LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) -- As media days go, this one started out just a bit stiff. Mark Stoops has had about all the glad-handing he can endure. He's whipped the University of Kentucky fan base into a football frenzy.
Now he gets to see if he can whip its football team into shape. He took his place in the middle of the team picture and there was no clowning around. If you expected a Rich Brooks-esque bout of body surfing, you're going to be disappointed.
Stoops and his staff know they've got to get down to serious business over the next few weeks.
"We've got to find out who we are," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "Who our best 11 are, and who our best skill people are."
The questions don't come much more fundamental than that. And yet, for a team hurting for depth in so many spots, the Wildcats actually have three capable quarterbacks. It's the Wildcats' strongest position heading into camp.
Jalen Whitlow was thrown into the fire last season and performed well. Maxwell Smith proved he could move the ball last season before being injured. And Patrick Towles probably has the biggest arm of the three.
Whitlow can extend plays. He can turn broken plays into 15 and 20 yard gains. He's the most mobile of the three, and a decent passer.
Smith has the quickest release and is the most accurate. He seems, in interviews, to be the most self-possessed, the most natural leader.
Towles has lost weight since last season. He has the best arm but inconsistent mechanics.
All three are sophomores. All three have played and showed flashes of promise. What do they expect it to come down to?
"It's just going to be production," Towles said. "Just watch the numbers. The coaches aren't going to put a guy out there who isn't producing results. This offense is about moving the ball and putting points on the board. Whoever can do that the best is going to be the quarterback. It's not hard to understand."
Well, yeah. Brown has a lot of impressive offensive-lingo talk he can lay on you about the quarterback position, but that's basically it. Who can move the ball, string together first downs, produce touchdowns?
It's not all on those guys, of course. The wide receiver spot is a worry. Nobody returns who has caught a touchdown pass in a Southeastern Conference game.
But if you talk to the wide receivers, they aren't worried. Javess Blue, a junior college transfer who just arrived on campus, started out slowly on media day. He said his goal is, "to become the best receiver to ever play here. And they've had some good ones."
There's no lack of confidence, but that's what you want from a position that needs to perform in a big way if Brown's Air Raid 2.0 offense is to get off the ground.
There will be plenty of chances for the UK wideouts. Running the correct routes and being able to catch the ball is mandatory. That hasn't always been something Wildcat quarterbacks could count on in the past.
Ryan Timmons, a freshman from Frankfort, is expected to help out at both wide receiver and running back.
Stoops also needs to settle on a center. And of the offensive line, Brown talked about "double-teaching."
"We're going to have to experiment some, because we lack depth," Brown said.
Stoops is particularly interested to see what his freshman class looks like. He'll work more with the defense, and leave the offense to Brown, though he'll still have the final say, on questions like quarterback.
Defensively, Stoops is eager to see how quickly freshman Jason Hatcher can come along on the defensive line, and loves the leadership he's seen from senior middle linebacker Avery Williamson.
Of the freshmen, Stoops said, "We certainly need them. They make us better. We'll see who jumps out at us right away."
Don't expect a lot of nonsense. Stoops seemed to sum up his approach for improvement in this statement: "It doesn't take any talent to know what you're doing and play relentless. If you do that, you can do some good things."
It's a start.
-- Stoops said safety Ashley Lowery, who was charged with driving under the influence this summer, has been cleared to return to practice, but he hasn't sanctioned him yet. "I'm not ready to name a penalty yet," he said.
-- Twins Demitrious and Chris Davis from the University of Pittsburgh have transferred to UK and are on the roster, but are not expected to be eligible this season, Stoops said. Both are appealing to the NCAA to play right away, but have not been cleared.
-- Stoops said Justin Day, an offensive lineman from Georgia, and Alvonte Bell, a defensive lineman from Florida, did not qualify academically.
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