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October 28, 2013

Phillips gets chance to secure backup QB spot

Reese Phillips will get a look as a backup this week as Kentucky tries to settle its tumultuous quarterback situation.

It remains to be determined if he's getting that look as a second-stringer or third.

Despite ankle and shoulder injuries, Jalen Whitlow is the Wildcats' projected starter Saturday when FCS opponent Alabama State visits Commonwealth Stadium.

But Phillips, a freshman who has not played this season, will get backup reps this week, UK coach Mark Stoops said. It's unsettled whether he'll supplant Maxwell Smith as the Cats' backup.

"I don't know," Stoops said. "We'll work on it this week. He's definitely going to be an option."

Whitlow did not start and played sparingly in the Wildcats' 28-22 loss at Mississippi State last Thursday. He had been limited in practice last week due to a sprained left ankle. He's also battling some AC joint soreness in a shoulder, Stoops said.

Still, Whitlow is expected to take the bulk of the reps in practice this week.

"He'd better," Stoops said. "Yeah, he's going."

Stoops walked what he admitted was a "fine line" during his Monday news conference in discussing Whitlow's health. Smith started against the Bulldogs last Thursday, but Stoops went to Whitlow at halftime and asked him to play. Whitlow agreed after initially telling coaches he wasn't ready.

"I don't ever tell players that's the medical people's decision," Stoops said. "But if somebody is sore, then yeah, I'm going to challenge them (to play). If somebody is they (medical personnel) make all those decisions. I can't get into that."

Stoops cited South Carolina's Conner Shaw and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel as examples of players dealing with pain on the field.

"I see (Whitlow) as a guy that's leading the program in the SEC and I see other SEC players banged up and leading their team to victory, don't you?" Stoops said. "That's what we need to do."

Assuming Whitlow is healthy enough to play -- and Stoops said on Monday that "he should be fine" -- it appears he's UK's quarterback. Phillips likely isn't competing for the starting spot.

But Smith -- who lacks Whitlow's mobility and, like Whitlow, hasn't shown the ability to stretch a defense with the deep ball -- has struggled much of the season, potentially opening the door for Phillips to have a shot at playing time if Whitlow struggles or is injured again.

Stoops said he's liked Phillips' game management in scrimmages dating back to the spring game, and said that Kentucky needs to "execute the call" to "give ourselves a chance."

"We're not even doing that at times, and that's frustrating, let alone throws or different things," Stoops said. "It's just putting ourselves, putting our team in a position to be successful with decisions. I think (Phillips) does a nice job of protecting the football, and I think he does a nice job with his decision-making."


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