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Keith Taylor: UK QB Barker the starter, but backup Johnson will be giving chase during offseason

Former Conner High School standout Drew Barker is penciled in to be Kentucky’s starting quarterback next fall, but he can’t afford to relax this summer.

Barker won the job during spring drills, beating out junior college transfer Stephen Johnson. Barker threw for 156 yards and a pair of touchdowns in Kentucky’s blue-white scrimmage last weekend and Johnson threw for just 36 yards but rushed for 49 yards on 11 carries.

Stephen Johnson will be chasing Drew Barker for the starting job next fall (Uk Athletics Photo)

Stephen Johnson will be chasing Drew Barker for the starting job next fall (Uk Athletics Photo)

Although Barker emerged as the starter, Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said Johnson and the other backups will be back in the mix when camp resumes next fall, keeping Barker on his toes and lurking behind his shoulder.

“It’s wonderful to have another guy like (Johnson) behind him that’s competing,” Gran said. “(The) other three quarterbacks are coming along and they’re competing and pushing (Barker) so he’s not going to be able to sit back and hang out this summer.”

Johnson showcased his running ability during the spring finale and gives Kentucky more options in the pocket, especially during specially designed running plays, but Gran said Johnson’s talents aren’t limited to his feet.

“The one thing about Stephen is he’s not just a package guy,” Gran said. “I think Stephen can run the whole offense. I think Stephen can do anything that we ask Drew to do and all the other three quarterbacks to do. I think that’s the benefit of having Stephen and then he brings the legs, you know. Can you have a package for him? Absolutely.”

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops agreed and said Johnson had “some really good days in the spring.”

“It just seems like he had a hard time getting started a little bit (in the spring game),” Stoops said. “He made some good runs and you could see the threat he has with his legs.”

Despite his quickness, Johnson and the backups will be chasing Barker for the starting job and have a proverbial mountain to climb considering Barker’s ability to grasp Gran’s offense in such a short period of time. Kentucky receiver Jeff Badet, who hauled in three passes for 107 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the spring finale, has been impressed with Barker’s progress.

“It’s crazy since the first time I saw Drew to the Drew (that we know) now,” Badet said. “He’s a leader, used to everything, calm and collected. Drew is right in there with us.”

Badet one of the team’s most promising veteran receivers, has developed a feel for Barker’s throws, giving the Wildcats a legitimate 1-2 punch on offense.

“I’m really cool with Drew,” Badet said. “We’re always joking around and hanging out on the weekends. It helped that he enrolled early (when he arrived on campus). You can see that he’s maturing. Now he’s on me and JoJo (Kemp’s) level and we’re going into our fourth year. Drew is right there with us.”

Gran doesn’t expect Barker to become complacent during the summer and expects his starting signal caller to pick up where he left off when camp resumes. Gran anticipates Barker will be eager and ready.

“I think what you see from Drew is a guy that has accepted his role, Gran said. “He wants to be great and he’s really locked into what we’re asking him to do.”

Keith Taylor is a senior sports writer for KyForward, where he primarily covers University of Kentucky sports. Reach him at keith.taylor@kyforward.com or @keithtaylor21 on Twitter

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