HOOVER, Ala. — Kentucky football head coach Mark Stoops knew he was bound to face questions about his quarterbacks once he stepped foot in the Wynfrey Hotel lobby for SEC Media Days.
Once the first question was asked, Stoops reminded everyone how great his situation was last year. Drew Barker had earned the starting job in the spring, so Stoops and the team were ready to move forward with a clear offensive direction.
Things changed when Barker was injured after the first two games of the season, and the reigns of the offense were thrust into the hands of Stephen Johnson.
Seven wins in the following 10 games of the season for Johnson, including an MVP performance in the Governor’s Cup win over Louisville, made a strong case for the starting job as his to lose. A sentiment that was made even clearer as Johnson revealed during the player interviews in Hoover that he was told he would be the starter for UK’s week opening game against Southern Miss.
“Stephen has earned the right to be named the starting quarterback right now, but that’s today,” Stoops said. “Drew was the starter last year as we were talking right here.”
Johnson’s performance for the remainder of the season after Barker’s injury was not by any stretch perfect, but the team’s success spoke was enough for there to be no other real choice for Stoops but to name him next season’s starter.
There were glimpses throughout that stretch though, some of the biggest during the win over UofL which secured a winning season for UK, that showed what he can add to the offense. When he was decisive about bailing out of the pocket to extend plays and consistent in the short passing game, Johnson had UK playing at a different level.
“Our thing is just being more consistent and that starts with me personally,” Johnson said. “Not turning the ball over, being able to extend drives, and finish with the ball, either with three points or six points. Personally I had too many turnovers, so that’s one thing to improve.”
The other big thing that came out when the quarterbacks were discussed is how important Stoops sees the camp competition being.
“We all want competition,” Stoops said. “If we get better competition, you get more depth, all is does is put your performance through the roof. We’re very confident in those three guys. Stephen is the starting quarterback, but I’m anticipating if you’re asking Drew, he’s going to work today to earn that job. And he’s going to have every opportunity, just like every position on our football team.”
The quarterback situation is not as concrete as last season, but entering the fall this team is standing behind Johnson as the starter. But that’s not to say Barker, along with redshirt freshman Gunnar Hoak, won’t be given a fair look.
“So let's let the process play out and give Stephen the respect he deserves but give Drew and Gunnar the respect they deserve too, just like all of our players,” Stoops said. “They're out there to compete and win a starting job."