When Drew Barker chose Mark Stoops’ Kentucky over Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina in May of 2013, fans believed Stoops found the program’s White Knight. What was once perceived as a monumental decision is not seen in the same light ahead of Barker’s first season as the Cats’ starting quarterback.
Last season as a redshirt freshman, Drew Barker acquired intermittent experience. He took his first significant snaps in the Vanderbilt game, where he threw his first touchdown pass but failed to lead Kentucky to a victory. Barker earned starts in the final two games of the season, but only completed 22 of 51 passes for 257 yards.
Barker’s lack of production at the end of the year has many fans unsure of this year’s offense. On the practice field, there’s a polar opposite reaction.
“Drew’s looking like a ten-year vet out here,” wide receiver Jeff Badet said last week.
Since he was named the starter following the spring game, the people around the program could not feel more confident about their new leader. The differences from 2015 to 2016 are dramatic.
Building a New Brand
It didn’t take long for Barker to grab headlines when he got to Kentucky, all for the wrong reasons.
Campus was put on lockdown after he and some of his fellow freshmen were playing with pellet guns near the dorms. Not long after, video surfaced from an altercation at a Richmond bar that culminated with Barker receiving a knockout blow from an EKU football player.
Darin Hinshaw has done a lot to change Barker’s game since the quarterback coach arrived on campus, but Barker told Jen Smith the first thing he addressed wasn’t his play on the field, it was his poor brand off the field. “It definitely wasn’t positive like I’d like it to be,” Barker said.
It started in the classroom, earning a 4.0 GPA in the spring semester. He took that onto the practice field, leading the offense in summer workouts. The commander of the offensive huddle learned that being a leader isn’t the same thing as being popular.
“In between these white lines you’ve got to step up. You’ve got to be disliked sometimes and say something that someone doesn’t want to hear,” Barker said.
Hinshaw is confident he can be the leader the offense needs. “I’m really proud of how he’s handled himself.”
Technical Changes on the Field
In his first three years on campus, Barker has had three different offensive coordinators. For the first time he has his own quarterbacks coach.
Darin Hinshaw wasted no time, focusing on fundamentals, but probably not where you’d expect. Barker’s biggest problem wasn’t how he was throwing the ball with his right arm, it was how his feet were moving.
“We had a lot of wasted movement in our footwork. We were taking too big of steps,” Barker said.
The poor footwork slowed down his throwing motion. “There’s guys open but the ball’s not getting there in time and it’s because his feet aren’t set. They’re not prepared, ready to go,” Hinshaw said. “If your feet are slow, your arm is slow.”
Hinshaw compares a quarterback’s arm and throwing motion to a shooter’s weapon. “To line your gun up, the only way to do that is with your feet.”
To solve the problem, the quarterbacks are taking shorter, quicker steps to become more efficient in the pocket. The tweaks in technique should help Barker get the ball out of his hand quicker, and more accurately. “We’re keeping our base under us at all times to be able to make an accurate throw,” Barker said.
The quicker he moves his feet, the quicker the ball is being released, the quicker the athletes can make plays in the open field.
“When you’re talking about footwork, it’s about speeding up so that your arm can be on time to deliver the ball,” Hinshaw said. “He’s been fantastic. He’s done everything I’ve asked him to do.”
Barker described winning the starting job as a “dream come true.” Now it’s time to turn that abstract dream into concrete production.
Last week Eddie Gran was pleased to report that Drew was completing around 70% of his passes, but that’s still not good enough for Hinshaw. “Nothing’s perfect right now, and our expectations are perfect. We have high expectations. I expect him to complete every throw,” Hinshaw said.
Requiring football players to be perfect is something you’ve probably only heard from T.C. Williams’ Coach Boone, but Hinshaw doesn’t shy away from it. “He should know exactly where to throw the ball, against any coverage, every play,” he said.
The demands appear overwhelming, but they do not give Barker any anxiety. He’s the starter. He doesn’t have to worry about losing his job if he makes a mistake. Even though Hinshaw emphasizes perfection, Barker does not have to be a hero. That’s up to the playmakers.
“I’m just a facilitator, a point guard really, just passing it to the playmakers. I don’t really feel like I have to do too much at all.” But Barker added that it doesn’t mean Hinshaw is taking it easy on them. “Sometimes it can be frustrating, but we know he’s pushing us to be the best.”
Finding balance has worked well so far for Barker. In the first scrimmage he did all of the right things. He took care of the ball. He made the right decisions in the pocket. He continually put the offense in situations to be successful.
Hinshaw said before camp, “I want him to take care of the game like a professional,” and that’s exactly what he’s done so far.
Barker has taken care of all the little things. We’ll see in the first Saturday in September if he can put it all together for a complete performance. If he can, Kentucky football fans should not leave the season disappointed.
“If we do everything that I know we’re capable of doing and that the coaches have asked of us, I know we can get to a bowl game,” Barker said.