Oct 6, 2012; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Patrick Towles (14) drops back to pass against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Commonwealth Stadium. Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
The Quarterback situation at Kentucky is complicated to say the least. There are several players who will be vying for the starting job and none stands out above the rest at this point. With the change in scheme, all of Kentucky’s players will be starting at square-1 and the uncertainty surrounding exactly what kind of offense the Wildcats will run only serves to further muddy the situation. Will offensive coordinator Neal Brown install a typical air-raid offense or more of a spread attack? Will the offense rely on a mobile quarterback or will an accurate pocket passer be ideal? Will we see the quarterback in the shotgun, the pistol, or under center? So many questions need to be answered to fully understand what Kentucky’s offense will look like and who the favorite is to take the reigns in 2013. Here are the potential candidates:
Maxwell Smith – JR – 6’4 / 224 – Granada Hills, CA
Smith played admirably in 2012 but yet another season was cut short for him due to injury. He has a relatively strong arm and ideal size for any offensive set, but is fairly immobile for a spread quarterback. If Brown uses a system that relies primarily on accuracy and reading defenses, Smith is the team’s best bet. He showed glimpses of what he can be as a true freshman and again as a sophomore and looked stellar once his he got comfortable. He thrives in a fast paced offense and has the arm to wing the ball 50 times a game. The big concerns for Smith are his mobility and his ability to stay healthy. If Brown’s scheme requires a running threat at the helm then Smith is in trouble. It’s also uncertain how effective he will be when he returns from his second season-ending injury. Smith may be granted an extra year of eligibility for missing so much time to injury, but I’ll continue to consider him a junior next season until we get official word because you never know how the NCAA will rule.
Patrick Towles – SO – 6’5 / 242 – Ft. Thomas, KY
Towles is a golden boy of sorts and as a native Kentuckian and highly touted high school prospect he has a lot of the fan backing. He was a proven winner in high school and looked very good in his freshman season of college before an injury sidelined him for several weeks. After returning, Towles never looked quite comfortable in the offense and his decision making was about what you would expect from a college freshman. He has a howitzer for a right arm and can make all the NFL throws as far as arm strength is concerned, but his accuracy was suspect at times and he missed open receivers a little too often. Towles is deceptively mobile though, but in a way much more similar to Kansas State’s Collin Klein than a Robert Griffin or Mike Vick. Towles played almost exclusively out of the shotgun in high school, so the change in scheme could benefit him the most. He is young and inexperienced, but probably has the highest potential of any player in Kentucky’s roster and a skill-set that makes him a good fit for almost any scheme.
Jalen Whitlow – SO – 6’2 / 202 – Prattville, AL
Whitlow actually had a surprisingly solid freshman year, with all things considered. He didn’t even start at quarterback full-time in high school, so to come in and even compete in the SEC as a true freshman is very impressive. Whitlow is by far the most athletic of Kentucky’s quarterbacks and would be tight at home in the spread option offense. If Coach Brown has a West Virginia-style spread in mind, then Whitlow would have to be the favorite to win the job. The knocks on Whitlow are there though. He barely completed 50% of his passes as a true freshman and was overwhelmed by defensive pressure regularly. On top of not being particularly accurate, he is also listed as 6’2, which, while not exactly short, is probably not the ideal height for him to be sitting in the pocket either. In an offense that utilizes the quarterback as a running threat or gets him out of the pocket into space, Whitlow is a good option. If the offense requires the quarterback to hang in the pocket and read defenses and multiple routes, Whitlow might be better suited at another position. In fact, a drastic lack of receivers could facilitate a move for Whitlow anyway, and one that would suit his NFL future better anyway.
Jeff Witthuhn – FR(RS) – 6’3 / 235 – Bowling Green, KY
Witthuhn is a walk-on from Bowling Green that was almost forced into action as a true freshman due to the ridiculous number of injuries sustained at the quarterback position. In the end, he was able to redshirt and will have four years of eligibility moving forward. Built more like a fullback than a QB, Witthuhn is likely to see a position change. He is a long shot at best to win the starting quarterback job and a lack of young tight ends (ZERO freshmen or sophomores on the current roster) could provide him an opportunity to get on the field sooner. I would be shocked if Witthuhn is in the mix to start at quarterback after spring practice.
Reese Phillips – FR – 6’3 / 210 – Signal Mountain, TN
Phillips wavered on his commitment to Kentucky when Joker Phillips and his staff were let go but came back around not long after Mark Stoops and Neal Brown were hired. He is an under-the-radar type of player due to him being from an area that doesn’t produce a ton of talented players (Chattanooga, TN) and due to him having played in the Wing-T offense in high school, which makes quarterbacks difficult to evaluate. He is obviously talented enough to have been the only quarterback Joker Phillips and his staff recruited once he committed and Coach Stoops and Brown decided to honor his offer, so you know he can play. Normally, Phillips wouldn’t really be in the discussion for the starting job, but the change in scheme and the fact that he’ll be enrolling for the spring semester and going through spring practices makes him a candidate. He’ll have a lot to learn, and he’ll have to learn quickly, but Phillips has a punchers chance to edge some of the more experienced players for the job. That said, he’s still a long shot that might be only slightly more likely to start than Witthuhn.
Asiantii Woulard – FR – 6’3 / 205 – Winter Park, FL
Woulard came into the spotlight earlier this week when his interest in Kentucky became public knowledge. He is a highly recruited quarterback out of Florida that is a consensus top-5 dual-threat signal caller nationally. As a converted wide receiver, Woulard can really move and pick up yards on the ground in addition to being an excellent passer. In fact, he actually came away from the Elite 11 camp as the top performer. He appears to be a good fit for just about any offensive scheme and should flourish in Brown’s pass happy sets. His versatile skills make him a curve ball of sorts as he could come in and further complicate an already fierce battle for the starting quarterback job, were he to commit to and later sign with Kentucky. More importantly, he could be a valuable insurance policy were Smith, Towles, or Whitlow to transfer to another school or move positions.
The spring practice sessions should clear some things up for Kentucky fans, but don’t be surprised to see the battle for the starting quarterback job stretch well into the summer.