A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Back from injury, Kentucky quarterback Drew Barker could see action in season opener

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

Drew Barker didn’t emerge as Kentucky’s starting quarterback following preseason workouts, but that doesn’t mean the junior signal caller won’t just stand on the sideline with a clipboard in the season opener.

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said Barker could see some action at Southern Mississippi Saturday against the Golden Eagles, who defeated the Wildcats 44-35 at Kroger Field last season. Barker missed the final 10 games of the year following a back injury.

Kentucky quarterback Drew Barker could see action in the team’s opener at Southern Mississippi set for Saturday. Barker missed the final 10 games last year because of a back injury. (Keith Taylor/Kentucky Today)

“I would love to get Drew in the game,” Stoops said earlier this week. “I think he deserves an opportunity and we’ll see where it goes. That’s very difficult at that position but we have a lot of trust in Drew. We absolutely would love to get him in this game.”

Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran agreed with Stoops and hopes Barker gets a chance to play for the first time in nearly a year.

“It’s going to depend on the flow of the game,” Gran said Tuesday. “We’d love to get him in the game. So it’s just going to depend on how the game is going, where we are, where we’re at in the game and just play that by ear.”

Senior Stephen Johnson, the team’s starter during nine of the last 10 games last year, compiled a 5-4 mark while under center. Johnson completed 145-of-265 passes for 2.037 yards and 12 touchdowns. He added 327 yards rushing, complete with three scores.

Prior to his injury, Barker beat out Johnson, a junior college transfer during preseason camp last season. Barker went down following the first series against New Mexico State in the third game of the season and Johnson took over the reigns, providing a calming presence for the offense.

Despite missing the remainder of the season, Stoops said Barker’s experience as Kentucky’s starting quarterback against Southern Miss, Florida and New Mexico State proved to be beneficial.

“I think he definitely has some more experience, and he had the opportunity to go in and get his feet wet a year ago and play in the opener and played very well here last year, in particular the first half, and did some very good things and now to come back and just be a year older,” the Kentucky coach said. “Obviously he missed that time, which doesn’t help any player to have to sit out, but he’s come back strong. He looks very healthy and looks stronger and mentally he’s more prepared.”

Stoops said Barker is “chomping at the bit” to get back on the field and his successful rehabilitation could pave the way for more playing time than the average backup signal caller in the collegiate ranks.

“The great thing about Drew is he has done what we’ve asked him to do and that’s really just — again, you’ve heard me talk about it and I’m not trying to beat a dead horse here, but just go to work and get better,” Stoops said. “Let’s not worry about who the starter is and who’s not. Whenever he goes into the game and gets an opportunity, he has to function at a high level and he’s taken that attitude of just going to work every day in practice to improve himself. And sooner or later, he’s going to get an opportunity to go in a game and play and hopefully, he’ll play at a high level.”

Although mostly successful last season, Johnson struggled with turnovers, an issue he tackled during spring workouts and fall camp. Stoops said Johnson’s improvement allowed the senior to keep his starting job.

“I think the number one issue is ball security, and I think he’s worked really hard with that. I think he’s, as you know, a very conscientious young man and that’s very important to him,” Stoops said. “I think that’s the biggest area. I think he’s worked hard at accuracy and the defenses and the offense and where to go with the football and a lot of areas, but the number one issue would be protecting the football.”

Johnson and Barker’s targets will feature a mixture of veterans and newcomers as four freshman receivers — Clevan Thomas, Lynn Bowden, Isaiah Epps and Josh Ali — are expected to see action, especially early in the season as the coaching staff solidifies the depth chart.

“I think you’ll see a lot of them play,” Gran said. “I think we want to be fresh. We want to have vertical speed. I think you’ll see a lot of them in there in the game. We’ll see how they’re doing. We’ll look at those young guys early. Get them in and make sure they don’t have big eyes. See them on the sidelines and see how they’re reacting.”

Gametracker: Kentucky at Southern Mississippi, Saturday, 4 p.m. TV/Radio: CBS Sports Network, 98.1 FM WBUL.

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment