Almost immediately after spring ball concluded, Mark Stoops deemed it necessary to name Drew Barker as the team’s starter at QB heading into fall. Considering the last few years have been filled with quarterback controversy, sometimes lasting well into the season, it was nice to be able to shift our focus to other positions of interest.
As fall practice and training camp has continued, Barker has far and away separated himself as the team’s starter on and off the field. He’s doing all the right things, saying the things a team leader would need, and making the plays that count on the field. I honestly don’t remember the UK staff being as confident in a quarterback at any point in the season since Mark Stoops has held the reigns than they are in Barker right now.
Now that we know Barker is going to be running out there on September 3rd to take the first snap against Southern Miss, where does that leave JUCO transfer QB Stephen Johnson II?
Johnson came in with high praise as a dynamic athlete that could make plays both through the air and on his feet. As we’ve seen in recent years, running quarterbacks have been UK’s kryptonite on defense, specifically naming Lamar Jackson and Dak Prescott. At the very least, UK fans were excited that there would be a practice dummy to emulate that QB running game so there would be no more Josh Forrest “we planned on the other quarterback” moments.
After seeing Johnson in the Blue-White scrimmage and in limited availability in practice, we’ve seen flashes of brilliance, but several flaws in his game. Running the ball, he’s excellent, and really could give the Wildcats a whole new attack in a read option scenario. Throwing the ball, he has great zip on the ball and nice touch in the short game and out to 10-15 yards, but beyond that there’s work to be done.
In the Blue-White game and open practice, Johnson overthrew his target more often than not on deep bombs and really anything over 20 yards. He has the arm strength to compete, but accuracy is a work in progress, and thus keeping him off the field in any real passing scenarios.
That being said, I think Johnson is too talented and presents such a versatile skillset that it’d be a waste to not find SOME use for him on the field. On 2nd or 3rd and goal situations from a few yards out, he and Boom would be deadly in an option attack, and would present a real challenge to defenses. In a Wildcat attack, Johnson would be able to keep opposing defenses on their toes, where he could rush for the first down, or pull back and make a throw to move the chains. The kid has potential to make plays.
He’s not starting, and he’s probably not going to get a whole lot of snaps, but I think he’ll find his way on the field and give the Cats impactful reps in certain game situations.
What will Stephen Johnson’s role be on the team this year? Will he get any meaningful snaps this season?