Football is in full swing in the Bluegrass after last Friday’s Media Day, Saturday’s Fan Day and the first few practices of the 2015 season. Tomorrow, Mark Stoops’ team will wear full pads for the first time as the physicality picks up and the Cats get down to business in these final weeks before the season opener.
Though excitement is high around Lexington, there is still plenty to learn before that September 5th kickoff in the new Commonwealth Stadium, including who will be under center and if there will even be a stadium. Those are just two of the questions weighing on my mind tonight as we say goodbye to summer and say hello to my favorite time of the year.
We’ll do 10 random thoughts/questions for now…
1.) When will Patrick Towles be named the starting quarterback?
This is Patrick Towles’ football team. Drew Barker is pushing him in every practice, drill and workout, and Barker deserves a look, but it’s Patrick Towles’ job and it’s only a matter of time before Mark Stoops makes that announcement.
Stoops said at UK Football Media Day, “It could work its way out in one day. It could work its way out in two practices, it could work its way out in two weeks or through the first game. I don’t know.”
When Stoops asked Towles to get better over the offseason, Towles got better. He improved his game after showing flashes of an All-SEC quarterback in 2014, his first season as Kentucky’s starter. Though he wasn’t consistent throughout the entire year, he showcased, at times, what it takes to be a star in this league. With that experience behind him, there’s no way Stoops can hand the ball over to the unproven Barker in Week 1.
2.) Will Commonwealth Stadium be ready?
I had my doubts after touring the construction site last month and I still think it will take a buzzer-beater for it to be completely ready on September 5. One construction worker told me during that tour, “There will be a football game.” He wouldn’t confirm anything else.
As for the concourses, suites, concessions, tailgating and everything else included in the renovation, we’ll just have to wait and see. But the field is ready for football and it’s looking great.
3.) What’s up with Jason Hatcher?
Stoops’ prized signee from the 2013 recruiting class, a projected starter at outside linebacker this coming season, will miss the first two games with a suspension for a violation of team rules. To make matters worse, his backup, Kobie Walker, will not be able to go, either. Walker is recovering from offseason ankle surgery and will sit out the first two or three weeks, at least.
The disappointment in Hatcher’s suspension isn’t so much about his absence from the field–although that is a big blow– as it is his lack of accountability and maturity. He was suspended as a freshman for a violation of team rules, and was cited for marijuana possession last summer.
Now a junior and a key member of the defense, Hatcher needs to grow up and become a leader on and off the field.
4.) Will we see Greg Hart, Courtney Love or De’Niro Laster in 2015?
The three offseason transfers are still awaiting a decision from the NCAA regarding their eligibility at Kentucky this season. It’s very unlikely any of the three see the field this fall, but until the ruling comes out, we will hold out hope.
Stoops expects to hear something official this week or next.
5.) Is Jacob Hyde really going to line up at fullback?
God I hope so.
Shannon Dawson said, “There’s going to be situations where it’s a half a yard and we need to get one. So we’ll put his big ass in there and knock somebody down.”
“Are you going to see him on first and 10? Probably not. If you do, I’m just trying to get a laugh out of you. Are we going to throw it to him a lot? Probably not.”
Hyde said he is taking the rock to the house.
— Drew Franklin (@DrewFranklinKSR) August 11, 2015
6.) Will the veteran corners hold off the new guys?
Seniors Cody Quinn and Fred Tiller were listed as the two starting cornerbacks entering fall camp, but it sounds like the underclassmen are making an early push for playing time.
Today, Coach Stoops named sophomore Kendall Randolph as a serious challenger for one of the cornerback spots. Freshmen Chris Westry, Derrick Beaty, Kei Beckham and Will Jackson are also opening eyes right away in the secondary, plus the two juniors, J.D. Harmon and Jaleel Hytchye.
“There’s still great competition going on right now,” said Stoops.
7.) Can the running backs stay healthy?
A significant injury to any of the running backs will be devastating to Kentucky’s offense. UK returns only three backs — JoJo Kemp, Mikel Horton and Boom Williams — from last season, not nearly enough bodies for the Southeastern Conference.
True freshman Sihiem King and inexperienced sophomore William Mahone are the extent of the running back depth behind the other three.
It doesn’t help that Williams is already out with a minor knee injury, four days into fall camp.
8.) Have we ever seen so much depth at wide receiver?
Expectations are sky high for the long list of pass-catchers expected to get touches this season. Ryan Timmons will be challenged for his title as the go-to guy; he may not even hang on to his starting role if Garrett Johnson continues to perform entering his sophomore campaign. Jeff Badet and Alex Montgomery are also playing well in their returns from injury, in addition to the bigs, Dorian Baker and Blake Bone. Throw in Tavin Richardson, Jabari Greenwood, T.V. Williams, Thaddeus Snodgrass and Joey Herrick, and you’ve got a wide receiving corps unlike anything I can remember in Lexington.
The depth plays well toward Shannon Dawson’s fast-paced game plan, too. Dawson will be able to rotate pieces in and out at every receiver spot.
9.) Will the losing streak to Florida come to an end?
If it doesn’t happen this season, I’m convinced it will never happen. Florida has the worst offensive line in the conference and, yesterday, running back Adam Lane, the Gators’ MVP from last year’s Birmingham Bowl, announced he is leaving the program.
This is a down year for Florida, playing under a new staff and playing at Kentucky in the Cats’ first SEC home game in the new Commonwealth Stadium. If this ain’t the year, it ain’t hapnin’.
10.) Are we going bowling?
The answer is YES.