[caption id="attachment_362142" align="alignnone" width="2560"] Photo by Aaron Perkins for KSR
Don't expect to hear a final decision on the Kentucky football quarterback competition anytime soon.
Despite rumblings of Penn State transfer Will Levis emerging as an early favorite among coaches, UK head coach Mark Stoops says the staff will be patient this fall when it comes to naming a starter, going through a full quarterback competition before making any significant decisions. While there are benefits to naming a starter, specifically in terms of building chemistry and continuity with practice reps, the quarterback room has "quality depth maybe for the first time" and it will take time to sort out the options throughout fall camp.
"It's more important to get it right than to be in a hurry," Stoops said at UK Media Day on Friday. "Is there a benefit? Yes, I believe there is. There's a benefit to getting reps. That's part of the negative to having a lot of talented players at any position, but it seems like it's obviously much easier to rotate guys in throughout practice and preseason at other spots than quarterback.
"We do feel like there is quality depth maybe for the first time. You go all the way down and have four or five guys that you feel confident that could play football at this level, and getting them reps is a concern, and we will work that as best we can."
When breaking down the two top starting candidates in Levis and Gatewood, UK offensive coordinator Liam Coen said the former is a bit behind in terms of learning the offense after arriving on campus this summer, but he's a fast learner.
"Similar to the process I went through with those other guys early on, just getting their overall general football knowledge down to see where we're at and seeing what we needed to add from there," Coen said of Levis. "He's obviously an intelligent, bright kid that can pick up scheme and things pretty quickly, which is nice. These other guys did such a nice job in the spring learning the offense. Now he's a little bit behind because he has to learn the basics and rep the basics before we can take it to the next level, which is the goal."
As for Gatewood, Coen was impressed with the 6-foot-5 quarterback's accuracy on deep throws this spring, but the real test will come this fall when there are more game-like situations in practice.
"He did a great job pushing the ball down the field in the spring. His accuracy over 20 yards was pretty nice to see in terms of down the field accuracy, getting the ball out on time," Coen said of Gatewood. "We were in plenty of blitz and 3rd down situations that we need to continue to get better at. Progression reads, moving past your first and second progression, what do you do when you don't have a clean pocket? Free blitzer in your face, what do you do? There's a lot of those scenarios that have not come up yet throughout 15 spring practices, so it'll be nice to see how we react at the quarterback position in real game-like situations this fall."
In terms of picking early favorites or where he may be leaning at this point, Coen wasn't ready to show his hand, especially considering he hasn't gotten the chance to watch Levis in a real practice setting. As fall camp continues to trek forward, he'll have a better grasp of the situation and know which path the staff will want to take.
"Not being able to watch Will throw live since he's gotten here, I don't have that idea. We'll know more today, we'll learn a little bit more after the first few practices," Coen said. "It's a great opportunity to build the depth that we have in the room. We're not in a hurry, we want to get this decision right and pick the best player to lead our offense. Ultimately, your quarterback should be the face of your program. It's a process. We'll see today, it should be fun."
The final answer isn't quite clear yet, but Coen knows what he's looking for in a starter and is confident the tape will lead to one.
"Your tape is your resume as a football player," Coen said. "As coaches, it's our job to evaluate tape. It's our job. At the end of the day, it takes care of itself in a lot of situations. If it is close, if it is tight, it comes down to, who doesn't turn the ball over, keeps the chains moving? Who has been more successful in the red zone during training camp? How about third down situations? Did we move the sticks when these guys were in on third down or not?
"It comes down to some of those ultimate situational football parts of the game that will determine who the quarterback is. And also leadership, their leadership capabilities on the field. Do their players want to play for them and follow those guys?"
Above all else, UK's newest play-caller is pleased with the entire quarterback room and feels competition is always positive for any team. The player who gives Kentucky the best chance to win football games this fall will start, end of story.
"We have depth, absolutely. And it's good depth," Coen said. "Anytime you have competition it's a good problem, right? At the end of the day, it's my job to get the quarterbacks to play at a high level, and I believe we took a step forward this spring. There's always going to be competition, we're always going to be looking for who's going to give us the best chance to win, regardless of class or how long they've been here.
"It's our job to put this team in position to win. "