HOOVER, Ala. — Ryan Timmons appears ready for a breakout season, the quarterback pecking order remains muddled, artificial turf is on the way, and the Kentucky Wildcats are still getting no respect from their Southeastern Conference peers.
Those were some of the talking points here Thursday as Coach Mark Stoops and three of his players closed the 2014 SEC Media Days at the Hyatt Regency just outside Birmingham.
Timmons stepping up
Stoops said that Timmons, a sophomore speedster from Franklin County, looks to build on a solid spring and play a larger role at wide receiver and kick returner, as well as gaining an occasional carry out of the UK backfield.
“I expect big things out of Ryan,” Stoops said. “He really improved in the spring. We all know he is a guy who is great with the ball in his hands, and now he’s developed a complete game ... learning how to run routes, get open, and do all the little things when he’s not getting the ball.”
Timmons dinged his shoulder late in spring drills, but still had a very good spring game and has added some 10 pounds of muscle in the off-season.
“We were a little cautious in the spring game with him, but he’s good to go,” Stoops said.
Stoops brought along senior defensive ends Bud Dupree, and Za’Darius Smith and junior offensive tackle Jordan Swindle to the media days, and all three have good things to say about Timmons.
“Ryan Timmons can be an elite player,” Dupree said. “Every day I’d walk up to him and I’m like, ‘You ain’t trying to be great,’ and he’d say, ‘I’m working, I’m working, I’m working’. Now he looks at me, before I even say anything, and says, ‘Are you working today?’”
“Timmons wants to learn,” Smith said. “That’s something I like about him is he works every day to try and get better. Plus, he’s a good guy.”
I asked Swindle, a 6-foot-7, 306 pounder, if he’s glad he’s not on the defensive side, trying to tackle Timmons.
“Oh yes, definitely,” Swindle said. “I know I couldn’t catch Timmons, so I wouldn’t look forward to tackling him if I was on the defensive side.”
One UK media member I talked with said Timmons could become a “poor man’s Percy Harvin,” referring to the former Florida great who’s now with the Seattle Seahawks.
The QB battle
Stoops said he isn’t ready to name a starting quarterback, though I’ll be very surprised if it’s somebody other than sophomores Patrick Towles or Reese Phillips.
Freshman Drew Barker is the other obvious contender, while junior Maxwell Smith’s surgically-repaired shoulder still isn’t full strength.
In a meeting exclusively with Kentucky media Thursday morning, I got the impression that Towles will be the guy when UK opens the season Aug. 30 against UT-Martin. But later, when Stoops spoke to the media at large, he looked to be leaning towards Phillips.
“Patrick was impressive most of the spring and went out and had a good spring game,” Stoops said in the morning. “Maybe he takes the first reps the first day (of fall practice), but the job’s not won.”
“I’ve been very pleased with Reese,” Stoops said in the afternoon. “He was a guy throughout spring who may have been the most consistent. He did a nice job managing the offense and staying away from negative plays. Very impressed with Reese. He’s got a good chance to win the battle.”
Stoops did emphatically say, however, that the quarterback position will be significantly improved over this first season at UK a year ago.
“That much I know,” he said. “I feel like we have good options there.”
And Stoops said he understands it would be nice to have someone step up at quarterback early in pre-season camp, so that guy can get more reps.
“It’s not like you want to sit here and answer questions about it all the time,” Stoops said. “You want somebody to take the job and run with it. But I won’t set a date, if it’s not there.”
Stoops confirmed what has been flying around the rumor mill, that the grass at Commonwealth Stadium will likely be replaced with poly turf after this season, as part of the $120 million renovation of the facility.
Stoops said he’s all for the change because the current grass surface does not allow his Wildcats to get the practice time in the stadium that he would prefer.
The SEC media here voted Kentucky to finish dead last in the SEC East Division, well behind the No. 6 pick, Vanderbilt.
The order above those two in the East is: 1. South Carolina; 2. Georgia; 3. Florida; 4. Missouri, and 5. Tennessee.
In addition, the lone Wildcat on any of the first three units on the All-SEC team is the 6-4, 264-pound Dupree. Dupree made the All-SEC second unit at defensive end.
Stoops showed he had a sense of humor later, when he followed Alabama coach Nick Saban to the podium to close out media days in the afternoon.
“I’d like to thank the SEC for saving the best for last,” Stoops said, smiling.
The media’s predicted order of finish in the SEC West is as follows: 1. Alabama; 2. Auburn; 3. LSU; 4. Ole Miss; 5. Mississippi State; 6. Texas A&M, and 7. Arkansas.
Arkansas was the only team to garner fewer votes than Kentucky.
The All-SEC first team is highlighted by Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, running backs T.J. Yeldon of Alabama and Todd Gurley of Georgia and wide outs Amari Cooper of Alabama and Sammie Coates of Auburn.