By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown said he wouldn’t know until after today’s practice whether freshman Ryan Timmons, UK’s second leading receiver, would play at Vanderbilt Saturday. Timmons injured his ankle against Alabama State and did not play last week against Missouri. Brown said the Franklin County product was “getting better” daily.
“If he does play, it probably will be in a limited role,” Brown said Wednesday.
Brown said Timmons will continue to blossom at receiver and running back in the years ahead.
“I think he’s learning at wide receiver. The way he was used in high school is really kind of the same way we’re using him right now, in a sort of hybrid running back/receiver,” Brown said. “He can improve his route-running a lot. You’re going to see a ton of growth between where he’s at now and when we kick off the season next year, where he’s at from a route-running potential. But I’m pleased with him. He’s given us quite a bit.”
Here’s more of what Brown had to say after Wednesday’s practice — UK’s final media availability of the week — going into the Vanderbilt game.
Question: Is quarterback Jalen Whitlow becoming a better leader?
Brown: “ “I think he’s growing. Yeah, I think he’s growing. I think he gets better – as we go along, I think he gets better. Is he where I would like him to be? Probably not. But I don’t know if that’s the case for anybody. I think coaches, by nature, we always want more. But I think he’s getting better. And I always have to remind myself that he’s a young kid that hasn’t played quarterback a whole lot. So I think he’s getting better.”
Question: Is anyone else showing the leadership you are looking for?
Brown: “Yeah, well, really I think our seniors have done a pretty decent job. I know our record doesn’t show that, but I think those guys have really competed hard. I think Jordan Aumiller has had a really successful senior season. I think he’s done a really good job from a leadership standpoint. I think Kevin Mitchell is playing through a lot of injuries. He’s done a good job just by toughness; not a real vocal guy but a good job. I tell you somebody that’s really growing, that I’m really encouraged by for the future is Jordan Swindle. He’s really playing well, at a high level. He competes hard, he plays hard, he’s tough. So he’s a guy that I think has a lot of potential to kind of take the reins in a leadership role as we go forward.”
Question: Does it help that Swindle, a tackle, has a nasty streak?
Brown: “Yeah, no question. I think any really good football team that I’ve ever been on, the tone is always set up front. And I really believe that you have to have some nastiness. You’ve got to play within the rules, don’t get me wrong, but you want a tough, physical presence up front. And when you have that, you have an opportunity to be good. Last year (at Texas Tech), arguably our best player was our left tackle. His name is LaAdrian Waddle. He’s starting for the Detroit Lions now, and he was a physical, nasty — and I mean that in a positive way — player, and he set the tone for everything we did on offense.”
Question: Is Whitlow doing things that you can build the offense on?
Brown: ““I think you see positive signs, no question. I thought he ran the ball extremely well in the third quarter (against Missouri). Now we’ve got to get him to do that all the time, but I thought he ran the ball really, really well in the third quarter. And hit a couple deep balls – the one that Ray fumbled, I thought that was a really nice pass. It’s the same exact play against Alabama State that he kind of bounced out there. So I think you see improvement. I think he can still play at a high level all the time. I think he is, like a lot of us on offense, inconsistent. But I do see things that lead me to believe that he can be a really good quarterback in this league.”
Question: What do you still need physically from Whitlow?
Brown: “I think he’s got to be consistently accurate with the football. I think that’s – and he knows that. He’s been inconsistent passing the ball. But there’s signs in every game that he’s played that he’s capable of doing that. We’ve just got to get him, from a fundamentals standpoint, to do that consistently.”
Question: What about his decision-making?
Brown: “I think it’s a work in progress. I think it’s significantly better than it was the Western Kentucky game. You know, we give him a lot of latitude. We don’t necessarily check a bunch of plays at the line of scrimmage, but in our offense we try to be as all-purpose as possible. Because we used to be an outfit that kind of checked at the line of scrimmage and maybe was a look-at-me a little bit more, where we all looked to the sideline, but defensive coordinators really caught onto that; when we check, they’re checking. So what we do is we try to have all-purpose plays where we’ve got maybe it’s a run/pass, a run/screen combination, and the quarterback makes the decision at the line of scrimmage either to run the ball or throw the ball. And those things, Jalen’s much improved, but he can still get better. What it does is it gives you easy yards. So if the numbers are in the box, he can throw it outside and we can get easier yards than trying to block all those people inside.”
Question: Are his mechanics improving?
Brown: “Yeah, no question. And you all can tell, too, with the naked eye: when his feet are really close together, he’s not accurate. And he’s improving. At that technical issue, he is improving. He’s definitely improving.”
Question: Why is walk-on fullback Cody Jones playing so much?
Brown: “He’s just determined. He’s really – I should’ve talked about him from a leadership standpoint because he’s given us some backbone. He’s a tough, physical kid, from Kentucky, walked on here. It’s important to him. And his toughness shows. And he just won the job. He really just won the job. He competed. I think we had him at five or six knockdown blocks in the game. And he’s been a real pleasant surprise.”