Kentucky football graciously opened their practice to the media yesterday, where we got to stick around and watch roughly an hour of action. We started with some simple passing drills to get the quarterbacks warmed up, followed by individual position workouts, and then a few minutes of full 11-on-11 competition.
Though people are interested in the various position groups, offensive vs. defensive success, and overall team performance, the biggest topic of conversation has been centered around the quarterback battle and who is going to come out on top.
After several weeks of back-and-forth movement, there seems to be a be a bit of clarity with a little over a week before kickoff.
The Quarterback group
To start with, Mark Stoops told the media last week that he is getting closer to a decision and that an announcement would likely come on the Monday of game week.
Well, just four days away from the supposed decision day, there are some whispers within the program that they might know who their guy is. But first, let’s break down the options.
This has been beaten to death, but I can’t stress enough just how impressive both main quarterbacks in the competition are under center. I heard some things this summer that had me genuinely worried about the offense this year, but seeing them in person now for the second time, I have come away relieved and satisfied both times. Maybe the concern this summer stemmed from heightened expectations, and the team’s worries internally were mainly about making elite/upper-level SEC throws, not just the simple throws and catches that have for whatever reason been so difficult to execute over the years.
With it being a challenge in the past, it was a shock to me to see both quarterbacks slinging the rock into tight windows and converting on big plays. Either Terry Wilson and Gunnar Hoak could win the job, and I’d be happy. They’re both capable starting quarterbacks in the SEC, and with the other huge playmakers on offense, the Cats will have no problem finding success with the ball. The coaching staff and players have been extremely confident in media sessions/KSR interviews, and we have no reason to doubt them. Kentucky will be set.
That being said, sources told KSR last week that Wilson was the clubhouse leader, and I came away from practice yesterday confident in that report. Both Drew Franklin and Nick Roush came away feeling the same way. The JUCO transfer rolled out with the first-team drills to start practice, and again in the full 11-on-11 team period later. He’s a great decision maker, has home run ability with both passing and on his feet, and the chemistry is there with his teammates. Something clicked with him in last week’s scrimmage, and ever since, things have been really, really positive with him. He’s got a rocket for an arm with nice touch, similar to Stephen Johnson’s first season at Kentucky. He’s confident in the pocket and knows when to evade when it collapses. He has supposedly been a bit too reliant on running, not waiting long enough for the play to develop, but that’s something the staff isn’t worried about in the long run. When he sees game action for the first time, things will start to come easier. I’m under the impression the staff feels Wilson is their long-term starter.
Again, this isn’t anything against Hoak, as he’s solid in his own right. The staff may just like Wilson’s playmaking ability a bit more.
Now onto the other two scholarship QBs.
I have to be honest, I was a big Danny Clark critic when he first got on campus. With major accuracy issues and a seemingly-broken throwing form to start with, I genuinely thought he’d never play a snap under center as a Wildcat. Some initial conversations I had last year had me even more worried about his future with the team (nothing personality or attitude-driven, purely from a skill standpoint).
Ever since, though, he’s looked pretty darn solid both times I’ve seen him this offseason, and I’m building confidence for him in a year or two. Clark has his overthrows and missed opportunities on occasion, but so does every quarterback. His accuracy has gone from extremely poor to slightly above average, which the staff would take at this point all day, every day. His pure arm strength is ridiculous, and easily the best on the team. Clark has taken massive strides, and I have to tip my hat to him for that alone. Every time the quarterback battle has been discussed, the coaching staff and players have added Clark’s name to Wilson and Hoak. Though I don’t think he has a shot at winning the job this year, I could see him solidify his place in the competition next offseason or the year after.
As for Walker Wood, things aren’t as peachy. Honestly, he may be better suited to follow in the footsteps of Randall Cobb, Julian Edelman, Terrelle Pryor, and Hines Ward, among other quarterbacks-turned-receiver.
Wood is a stud athlete with great field vision and lateral quickness with the ball in his hands. But as far as a pure quarterback goes, the zip and accuracy of an SEC quarterback just isn’t there. He came to Kentucky as a project quarterback, and following several injuries, he’s just now coming up to speed with the system. His knowledge of the game is improving, but in my brutally honest opinion, the on-field success just isn’t showing. Maybe he just had bad practices each time I watched him, but I came away extremely disappointed each time. He’s a great kid with an awesome personality, but it may be in his best interest to try and earn reps at a skill position, where I genuinely think he’d thrive.
We’re just a few days away from the big decision, BBN.