LEXINGTON — Though the Kentucky Wildcats are badly in need of big-strike capability, it might initially appear counter-productive to have sophomore wide receiver Ryan Timmons risking injury by returning punts and kickoffs because of his small (for Div. I football), 5-foot-10, 195-pound stature.
But all parties involved suggested Friday at UK’s football media day that they are bullish on the idea of Timmons returning kicks this time around.
Coming off offseason shoulder surgery, Timmons did not see much action as a return guy last year as a freshman, though the sophomore from Franklin County was productive at wide out, with 32 receptions for 338 yards and two touchdowns.
Timmons did not look entirely comfortable in limited duty returning kicks, understandable for a freshman.
But the Kentucky coaches look at Timmons’ sprinter speed, elusiveness and savvy, and see him as potentially a big-strike guy in the return game.
“I think on kickoffs, we have plenty of options, but the punt return is the one that sticks out to me,” said head coach Mark Stoops when asked if the return job is Timmons’ to lose. “I would love to see Ryan do that. He’s been very reliable in camp, and I’d like to see him win that job.”
Reward outweighs risk
Offensive coordinator Neal Brown indicates the reward of Timmons in the return role outweighs the risk.
It should be noted that Timmons used his offseason wisely, working on both strength and conditioning, to help him better handle the physical rigors of big-time college football.
“I think I’ve gotten a lot stronger,” Timmons said. “My body is a lot better than it was last year. I’m more conditioned and I’ve put on more muscle, so I’ll be able to take on a lot more hits this season.”
“I’m good with it because field position is a huge part of the game,” Brown said when asked if, as the offensive coordinator, he’d rather not see Timmons get in harm’s way as a kick returner. “We feel that Ryan is one of our most skilled athletes. He’s one of the best, if not the best, guys on the team with the ball in his hands.”
Timmons relishes the added responsibility.
“I’m just excited,” he said. “It gives me another opportunity to get out there on the field and make plays other than on offense.”
Coming out of his freshman season, the UK coaches wanted to see Timmons upgrade his physical strength and also gain a better understanding of the playbook.
Timmons listened. He looked more on point throughout spring practice, moving with the confidence he did at Franklin County.
“Yeah, I feel that way,” Timmons said when asked if the game is coming more instinctively to him now. “I’m more loose out there when I play, and not worrying about making my mistakes ... just playing my game the way I was used to playing it.
“And mentally, I know the plays a lot better,’’ he added. “So I’ll be able to line up quicker, and focus more on what I need to do before the play happens.”
His teammates have noticed.
“He definitely is,” sophomore quarterback Reese Phillips said when asked if the players are seeing a more mature Timmons. “You can tell. He has a great work ethic.”
Scary for opponents
Which could become a scary thought for Kentucky opponents.
“Timmons is a freak,” Phillips said. “He’s special when he has the ball in his hands. He’s so smooth. His routes are so smooth. You know where he’s going to be. He has what it takes.”
Freshman wide receiver Dorian Baker, a four-star recruit, said he’s been struck by Timmons’ versatility.
“I saw clips of him on film, and he definitely caught my eye,” Baker said. “I didn’t realize how versatile he is. For him to be that fast and move like that ... that shocked me.”
Barker indicated Timmons’ impact will be noticed far outside the UK locker room by this time next year.
“He’s really going to explode this year,” Barker said. “I think he’s going to be one of the top receivers in the SEC.”