The statement is common at the start of many fall camps: there will be a competition for the quarterback job.
Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders with senior QB Morgan Newton
But what exactly does that mean? Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders, who will be watching a four-man race unfold this month at Kentucky, explains.
“Whoever wins the competition is going to be the guy who gives us the best chance to win,” Sanders said. “That’s what it boils down to.”
The “best chance to win” includes many things.
“He is going to be the quarterback who gives us the best chance to win,” Sanders said, “by running the offense, completing passes, not turning the ball over, getting the offense in the end zone when they have the opportunity.”
And if all else fails, there will be coaching intuition.
“If you get through all those things and it’s still a very close competition then a lot of times there is a certain element of feel,” Sanders admitted. “Who galvanizes the team? Things like that.”
The cast of characters is quite interesting with their own story.
Senior Morgan Newton is fully recovered from shoulder surgery. Sophomore Maxwell Smith, who filled in when Newton went down, took advantage to become the leader in spring practice. The final two contestants are true freshmen – pro style Patrick Towles, an in-state prize, and dual-threat player Justin Whitlow.
“We’ll rotate all of them through with the first and second group,” Sanders said. “They’re going to get a lot of work. We’ll keep up with the completions, who’s throwing it to the right guy or who’s throwing balls that should be complete but might be dropped.
“Obviously, we’ve got to find out what those freshmen can do,” Sanders added, “but we’ve got to identify who the starter is, too.”
“We'll get a chance to compete as a live player in our offense for at least one scrimmage to see how he can play under fire,” head coach Joker Phillips said. “I think you need to do that also for a freshman quarterback because they don't understand the speed which the game is played at this level.”
One key point in the competition is to understand that Sanders doesn’t expect the same play from all four guys.
“Morgan has been here longer so he knows more and I expect him to perform like he knows more,” Sanders said. “Max is getting ready to begin his second year so I expect him to play much like a sophomore, but even better.
“With the other two, I expect them to be the best freshmen they can be,” Sanders said. “You can scheme around that and maybe you put more pressure on veteran linemen like Paul Warford or Matt Smith to fix a few problems up front.”
Sanders has been through more than 20 fall camps. It knows there will be nerves and anxiety as players try their best to seize the opportunity.
“Obviously, you’ve got to have a sense of urgency,” Sanders said, “but I’ve tried to engrain in them since they got here that playing quarterback and becoming the type of player I expect them to be is not a sprint. It’s not a 100-meter dash. It takes time and it’s a process. The worse thing you can do is try to get to the tape in a 100-meter before you’re ready.”
There will be difficult days, too, but that can teach coaches about a quarterback’s character more than completing every pass in a drill.
“I try to be the adversity for them every day,” Sanders said. “When they hit the game field, things are going to happen, things are going to go wrong. They’re going to make mistakes and hear somebody in the stands fussing at them. I’d rather they hear it from me and let’s see how they respond. I’m going to put them into as tough a position as I can.”
Phillips did not set a firm decision. But with camp beginning Aug. 4 and the season opener at Louisville coming up Sept. 2 the clock is most certainly ticking.
“I want to make the decision at the quarterback position as fast as we possibly can,” Phillips said Thursday. “I wish the decision was already made. It's not. The reason it's not is because of the competition that we have here.”
The competition to see which quarterback gives Kentucky the best chance to win.
“It still gets down to utilizing your strengths and minimizing your weaknesses,” Sanders said. “It’s the guy who gives us the chance to score points and win.”