With a complete overhaul of the recruiting process, Coach Stoops and his staff at Kentucky have overseen an immense talent upgrade on the roster. New additions at key positions have been brought in to play early and often all over the field and the fans now have more energy than ever before. With that that taken into consideration, it’s possible that the most important new player on the roster wasn’t even recruited by the new staff.
In fact, he isn’t even really new at all.
Prior to last season, I was guilty of favoring Patrick Towles in the quarterback competition, and I wasn’t shy about it. While Maxwell Smith’s experience was/is certainly valuable and Jalen Whitlow’s athleticism was intriguing at the time, Towles seemed like the obvious choice. Standing 6’5 and weighing in at 220 pounds, he had prototypical size and an NFL arm according to Chris Collinsworth, who knows a thing or two about the NFL passing game. Towles came to Kentucky as a Parade All-American that touted four state championship rings from Highlands High School that was so good his senior year that he and the rest of his first string offense rarely payed past halftime of their games. His bloodlines screamed “future pro” as his grandfather was former US Senator and major league baseball player Jim Bunning. The guy even LOOKS like a NFL quarterback with his crew cut and strong jaw. Add in that he was athletic enough as a senior to be labeled as an “athlete” instead of a quarterback by ESPN recruiting services, and it just seemed like a slam, dunk.
Only it wasn’t.
Towles should have never taken the field as a freshman in 2012 and wasted the year while suffering injuries that kept him from playing after his redshirt was burned midway, through the season. During the ensuing spring practice (post – coaching change) word got out that Towles was losing ground to Smith and Whitlow’s almost daily and ultimately, Stoops and company decided to redshirt him last year. After rumors went rampant that Reese Phillips had made major strides and had surpassed Towles on the depth chart, the team added Drew Barker to the roster and the general consensus was that Towles would likely head into the spring as the fifth placed quarterback and he was labeled as the most likely signal caller to transfer.
Only he didn’t.
Smith’s injury sidelined him for all, of this spring’s practices and Towles seized the opportunity to get extra reps. Then the incumbent starter Jalen Whitlow decided to transfer, and it appeared to be down to Phillips, Towles, and Barker. That’s when the player affectionately known as “Patty-Ice” by his teammates stepped up. With the opportunity to change his career path, the man who admittedly bleeds blue started to put the pieces together. Whatever wasn’t clicking before came together, and not a moment too soon. When the team took the field for the annual Blue/White game, Patrick Towles took the field with the starters. Not everyone’s favorite underdog Phillips or the wonderkid Barker, it was Towles, the guy too many fans had left for dead.
While his stat line wasn’t anything shocking, Towles split reps with the other two and methodically moved the offense. He showcased his ability to move in the pocket and run the ball, and most importantly, he made precise throws highlighted by several lasers to receivers on the ever difficult “out” pattern. His confidence was obvious and his body language was clearly showing that he was there to win the job. All this from a guy that, many, assumed would be wearing an EKU or Morehead State jersey this coming fall.
Whether Towles will win the starting job this season or not remains to be seen. Phillips and Barker certainly showed glimpses of why so many figured they were the favorites and both young players will continue to improve. But so will Towles. It’s important to, remember that he will only be a sophomore next season and is a young player himself.
With the quarterback play being so inconsistent and sometimes even paralyzing last year, a competent signal caller could theoretically reinvent this team. Eight starters return on defense and seven more return on offense. In, all honesty and with all due respect, the four new starters on offense are likely to be upgrades too. If the team could have mustered even semi-competent quarterback play, the 2013 season would have ended up differently, and Towles could very well be the guy to turn that around.
Time will tell what will ultimately happen, but if the new and improved Patrick Towles does win the starting job he will have beaten out some talented competition as well as the odds that seemed stacked against him not so long ago.