In two years as head football coach at Kentucky, Joker Phillips and his staff have made both good and not-so-good decisions in selecting a starting quarterback in fall camp. In his first year at the helm, Joker stuck with Mike Hartline, a decision that was unpopular with fans but proved to be the right choice. The guy who many Kentucky fans wanted to see take-over Hartline’s spot was a younger, and seemingly more talented, Morgan Newton.
Newton had won games on the road at Auburn and Georgia as a freshman, and after backing up Hartline for another year, he was the obvious choice for his replacement in 2011, right? Well, we all thought he was the right choice, but it turned out that Max Smith was the right man for the job last year all along. Unfortunately for the Cats, it took until the eighth game of the season for the right man to start taking snaps under center. In Joker’s third year, he’ll need to have the right guy out there much earlier than that in order to see a fourth season as UK’s head coach.
After completing more passes for more yards in four SEC games than Newton did starting in a total of seven games (including WKU, Central Michigan, and Jacksonville State), Max Smith enters the 2012 season as the clear choice to take over as the permanent starting QB job, but Joker mentioned yesterday at SEC Media Days that the QB position is deep and the starting position is potentially up for grabs. Maybe Joker’s comments were just “coach-speak” to keep all of the QB’s motivated, but here were Phillips’ remarks from yesterday concerning the position:
Again, from top to bottom, the position at quarterback, we feel we are as deep as we’ve ever been talent-wise, okay. We may not be experience-wise, but we feel like we’re as good as we’ve ever been talent-wise with Morgan Newton, Maxwell Smith, and Jalen Whitlow, who just walked on campus.
Although Smith is the overall fan-favorite to take over the position this year on a full-time basis, there’s a small but loud minority of fans pulling for incoming freshman Patrick Towles. The 4-star recruit out of Fort Thomas, KY wasn’t mentioned by Phillips yesterday in the particular comment he made above when discussing the QB position, but almost certainly Towles was simply an error of omission, someone who Joker intended to talk about but did not. Or possibly, the omission of Towles was not a mistake at all and Joker has plans of redshirting his top recruit of the incoming class this season.
I don’t actually think that there is a real competition for the #1 starting spot this season. Max Smith should end up being the starting quarterback without much controversy on Sept. 2nd. However, overall I agree with Phillips that UK is deep in the position and there will be legitimate battles to decide the #2, #3, and #4 spots on the depth chart. If things don’t go according to plan early, we could expect to see several of these guys and maybe all of them in action. If Jalen Whitlow doesn’t find himself as one of the top three quarterbacks, then we could even expect the 3-star athlete out of Alabama to see time on the field as a WR.
The bottom line is that Phillips is right on the depth of the position, and ultimately four guys pushing each other to be better is a good thing for the program. Last year, Morgan Newton didn’t have serious competition in the summer and didn’t appear to be prepared to lead the offense at any point in the fall. Max Smith should almost certainly be the starting QB against Louisville on Sept. 2nd, but let’s hope that the talent around him pushes him to be better this season, similar to the way that Newton and even Randall Cobb, and Curtis Pulley too before he was booted off the team, pushed Hartline to improve each year he was at UK.