, Heisman watch lists or Mel Kiper’s big board. Pulley, on the other hand, spent the bulk of the summer doing his best Laverne and Shirley impression at a local beer bottling plant. (Word from his foreman is that he is the most athletic bottler in the plant, but is inconsistent in terms of accuracy.)
It is impossible to tell, even for Woodson himself, what led to his meteoric junior season. Obviously, he benefited from an improved supporting cast, from the tutelage of quarterbacks’ coach Randy Sanders, and from the continuity of spending a second year in Joker Phillips’ offensive system. All of these external factors contributed, but none of them account for the transformation that Woodson made between his sophomore year and his junior year. That transformation was internal. It caused a big strong kid with a good arm to turn into a winning SEC quarterback. In short, for whatever reason, the light came on, and that light exposed all that Andre’ Woodson was not before, and all that he is today. Namely, the best quarterback in the best conference in college football. Not just in his right arm, but inside his helmet as well.
Andre’ Woodson 6-5, 230 Sr. Radcliff, Ky (North Hardin)
Kentucky’s chances to build on last season’s feel good ride begin and end with the senior from Radcliff. Woodson threw for 3515 yards and 31 touchdowns last season, tops in the SEC in both areas. (Ahead of guys like #1 NFL Draft pick JaMarcus Russell and national champ Chris Leak.) Remarkably frugal with the ball, Woodson has thrown only 14 career interceptions in 760 attempts, or one pick every 54 attempts. How good is that? Well, Woodson currently holds the distinction of the lowest interception ratio of any quarterback in SEC history. Not bad. Led Kentucky to notable offensive turnaround which landed them first in the conference in passing in 2006. Individual honors from last season include being named Second Team All SEC by the Associated Press, twice Conference offensive player of the week and Music City Bowl MVP. Preseason First Team All SEC by multiple publications.
Mike Hartline 6-6, 201 RS-Fr. Canton, Oh (Glen Oak)
Will battle fellow redshirt freshman Will Fidler for the backup spot during fall camp. Separated himself somewhat from Fidler with strong performance in the Spring Game, going 15 for 24 for 109 yards. Despite this, the backup spot is relatively open after an underwhelming performance by both candidates in the Spring. Despite the look of a pocket passer with his Shagari Alleyne-esque build, Hartline is probably the best runner of the returning Kentucky quarterbacks. (Excluding Pulley.) Ran for over 800 yards and 20 touchdowns in last two years of high school. Also advanced to the state track finals in the 300 hurdles, high jump and 4×400 relay.
Will Fidler 6-4, 216 RS-Fr. Henderson, Ky (Henderson County)
Will look to distinguish himself from Mike Hartline in Fall camp to earn backup role to Woodson and get inside track to starting spot in 2008. Has an extra Spring Practice under his belt as he graduated high school early in 2005 to enroll in January, 2006. As a result of this, is the most developed physically of the backup candidates. Gaudy high school numbers include nearly 10,000 career passing yards and 92 touchdowns.
Matt Lentz 6-3, 205 Fr. Simpsonville, SC (Greenville)
Highly regarded true freshman will redshirt in 2007 barring a series of disastrous injuries to the returning quarterbacks. (Always a possibility at Kentucky.) Class AAA player of the year in the state of South Carolina during both his junior and senior seasons. Threw for 2895 yards and 34 touchdowns as a senior, and 3643 yards and 44 touchdowns as a junior. Nice athlete who also ran for more than a thousand yards as a senior.
Curtis Pulley 6-4, 200 Jr. Hopkinsville, Ky (Hopkinsville)
Will redshirt in 2007 after withdrawing from school in the winter semester. Will be eligible to work out with the team this season. His role in 2008 depends on his development both on the field and in the classroom as well as the improvement of the other quarterbacks on the roster. Too talented to sit the bench, could help the team at virtually any position. In 2006, was 8 for 14 for 72 yards through the air, rushed for 124 yards, and caught 21 passes for 201 yards and one touchdown. Has also blocked four career kicks. Those who label him as only an athlete may not realize that Pulley threw for over 6000 yards in high school on the way to being named Mr. Football his senior year.
Andre’ Woodson will not win the Heisman in 2007. Regardless of the numbers he puts up, his name is stitched to the back of a Kentucky jersey, and not on the jersey of one of the chosen programs. In terms of individual honors, Woodson may have to be satisfied with hearing his name called very early in the 2008 NFL Draft. In terms of team success, Kentucky will go as far as Woodson’s right arm carries them. This is particularly true given the absolute lack of experience behind him. Woodson has started 25 straight games for Kentucky. The remainder of the eligible quarterbacks on the roster have combined for exactly zero college snaps. It is imperative to give whoever wins the backup spot in camp (the guess here is Hartline) some snaps in Kentucky’s first two games against Eastern and Kent State. Barring injury, snaps will be few and far between in Kentucky’s buzz saw of a remaining schedule, and it would certainly not be ideal for one of the young guys take his first college snap against a team like LSU or Florida with the game on the line. (Ask Woodson himself, who had his first significant action at Auburn.) Aside from the depth concern, Kentucky is incredibly fortunate to have Woodson at the helm. With the talent level at the skill positions that surround him at an all time high, look for Woodson’s numbers to remain at the top of the conference, and his name to climb to the top of Kentucky’s record books.