The Kentucky Wildcats have wrapped up Media Day as the 2017 college football season is drawing nearer. It also means UK has begun fall camp with Sunday marking the first official day of practice.
Here’s a look at our five biggest takeaways from Sunday’s festivities:
Still No Bowden
UK is still awaiting four-star athlete Lynn Bowden to enroll and join his teammates for practice. Head coach Mark Stoops said that Bowden is still awaiting NCAA clearance before he can practice.
“Lynn is the only one not here,” Stoops said. “We’re expecting him later this week.”
Bowden is ranked 60th overall by Scout.com, 110th by 247, and 191st by Rivals in the Class of 2017, making him one of UK’s biggest recruits in the Stoops era. 247 also ranks Bowden as the third-best overall recruit from Ohio.
The do-it-all Bowden is expected to play multiple positions at UK during his freshman season, and Darin Hinshaw has already said there will be wildcat QB packages built in for the game-breaking athlete, so not having him would be a significant loss.
The good news is three-star defensive back Michael Nesbitt enrolled earlier this week. He was the only other member of UK’s 2017 class that had yet to make it to campus as of last week.
Injury And Transfer News
Two Wildcats expected to take on backup roles this season are cornerback Tobias Gilliam and linebacker Jamin Davis. However, both players have suffered high ankle sprains and won’t practice on Sunday. The two were injured during summer workouts and will ease their way into fall camp.
This is a tricky injury to deal with and can keep players sidelined for over a month. This will almost certainly lead to Gilliam falling down the depth chart at an already-crowded cornerback position, but Davis could still be in the running for a spot on the two-deep depth chart at linebacker, being that this is a pretty thin position in terms of experience.
Elsewhere, USC Trojans transfer E.J. Price is now on campus and is already drawing praise from Stoops.
“He’s very talented,” Stoops said. “I’ve liked the things I’ve seen and heard from him so far. This is a big year for him because he can’t play.”
Price will have to sit out this year, but he should take on a major role with the offensive line in 2018.
Speaking of linebacker depth, Kash Daniel is working hard to step up in Year after being one of UK’s more highly-touted recruits in the 2016 class. Daniel spent most of his freshman season as a reserve linebacker and special teams coverage man, but he’s improving at a rate that could earn him valuable defensive snaps in 2017.
“I think he’s changing direction a lot better than what he was last year,” said linebackers coach Matt House. “I anticipate Kash taking the next step.”
UK is in desperate need of young guys to step up at all of the linebacker spots with so little experience here outside of Jordan Jones and Courtney Love. Daniel is a great talent that showed flashes of becoming a solid defender as a true freshman, so he could be poised for a bigger role in 2017.
“Kash is a guy that’s getting better, we talked about that in the spring,” said Stoops. “You see football start to slow down for him. He’s talented, that’s very important. He’s another guy that should definitely take it to a different level this year.
“You’ve gotta love Kash because he’s a passionate guy who cares about what he’s doing.”
Daniel is currently listed as the backup behind Love, who struggled in a full-time role last year. Perhaps Daniel can split snaps with Love and allow him to be more effective as a run defender.
The QB Competition Is Real
Stoops made it clear that Stephen Johnson won’t be handed the starting QB job. Despite going 7-4 as a starter for the Cats last year, Johnson will have to earn his spot again, just like everyone else on the roster.
“Of course. There is a competition at every position,” said Stoops.
The expectation is Johnson will win the job with Drew Barker or Gunnar Hoak being his backup, but Stoops and his staff appear to think Barker is fully capable of winning the job. Barker probably would have kept the job last year if not for his back injury, but it’s hard to think he would have gone 7-4 as a starter.
Johnson is probably the best option and likely has the locker room behind him, but it’s fair that he will have to earn his job and not have it handed to him. It also helps that UK has more than one capable QB on the roster, which is really what Stoops likes about this competition.
“It’s very important. It’s very nice to have all three of those guys and more at full strength and healthy, and being able to compete is nice because you know how physical this league is. It’s nice not to have to hold your breath all the time.”
Even if Johnson is the starter, it’s easy to see him getting banged up in the SEC and UK need Barker or Hoak to fill in.