Stoops, Brown discuss Whitlow transfer, other topics

MARK STOOPS

“Very physical practice today. It was good. Got some third-and-short, and some of our big sets, and worked some situations. So good, physical, long practice today. So it was good to get that work in. I think I like the effort of our team. We’re certainly getting better in certain areas. Our work ethic, our consistency is much better. We’re not as polished as we need to be. But I like the direction we’re going.”

On Whitlow’s decision to leave: “Disappointed that Jalen has decided to transfer and go play quarterback at another school. I had a conversation with Jalen yesterday. Went very well. I told him where we were at. Asked some things of him. And told him where we were at with the quarterback situation. So talked to him yesterday afternoon. Had another good conversation with him last night. Like I said in the statement, I appreciate Jalen. He’s worked very hard for a long time, through high school and through college here, to help this university and be the best quarterback he can be. So I wish him the best of luck. We were in a situation where, once we told him where we’re working it out with quarterback, and asked him to play another position (and) if he’d be open to that, he decided that it’d be in his best interest to go somewhere else and play QB. That’s where his heart is. That’s what he wants to do. I understand that.”

On state of the quarterbacks race: “We’re narrowing it down. So we’re making progress. We like where we’re at. We’re improving. We’re getting it narrowed down. It’s just like Jalen, last night, we made that decision with Jalen. I talked to him yesterday. He made that decision last night. I told you today. The other guys, we’re working our way through it. It’s not a big secret, we’re just working through it.”

Was Whitlow asked to move to wide receiver? “It was. I asked Jalen if he’d be open to playing another position.”

On what brought him to that point with Whitlow: “Just where we’re at with the other three quarterbacks being — you know, with the exception of Reese getting some reps last year, and with Patrick getting some reps, you know, but it was on scout team most of the fall — where we were at with the other three and what we think Jalen’s best skill set was for Kentucky.”

On whether he left conversation thinking Whitlow would be open to WR: “I knew it would be hard. I wasn’t surprised. It’s hard. When you’re bundled up at the quarterback position, it’s a different position. Again, I don’t look at it like he’s throwing in the towel on us. I wish he was here. I wanted him to stay here and play for Kentucky in some position. But he wants to play quarterback, so we understand that. It’s hard, as you know. It’s hard to get four and five guys reps. Listen: I want to move on. I want there to be a clear-cut winner or a starter, or at least one and two, so we can start narrowing down reps. But one thing that I can be sure (of) is that I feel very fair that I gave Jalen a great shot to win that job.”

On if any other quarterbacks provide a mobile dimension: “Well you always try to tailor your offense and your plays to the skill set of your players. With him in there, obviously there’s a few more options. But ultimately we want to throw the football.”

On whether it changes how he makes decision for starting QB: “No. Doesn’t change.”

On having that conversation with Whitlow: “It was tough. I have a lot of respect for Jalen. He’s a good kid. Worked extremely hard. And you guys have seen it. He’s talented, and he does have the skill set to run the football, and throw it at times. He’s maybe not as consistent as we’d like to be in the pass game. But he’s a very good quarterback, and it is tough to have that conversation. I appreciate the work that he did.”

On placing transfer limitations on Whitlow: “That will be between Jalen and I.”

On whether asking Whitlow to move was a joint decision with him and Neal Brown: “Yep.”

On the running back position: “We’re doing good. We got some options. Jojo’s much improved. His ankles are healthier. Second year of the program, he’s more physical, running good. Braylon brings us another dimension and some maturity. Very comfortable with those two guys. Josh when he’s healthy, and we expect him to be healthy. We’re just trying to protect him, too. He’s showing us what he can do. I love the fact that he’s going to be around. Gives us a little dimension, some physicality at that position. And Mikel’s coming along. He’s going to be everything we want.”

On wanting a starter at running back: “It does (help), but as you know, everybody’s not talking about that. You need backups. And they need quite a few reps. Quarterback’s different. You’d like to get that guy in there and get a lot of reps in practice. You’d like to get him in there in games and feel comfortable. It’s not as big a deal. I’ve been around programs, all the way back to my days at Miami and Florida State, and we had first-round draft picks that are coming off the bench. That doesn’t matter. You just got to do what’s best for the team. Sure, it’s important for them, and I do take all those decisions very seriously. But at the end of the day, it’s about the team and what’s best. We have plenty of time to work through that.”

On plan with Josh Clemons: “We’re trying to put him in on back-to-back days. Which we have very few back-to-back days anyway. Just trying to watch his reps a little bit. Just get him out there. He wants to get out there and compete. He wants to show us what he can do. He has done that. We just have to be smart and cautious with how we approach the spring.”

On whether this was first time he’s asked Whitlow about changing positions: “That’s the first time. No, we’ve given him every opportunity to win the starting job. He deserved that right. He was in there. As you know, he played some good football for us at times last year. I’ve said this over and over again, it’s not all about the quarterback position. We needed to get better across the board. If Jalen was coming back here next year and being the quarterback and playing for us, we’d be a whole lot better than we were last year, just because the whole team should look better. It’s not just on him.”

On whether UK has some SEC-caliber running backs: “We’re obviously much improved from where we were. So I feel very good, certainly, about the top two and Josh if he’s healthy. Mikel, we have to continue to develop. We have a lot of time before the first game.”

On NCAA council passing unlimited meals rule: “It definitely has a drastic effect. We’re working through that. I believe there’s got to be one more vote to clear. So we’ll work through that with Mitch (Barnhart) and our administration. But it should definitely benefit these players. I think all the details still need to be worked out.”

On the nutrition needs for student-athletes: “We demand an awful lot from these guys. These guys work extremely hard. You know, we work them out in the morning, they got practices, study halls. So they’re quite busy and work their tails off for us. And they do need the nutrition and they need the meals. You guys have heard me say that before. I’m all for whatever we can give to these players. I don’t have all the answers, but I support whatever we can do to make their lives a little bit more comfortable.”

On whether he’s heard of players going hungry: “I definitely think there’s times when those guys struggle. There’s individual cases. That’s what makes it very difficult for coaches. I mean, we’re all human and want the best for these kids. And there are definitely some times when kids go through some tough situations. I don’t think a lot of people realize, for all the time we’ve been in this, you can see players that feel such an obligation to send their money home. So their little baby brother or sister or mother isn’t starving, too. There’s lots of situations that make it very tough for these kids. It needs to be handled individually. We can’t just lump them all together.”

On having any more position-change discussions with players: “Nothing major in that way. Nothing as major as that decision.”

 

 

NEAL BROWN

Obviously big news: Jalen making the decision to leave. Disappointed. Would have like for him to stay. I think Mark (Stoops) told you the same thing: would have liked for him to stay. Great kid. Love the kid, appreciate everything he’s done for the program. I want to make sure that we understand that our lack of success last year, he only played a minor role in that. We didn’t do enough as coaches and at other positions groups — I want to put that out there too, I want to make sure we’re clear on that. Respect his decision, understand, but again, disappointed. We had a couple different conversations yesterday. We made the suggestion about moving positions, and he wants to be a quarterback, which we definitely understand. He made a decision to go elsewhere. We’ll support that and help him in any way we can.”

“As far as the other three quarterbacks that are competing right now, we’re working through that situation. It’s fluid. We’ve told you, and it’s going to be the same stance. You all can ask questions about it, but basically is we’re working through it. We want to make a quicker decision than we did last year, but all three guys, we’re mixing up the reps. They’re doing some good things, they’re doing some things that aren’t so good. As soon as we make a decision, just like today, you all will get notified.”

On how surprised Brown was about decision: “I’m never surprised. I know Jalen was disappointed. I was hopeful that he would give it a try, but I understand where he’s coming from. He’s played quarterback most of his life. He feels like he is (one), so I understand and I’ll support him.”

On how surprised he is at the progress Drew Barker has already shown:

“Yeah, I’m not surprised because he had big talent. What I am excited about is the maturity that he’s shown. He’s shown great maturity through this. We’ve thrown a lot at him. It’s tough. People forget: he wasn’t even in a no-huddle offense. They did a great job — Coach Trosper at Conner did a great job. They weren’t a no-huddle team. They were a huddle team, and now he not only gets the no-huddle mechanics, as far as the tempo we’re playing at, but can execute and is making very few mental errors. I’m excited about his progress.”

On whether asking Whitlow to move positions means he’s at least narrowing down the QB race: “Yeah, we’re narrowing it down. Four guys were getting reps and it’s down to three right now. And hopefully we can narrow it down as we go.”

On how much Saturday’s scrimmage played into that: “It played. It played a role. There’s more weight that goes into the scrimmages, but this decision wasn’t based just on Saturday. It was a year’s worth of work and I think Saturday was eight practices (into spring ball). So Saturday, the other guys probably did some better things, but it wasn’t just based off one afternoon.”

On how hard it is to have that conversation he had with Whitlow: “Well, when you decide you want to coach, that’s not something they go over. It’s never fun. It’s not something I enjoy. It’s really one of the worst aspects. What I try to do – and what I did with Jalen, I told him I care about him, which I do; I want him to do what he thinks is best for him in regard to our team. But I also wanted to be up front and honest with him and I knew there would be a decision he had to make. I was hoping he’d make the decision to stay, but I do understand. And I appreciate his contributions. I really do. Last year was a tough year. It wouldn’t have mattered who played quarterback; it was going to be a difficult, difficult season. He weathered some things, some adversity, so I’m proud of him for that. But it is: it’s a difficult thing, for sure.”

On whether down the road Whitlow will appreciate the staff’s honesty with him: “Well, you know, I hope so. Jalen is a great kid. You all have dealt with him for two years now. He’s a great kid. And I think he appreciates – he really likes this university. He really does. He appreciates the support he’s had. And I think the older you get, the more fond memories he’ll have, but that’s probably more of a question for him.”

On having been thinking about this for some time: “Well, I’ll (say) this: You have a past performance. And I will say this as well: Jalen made strides. He was better this spring than he was in the fall, but the other three guys who are competing are better, too. And maybe they made bigger strides, OK? But this wasn’t premeditated, this was something as we went through the nine practices, we made a decision on, it was clear.”

On what wasn’t he giving you and how much of it is him not really fitting into an ‘Air Raid’ style offense? “We’re always going to fit around our personnel. I don’t think the offense that we ran last year is ideally what we want to do, but I thought it gave us the best chance to win. We can fit around his skill set. It came down to consistently making throws. That’s what it came down to. Jalen makes, he made as good a throws. He made really good throws, but not on a consistent as a basis as he needed to.”

On if this was more about the other guys stepping up? “Yes. No, that’s a great question. This is not a negative on Jalen, OK? The other three guys are performing well. I feel good about where we’re at the quarterback position, now we’ve got to go do it with the lights on, but Saturday in the scrimmage or game atmosphere, that was the best that any quarterbacks have looked since I’ve been here for a calendar year.”

On how Patrick Towles has lost the job to Whitlow twice. Does this indicate how far Towles has come? “Yeah, well. I wasn’t here for the first time, so I don’t know if he really lost that or not, but he has made tremendous strides, now he’s got a long way to go, Patrick does. And he’s still making some decisions that aren’t correct, making some negative plays, but he’s gotten tremendously better from a fundamental aspect. So that should be a positive for him, not necessarily a negative for Jalen.”

On if less split repetitions is the silver lining in the Whitlow transfer: “I mean, that’s why we made the decision. We’ve got to get it down to a manageable number. We’re hoping to do that going into fall camp. I think that was part of the issues we had last year is we let it drag out too far and we didn’t get enough quality reps for either Jalen or Max (Smith).”

 

About Jennifer Smith

Jen Smith has been a sports writer at the Herald-Leader since 2000, covering everything from high school sports to auto racing to various University of Kentucky sports. A native of Louisville and a graduate of the University of Kentucky (much to the dismay of her Louisville graduate mother and Indiana graduate father), Jen now resides in downtown Lexington with her husband and two young sons. You can follow her on Twitter @jenheraldleader or send her an email at jsmith3@herald-leader.com.
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