With Kentucky's fall camp underway, there are questions looming about Mark Stoops' fourth team and what they are capable of this season. We won't find out for certain what they are capable of until the actual games start, but there are questions that we will get answers to during camp that will certainly give us a preview of what is to come this season.
From Matt Elam's weight, to Drew Barker's preparedness, to a defensive line that we're uncertain about, there are certainly a lot of questions to be answered. Let's take a look at the five most important.
Is Drew Barker ready?
The presumptive starting quarterback Drew Barker has been the talk of the town in Lexington thus far in camp, and for good reason. After the departure of Patrick Towles, the Kentucky native Barker is at the forefront of this offense and will lead the charge for the Wildcats this year. Barker is a sophomore, so he's young, but thus far he seems ready to be a good quarterback, and the type of quarterback that Kentucky needs in this pro style offense. In fact, it's being said that Barker is showing all kinds of ability in camp by completing close to 70% of his passes. That kind of accuracy in camp is a good sign for him going into the season if he can keep it going, but we'll have to see what he can do the rest of the preseason before jumping the gun and saying he's the next great Kentucky-born quarterback.
Is this the year that the 2014 recruiting class shines?
Stoops' 2014 class was hailed as the class that would turn this program around. The days of missing bowl games were supposed to be gone once this class came to campus, and Kentucky was expected to be one of the better teams in the SEC East once these guys made their mark (not winning the SEC, or playing in the SEC Championship, but one of the better teams). Now in 2016, some of these recruits are juniors and some are third-year sophomores, but they haven't made their mark yet. This class was headlined by eight 4-star recruits like Drew Barker, Stanley Williams and Matt Elam.
The biggest problem with this class is that 10 of them have left the program (counting Darryl Long, whose transfer was announced Monday). Sure, they still have two or three seasons to make their mark, but this class has been underwhelming thus far and needs to be better this season. \I'm not saying that there haven't been any positives out of this class. First off, it's not fair to say Barker has been underwhelming when he hasn't had his shot yet, and he will get his shot this season. Meanwhile, Elam is working on his weight, and while Boom Williams hasn't quite been what we hope he can become, he's still one of the most explosive athletes in the conference and is capable of breaking off huge touchdown runs. This class as a whole still has time to do what they were expected to do when coming in, but they are on the clock at this point, and the ones remaining on the roster need to show that they can still be considered the greatest recruiting class in the school's history. We'll keep track of what the stars of the class look like as camp continues; hopefully they're improving.
Is Matt Elam determined to get in shape?
Elam has made strides in losing weight. On the official roster, he appears to be down about 15-20 lbs from last season. If he can lose some more, or get quicker on his feet and just put on muscle (or preferably all of the above), the Wildcats will be able to keep one of the best members of that 2014 recruiting class on the field and get a more significant contribution from him on the defensive line. Elam has talked about how he's lost the weight and how much more he hopes to lose by the end of camp, which will be great for his play. This d-line is suspect, and with the loss of Regie Meant it's now wearing thin. If Elam can be in the best shape possible this season, it will help this line survive its issues. We'll see as camp continues if Elam hits his target weight, and how it improves his play.
Who will replace Regie Meant?
Those last couple lines bring me to the next question, and figuring out who will replace Meant. If you haven't heard yet, Meant is leaving the team indefinitely for personal reasons. Stoops said that the leave "has nothing to do with football." This departure will at least temporarily leave the defensive tackle position very thin, and the coaching staff will have to quickly find someone else to run with in that spot.
There are some JUCO transfers that could plug the hole, such as Courtney Miggins. Or Stoops could play some true freshmen there, although they may get beaten up pretty badly until they're comfortable at that spot at this level. If the staff goes that route, it could be Kordell Looney or T.J. Carter. Looney is 6-3, 285 lbs, and Carter is 6-4 275, so they're both already good-sized linemen.
Can the wide receivers improve and impress?
The pressure will be on Barker to help improve a lackluster passing game, but he'll need some help from his receivers. New wide receivers coach Lamar Thomas is hoping to coach up and improve a position that could use some improvement from last season. Ryan Timmons in particular will look to take on a bigger role this season, as he recorded just 12 receptions for 114 yards and 1 touchdown last season. Getting Timmons and the rest of this wide receiver group into better form will certainly help Barker's confidence and put this passing game in a better position to complement a running game led by Boom Williams and JoJo Kemp.