LEXINGTON — Franklin County High School graduate Ryan Timmons showed no ill effects from a recent bruised rotator cuff injury and was one of a slew of big-play guys the crowd of 35,117 saw Saturday as the Kentucky Wildcats concluded spring drills with the Blue-White game at Commonwealth Stadium.
Timmons, a sophomore wide receiver, caught five passes for 47 yards — turning a couple of those catches into gains that few others have the quickness to do — and also rushed one time for another 8 yards, helping the Blue team to a 38-14 victory.
Timmons also was the No. 1 guy in the punt return game, though the coaching staff would not allow the punt returners to do anything but fair catch the kicks in this affair.
UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown said he limited Timmons in this game in light of his dinged shoulder.
“It’s a fine line,” Brown said. “I wanted to get him the ball, but I also wanted him not to get hurt. But he did some good things, and he’s got a chance to be a big-time playmaker for us. I’m excited about how he’s changed his body (more muscular), and I’m excited because his (attention to) details are much better.”
“I feel great,” Timmons said, referring to both his health and his future. “I feel like I can do a lot more on this team than I did last year — with the speed sweeps, being a running back and catching punts. I just want to be more effective for this team.”
Timmons said he’s studied the game in the offseason — after this past fall’s 2-10 campaign — and feels more prepared, both physically and mentally.
“I have studied the game a lot more on film and focused on more things that I need to focus on,” Timmons said. “I have put more time into football this year than I ever have.”
Brown said he simply wants Timmons to be better able to play through fatigue.
“He’s got to be a guy — and I’m on him all the time, so I don’t mind saying this publicly — but when fatigue happens, he’s got to play through that and still play at a high level,” Brown said of Timmons.
The big question in Saturday’s spring tilt, of course, was who’s going to be throwing the ball to Timmons and a deeper wide receiving corps this fall.
Sophomores Patrick Towles and Reese Phillips and freshman Drew Barker have been neck-and-neck this spring for the top spot at quarterback. Brown and head coach Mark Stoops were not ready to name a No. 1 guy in the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s game, though both said they will look at the film and talk about it in the coming days.
The 6-foot-5, 235-pound Towles appeared to rate an edge Saturday, completing 11-of-15 passes for 126 yards. Towles made one bad throw and it was a short pass picked off by senior defensive end Za’Darius Smith.
Phillips was 10-of-17 passing for 74 yards, while Barker looked shaky at times and was just 7-of-19 for 74 yards.
“Patrick has improved,” Stoops said of Towles. “You saw him a year ago, and you see him now, and you see the improvement. I’m proud of that. He’s doing some good things and he looks comfortable back there. And I think we’re better around him. I think when we get everybody healthy, all the quarterbacks will look better.”
Brown said he was happy with the performance of his QBs in this game, but he said all three showed ample evidence of nerves.
“I thought they were really tight today,” Brown said of the trio, referring to their emotions, not their spirals. “This wasn’t their best day as far as throwing the football. You could tell that they were nervous. Some of that is to be expected. But they did some good things. I am encouraged by their play and by their decision making.”
All we know for certain is that the Kentucky quarterbacks are going to have more weapons around them than we have seen in years, even though several members of the wide receiver corps were missing Saturday due to an assortment of injuries.
Senior Demarco Robinson — still trying to work out of the doghouse due to some discipline issues — made a good statement in the spring game, catching eight passes for 115 yards with a touchdown.
“He’s really improving,” Stoops said. “Demarco has a lot of work to do in certain areas, but he’s trying and I’m proud of him.”
Eleven other Wildcats caught passes Saturday, including Jojo Kemp, Rashad Cunningham, Cameron Fogle, Thaddeus Snodgrass and Mikel Horton, all with two catches apiece.
“We’re confident we can improve and move forward,” Timmons said of the offense. “We have more experienced guys on the field, in the wide receivers and the running backs and great quarterback play. So we can improve all around.”
UK’s running backs were, in fact, a borderline revelation on this afternoon.
Kemp, a sophomore, looked terrific coming off ankle surgery in the offseason. He rushed 11 times for 90 yards and two touchdowns. Kemp looked stronger and faster than this past season.
“You can see Jojo is a different guy,” Stoops said of Kemp. “He’s healthier and he’s stronger and he’s more explosive. He’s just more physically developed and he’s really grown as a leader.”
Junior running back Braylon Heard, a transfer from Nebraska, also shined, gaining 55 yards on just seven carries.
Junior RB Josh Clemons, off major surgery each of the past two seasons, also looked good, adding 93 yards on 11 tries.
And freshman Mikel Horton showed flashes of great potential, gaining 70 yards on 13 attempts.
Horton appears to have the size — packing 236 pounds on his 6-1 frame — to run in the SEC.
“He just needs to run with his pads a little lower,” Stoops said of Horton. “But you can see he’s talented. He’s not only big, but he has good feet and good vision. He has the whole package.”
Kentucky racked up 602 yards of offense in the spring game.
Defensively, it was more difficult to tell much. The UK coaches said they kept the schemes vanilla on both sides of the ball, particularly on defense.
Junior safety Daron Blaylock led the Wildcats’ defense with nine tackles. Za’Darius Smith finished with just four tackles, but was disruptive all game long from his defensive end spot.
All in all, Stoops said he is pleased with what he saw, not only Saturday, but throughout the spring.
When asked how he feels about his team now, compared to a year ago when he was just four months into the UK job, Stoops replied: “I do feel much better. I really tried to never throw everybody under the bus, including myself and the team, but we just weren’t very good (this past fall).
“We’re better now, he added. “Not where we need to be, but we’re better. We’re at a point where you can really start to feel the improvement.”
The Wildcats open the season Aug. 30 at home against UT-Martin.