The Long Summer is almost at an end. And this summer has seemed to have lingered longer than most. I usually enjoy the summer months as I am a teacher and it allows me time to spend with my kids. But with Kentucky being pounded by rain on a daily basis and the endless drag of baseball (sorry, not a fan), I'm ready for fall to begin.
This promises to be an exciting season with the debut of a revamped stadium, a great home schedule, and more returning talent than we have seen in the Mark Stoops era. The players are excited and the recruiting has been as exciting as it has ever been for the Kentucky football team. Camp is here and the Big Blue Nation is anticipating the next leap for the program.
Here are some questions about players and the season on the horizon:
Who will be the starting quarterback?
For the first time in many seasons, I don't think there is much of a mystery here. While Mark Stoops and Shannon Dawson are being coy, I fully expect Patrick Towles to be the man behind center and will take the majority of reps with the starting offensive unit during camp. He's a seasoned vet at this point and he's been a leader on and off the field. Towles had an extremely fast start to last season before getting into the teeth of the SEC. There are expectations that he could be one of the top quarterbacks in the conference and NFL draft guru Mel Kiper, Jr. is in love with him as a pro prospect. While Drew Barker does indeed seem to be the quarterback of the future, Patrick Towles is the man for the present.
Who will be the starting running back?
The Wildcats have a nice stable of guys to run the ball. Jojo Kemp, Stanley "Boom" Williams, Mikel Horton, and freshman speedster Sihiem King. But the consensus is that Boom is the man and is a star waiting to explode. We saw flashes from Boom last season, especially in the Louisville game where he seemingly couldn't be stopped. It is important that the 'Cats have multiple capable running backs in the SEC to battle fatigue and injury, and I do believe they have that with Kemp and Horton, but make no mistake that by the end of the season Boom will have the most yards and the most touchdowns out of the running backs.
Who will be the break out receiver?
Javess Blue and Demarco Robinson were the go-to guys for Towles last season and both are gone. The returning receiving core is young and deep. Guys like Blake Bone, Garrett Johnson, Dorian Baker, and Ryan Timmons all showed flashes last season, but I think Jeff Badet is going to be a problem for defenders. He has battled injuries and was a red shirt player last season. He seems to be 100% healthy and the coaches are very high on his talent. He was missed last season and he could be the deep threat that Towles and Shanon Dawson will need for the offense.
Will special teams be better?
Can they be much worse? There were so many times last season that special teams seemed to have sucked the life out of a game because of a collapse or a boneheaded trick play. Special teams coordinator Craig Naivar took the brunt of the ire from Big Blue Nation. His backwards hat and multiple armbands became a running gag with the fan base. He's gone now in a move that Mark Stoops almost had to make even though Naivar supposedly left on his own. Landon Foster is one of the best punters in the SEC and Austin Macginnis is one of the best place kickers, but what was really missing was a threat in the return game. Previously mentioned running back Sihiem King is a candidate for the job.
Will we see more of a tight end presence in the offense?
There hasn't been a true threat at the tight end position since Jacob Tamme was a Wildcat, but the coaches feel like they finally have their man in C.J. Conrad. Even though he is a true freshman, he has the talent and the size to play right away. If Conrad pans out, he can provide Towles a safety outlet in the middle of the defense. If Towles gets the ball to Conrad, the hope that the athletic tight end can make plays and get down field better than his predecessors. Conrad is a physical specimen at 6'5 and 245 pounds. And he's only 18.
Is Ryan Timmons' job safe?
While we have seen flashes from Timmons in the past, he had a case of the dropsies last season. There were multiple times in key games, the Florida game in particular, where Timmons dropped a key pass. While we are all rooting for the hometown kid, TV Williams is waiting in the wings for his chance at the slot position. Timmons is still expected to be the starter, but his leash won't be very long if he continues to drop passes.
Who is the leader on defense?
This almost has to be Josh Forrest. The extremely athletic linebacker had a break out season in 2014. He was a tackling machine and was athletic enough to drop back and intercept two passes last season. Forrest has the potential to be the next great linebacker at Kentucky.
Can the viod left by Bud Dupree and Za'Darius Smith be filled?
No, not really. These guys were first and third round NFL draft picks. While DJ Eliot may have trouble filling the void, there are definitely some players that will help. Jason Hatcher looks to be a big factor this season as a defender that can put his hand in the ground as a defensive end or play in a standing position as a linebacker. Hatcher is the perfect type of player for the new 3-4 look that Kentucky will give offenses. I already mentioned Josh Forrest as the leader, but I think that Ryan Flannigan will also be a factor at linebacker as well. He came in during camp last season as a JUCO transfer and will be more ready to contribute this season. Redshirt freshman Denzil Ware will also see some playing time and has a promising future for Kentucky.
How much will Matt Elam see the field?
Matt Elam is one of the most decorated recruits on the team but his weight has held him back up until this point. The 3-4 is a perfect scheme for Elam as his size is the perfect clog for the nose tackle. Senior defensive tackle Melvin Lewis has been mentoring Elam, showing him how hard he needs to work and Elam seems to be listening. Reggie Meant, Cory Johnson, and Courtney Miggins will be fixtures in that d-line rotation as well.
What other questions do you have heading into camp? Let us know in the comments section!