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UK quarterback Patrick Towles (Victoria Graff photo)

UK quarterback Patrick Towles (Victoria Graff photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT

Now that Jalen Whitlow has announced he will transfer rather than accept a move from quarterback to receiver, where does that leave sophomore quarterback Patrick Towles?

He couldn’t beat out Whitlow or Maxwell Smith when he was a true freshman in 2012 under then coach Joker Phillips. Last season he redshirted after Whitlow and Smith emerged 1-2 in the preseason quarterback battle under new coach Mark Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown.

“I wasn’t here for the first time, so I don’t know if he really lost that or not, but he has made tremendous strides, now he’s got a long way to go, Patrick does,” said Brown Wednesday. “And he’s still making some decisions that aren’t correct, making some negative plays, but he’s gotten tremendously better from a fundamental aspect. So that should be a positive for him, not necessarily a negative for Jalen.”

With Whitlow gone, that also means Towles, Drew Barker and Reese Phillips will have one less person to split quarterback reps with in practice until a starter is named.

“That’s why we made the decision. We’ve got to get it down to a manageable number. We’re hoping to do that going into fall camp. I think that was part of the issues we had last year is we let it drag out too far and we didn’t get enough quality reps for either Jalen or Max,” Brown said.

By LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON — Jalen Whitlow made the best decision for himself to transfer to another school so he could continue to play quarterback, but he probably also did Kentucky a favor with his choice after being asked to move to receiver.

Whether it was his fault or not — and former coach Joker Phillips and current coach Mark Stoops have said repeatedly that it was  not — Kentucky was just not very good offensively when Whitlow played. The Cats were a combined 4-20 the last two seasons and while many noted how well Whitlow could throw and run in practice, he normally had trouble completing passes in games.

In Neal Brown’s offense, efficiency is the key word. Fans want big plays; Brown wants first downs and accurate throws.

Whitlow was not even a full-time quarterback in high school, but from the day he got to UK he was determined that he would play quarterback, and only quarterback. I still remember at the 2012 media day if he could envision himself being the next Randall Cobb, a high school quarterback who made the move to receiver at UK and is now in the NFL, and he quickly and politely told me he was a quarterback.

But he was not the quarterback to run Brown’s offense — and UK fans were never going to buy into him leading an “Air Raid” offense when in-state favorites Drew Barker and Patrick Towles, both prolific high school passers, and redshirt freshman Reese Phiillips, a much more accurate passer, were potential starting quarterbacks.

“We’re narrowing it down. So we’re making progress. We like where we’re at. We’re improving. We’re getting it narrowed down. It’s just like Jalen, last night, we made that decision with Jalen. I talked to him yesterday. He made that decision last night. I told you today. The other guys, we’re working our way through it. It’s not a big secret, we’re just working through it,” coach Mark Stoops said Wednesday when asked if Whitlow’s transfer meant Brown had picked a starter.

Stoops said it best when he noted that both he and Brown felt “Jalen’s best skill set” for Kentucky was at receiver. That obviously means the two coaches have seen enough of Barker, a true freshmen, along with Phillips and Towles to believe at least one, if not more, would be ahead of Whitlow at quarterback when the season starts.

“As far as the other three quarterbacks that are competing right now, we’re working through that situation. It’s fluid,” Brown said after Wednesday’s practice. “We’ve told you, and it’s going to be the same stance. You all can ask questions about it, but basically is we’re working through it. We want to make a quicker decision than we did last year, but all three guys, we’re mixing up the reps. They’re doing some good things, they’re doing some things that aren’t so good. As soon as we make a decision, just like today, you all will get notified.”

Brown admitted Saturday’s scrimmage, which was not open to the public, played a role in the decision to ask Whitlow, a versatile athlete, to switch positions.

“There’s more weight that goes into the scrimmages, but this decision wasn’t based just on Saturday. It was a year’s worth of work and I think Saturday was eight practices (into spring ball). So Saturday, the other guys probably did some better things, but it wasn’t just based off one afternoon,” Brown said.

Remember, Brown and Stoops had last spring and all last season to watch Whitlow and Maxwell Smith, who is out this spring rehabbing from shoulder surgery, to play quarterback. Most Kentucky fans were convinced neither could be a winning SEC quarterback. That’s why going into spring drills that Barker, Towles or Phillips figured to have a terrific chance to become the starter — and now one will be.

“You have a past performance. And I will say this as well: Jalen made strides. He was better this spring than he was in the fall, but the other three guys who are competing are better, too. And maybe they made bigger strides, OK? But this wasn’t premeditated, this was something as we went through the nine practices, we made a decision on, it was clear,” Brown said.

What about Whitlow being the most mobile?

You always try to tailor your offense and your plays to the skill set of your players. With him (Whitlow) in there, obviously there’s a few more options. But ultimately we want to throw the football,” Stoops said

Throw the football? That’s not Whitlow’s strength and that’s why he was not the right for UK or Brown.

“We’re always going to fit around our personnel. I don’t think the offense that we ran last year is ideally what we want to do, but I thought it gave us the best chance to win,” Brown said. “We can fit around his skill set. It came down to consistently making throws. That’s what it came down to.  He made really good throws, but not on a consistent as a basis as he needed to.

“This is not a negative on Jalen, OK? The other three guys are performing well. I feel good about where we’re at the quarterback position, now we’ve got to go do it with the lights on, but Saturday in the scrimmage or game atmosphere, that was the best that any quarterbacks have looked since I’ve been here for a calendar year.”

Which is why Whitlow is now headed for another school and UK is guaranteed to have a new starting quarterback next season.

Click on the photo of Mark Stoops to watch a video of him talking about Jalen Whitlow's transfer.

Click on the photo of Mark Stoops to watch a video of him talking about Jalen Whitlow’s transfer.

By LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON — Rather than move to wide receiver as he was asked to do by coach Mark Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown, quarterback Jalen Whitlow has decided to transfer.

He started seven games as a true freshman n 2012 and started eight games last year in Stoops’ first season when UK went 2-10, the same record in had in 2012. He rushed for 663 yards and nine scores in two seasons and threw for 1,834 yards and 10 touchdowns.

“I’m never surprised. I know Jalen was disappointed. I was hopeful that he would give it a try, but I understand where he’s coming from,” said Brown after Wednesday’s practice.  “He’s played quarterback most of his life. He feels like he is (one), so I understand and I’ll support him.”

Whitlow will finish the semester before transferring and having two years of eligibility remaining. Stoops said it would be between him and Whitlow what transfer restrictions, if any, are placed on the player.

“I appreciate the University of Kentucky and what the coaching staff and administration have done for me,” Whitlow said in a statement released by UK since he was not available to the media. “I also thank the community and the fan support I have received here.  I wish the coaches and my teammates the best of luck.”

Stoops talked to Whitlow twice Tuesday about where UK was with the quarterback battle that includes sophomore Patrick Towles, redshirt freshman Reese Phillips and true freshman Drew Barker.

“He’s worked very hard for a long time, through high school and through college here, to help this university and be the best quarterback he can be. So I wish him the best of luck,” Stoops said. “We were in a situation where, once we told him where we’re working it out with quarterback, and asked him to play another position (and) if he’d be open to that, he decided that it’d be in his best interest to go somewhere else and play QB. That’s where his heart is. That’s what he wants to do. I understand that.”

Stoops said he had not asked Whitlow to change positions before discussing a possible move to receiver with him Tuesday.

“We’ve given him every opportunity to win the starting job. He deserved that right. He was in there. As you know, he played some good football for us at times last year,” Stoops said. “I’ve said this over and over again, it’s not all about the quarterback position. We needed to get better across the board. If Jalen was coming back here next year and being the quarterback and playing for us, we’d be a whole lot better than we were last year, just because the whole team should look better. It’s not just on him.”

Brown said he was “disappointed” Whitlow was leaving and called him a “great kid” on the team.

“Love the kid, appreciate everything he’s done for the program. I want to make sure that we understand that our lack of success last year, he only played a minor role in that,” Brown said. “We didn’t do enough as coaches and at other positions groups — I want to put that out there too, I want to make sure we’re clear on that.

“Respect his decision, understand, but again, disappointed. We had a couple different conversations yesterday. We made the suggestion about moving positions, and he wants to be a quarterback, which we definitely understand.”

Stoops said he knew moving to receiver would be a hard change for Whitlow.

“When you’re bundled up at the quarterback position, it’s a different position. Again, I don’t look at it like he’s throwing in the towel on us. I wish he was here,” Stoops said. “I wanted him to stay here and play for Kentucky in some position. But he wants to play quarterback, so we understand that.

“It’s hard, as you know. It’s hard to get four and five guys reps. Listen: I want to move on. I want there to be a clear-cut winner or a starter, or at least one and two, so we can start narrowing down reps. But one thing that I can be sure (of) is that I feel very fair that I gave Jalen a great shot to win that job.”

Both Stoops and Brown said the talk with Whitlow was not easy on anyone.

“It was tough. I have a lot of respect for Jalen. He’s a good kid. Worked extremely hard. He’s talented, and he does have the skill set to run the football, and throw it at times,” Stoops said. “He’s maybe not as consistent as we’d like to be in the pass game. But he’s a very good quarterback, and it is tough to have that conversation. I appreciate the work that he did.”

Brown said coaches know they have to make hard decisions as part of their job, but that doesn’t make it easier.

“It’s never fun. It’s not something I enjoy. It’s really one of the worst aspects. What I try to do … and what I did with Jalen … I told him I care about him, which I do. I want him to do what he thinks is best for him in regard to our team. But I also wanted to be up front and honest with him and I knew there would be a decision he had to make,” Brown said.

“I was hoping he’d make the decision to stay, but I do understand. And I appreciate his contributions. I really do. Last year was a tough year. It wouldn’t have mattered who played quarterback; it was going to be a difficult, difficult season. He weathered some things, some adversity, so I’m proud of him for that. But it is: it’s a difficult thing, for sure.”

UK football coach Mark Stoops addresses the media during Wednesday's Football Signing Day. (Victoria Graff photo/all rights reserved)

Mark Stoops photo by Victoria Graff photo/all rights reserved.

By LARRY VAUGHT

Head coach Mark Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown both liked what they saw from freshman receivers T.V. Williams and Thaddeus Snodgrass, both January enrollees, during Saturday’s scrimmage.

Stoops: “The young guys did some good things. Thaddeus (Snodgrass) had a chance to make a real big play, didn’t come down with it. T.V. (Williams) made a nice play where he caught the ball, bounced off some people, made a big play for the offense, which was good.”

Brown: “T.V. (Williams) had some highs and some lows. He had a drop that would’ve been a big play, and then he had a long touchdown reception. So he showed some signs. I think Thaddeus Snodgrass is starting to come along. It’s a lot on a receiver initially. It really is. He’s getting a lot of reps because we’ve got some guys that are banged up. Mikel Horton (running back), he did some good things. I think he got tired probably. It’s a big difference (from high school).”

By LARRY VAUGHT

Offensive coordinator Neal Brown didn’t ask UK’s offensive line to do a lot in Saturday’s scrimmage, but he liked what he saw.

“But they’re better. I think they’re playing more cohesive. A lot of that has to do with we’re not trying to shuffle (backups) in. Our one group is getting a lot of the reps together, and we’ve got some experience there, obviously, with Jordan (Swindle) and Darrian (Miller) on the exterior,” Brown said.

One player especially caught his attention.

“Zach West is really making some positive steps (at guard), which he needed to. He needed to, and I think it’s big that he’s had an offseason, where last offseason he didn’t get to go through it because he had shoulder surgery,” Brown said.

“And then (guard) Ramsey Meyers, he makes some mistakes but he’s talented and he’s strong. And then (Jon) Toth, I think I told y’all last time I was able to talk to you, that he’s probably our most-improved player (at center).”

By LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON — Kentucky coach Mark Stoops certainly liked Saturday’s scrimmage and the improved efficiency and energy he saw from his team on both sides of the ball.

“We got some good work in. Definitely really the best we’ve played this spring, for sure. Look a whole lot better. Again, not where we need to be. We’re a little bit nicked up at wide receiver, but overall I thought we really did some good things,” Stoops said. “No significant injuries. Good physical scrimmage, got a lot of plays in. Felt like the quarterbacks did some good things. So, overall very pleased with the effort.”

He said the scrimmage, which ended a bit earlier than scheduled, was a “lot better” than the first one this spring.

“We probably weren’t quite ready. That’s maybe why I was a little frustrated: looked a little bit sloppy,” he said. “But it was good to get back out there today. We had a couple days to meet and to get set and kind of just went out there today, basically got a warm-up, did a little seven-on-seven and did some special teams and rolled right into the scrimmage. So that was kind of good just to get into that mode, put the ball down and play.”

He said there was no noticeable edge for the offense or defense.

“I thought both. I really did. That’s why it’s hard for me, because if one side does well I’m disappointed in the other,” the UK coach said. “But I really did feel like both sides had some moments today. I thought we were a little bit more stout in some of the run game with the ones on defense. Had some good stops, but the offense bounced back, had some good drives, threw the ball well, caught it better. We’re still a little thin — I don’t want to get in too much to the injury situation, nothing major, but we’re still a little bit thin at wide receiver. But they still managed to throw it, catch it, move the ball.”

Stoops said it was nice to have more to work with now than he did a year ago during his first spring practice at UK.

“We feel better. At times, you get out here during practices and everything, we’re running a lot of teams and doing a lot of reps, so you’re getting ones, twos and threes,” he said. “Already in the spring, you’re already a little bit thin if you don’t have your whole group here. So it’s sloppy at times, but overall you put it together, get out there on the scrimmage and get going. We’re definitely further along. We just operate our offense and our defense better at this point. We’re getting there, getting better. Need to get everybody healthy obviously. We’re not deep enough to have a bunch of guys out.”

Offensive coordinator Neal Brown was just as happy as Stoops.

“Had a good day. Probably our best in a scrimmage or a game-type atmosphere — the best, just from the mechanics of the game, the best we’ve executed,” Brown said. “What I mean by that is playing at the tempo that we want to; we’re getting closer.

“We’re not there yet, but we’re a lot closer than we ever were at any point last year. We didn’t have a single turnover, very few penalties. So all those types of things, a big-time improvement from where we were last spring and last fall.”

Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot liked that his unit “played with some better energy” than in the first scrimmage.

“I think that we got some things to build on. Still got a long ways to go, but we got number of practices left to get better,” Eliot said. “I think that on defense we tried to just be vanilla. We weren’t trying to out-scheme anybody and we just wanted to find out who could make plays and who could play hard and so we got something to build on.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON — Running back JoJo Kemp is never one to hide his emotions or enthusiasm and he didn’t try when asked how about freshman quarterback Drew Barker fared in Kentucky’s scrimmage Saturday.

“Drew looked real good. He was out there making plays. He stood out,” said Kemp.

No statistics were given for the scrimmage that was closed to fans and media members, but the consensus seemed to be that even though all four quarterbacks — Barker, Patrick Towles, Jalen Whitlow and Reese Phillips — performed well, Barker had the best day.

“Pretty good, pretty good. Did some good things,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said about Barker.

He said “completions and touchdown passes” stood out the most to him about Barker’s play.

‘You have to look at the tape and see who it was against, what happened, a few things, but overall pleased. Pleased with how he handled himself, how he operated the good offense. Had some good throws. I also think the other guys had their moments as well,” Stoops said. “Again, Patrick— I’ve talked about several times this spring — saw him make a couple very nice throws that I haven’t seen for awhile on our practice field. Really some good, strong throws in some tough spots. So that was encouraging to see. And again, Reese and Jalen  had their moments as well.”

Offensive coordinator Neal Brown also liked what Barker did and the maturity he showed in his first outing at Commonwealth Stadium.

“I think the biggest thing about Drew is, if you would’ve came out and just watched us today, you wouldn’t have know he was a high school senior. And that’s the most impressive thing to me. Because the mechanics of the game and not being in awe of being in that stadium for the first time and playing, that was what I was most impressed with,” Brown said. “You wouldn’t have know that here he is, went to the (high school) prom two weeks ago or gonna graduate in June, you know what I mean? You wouldn’t have known that, which is a credit to him.”

Brown said other freshmen who enrolled in January midway of their senior year in high school made plays, but also got tired during the scrimmage. But not Barker.

“That’s why I was saying it’s such a credit to Drew, because you could’ve watched some of those other guys and thought, ‘OK, they’re young; they’re making some mistakes.’ Well, Drew, you would’ve thought he was here for a year, he’d been here for a while,” Brown said.

Stoops and Brown both insisted it was still a four-player battle at quarterback with no clear separation yet for the job that Whitlow had last year.

” I know that we didn’t make as many big mistakes,” Brown said. “All four of them threw the ball better. Towles made some throws in live situations that he hadn’t made here, so I was pleased with that. They all got about equal reps and everybody got a chance with the ones and the twos.”

Brown said Towles, who played as a freshman in 2012 and then redshirted last year, made throws the staff had only seen him make before in non-game situations.

“Like when he comes out here and throws routes on air and we don’t have defenses, and y’all watched him throw the other day … he’s making throws that he’s always made on air, but he made those against the defense being out there,” Brown said. “I know he’s got really good arm talent; he always has. And you’ll see — even last year, I would see snippets of that when we were throwing on air, OK? Or maybe we were in a seven-on-seven drill. Well, today I saw some of those throws in a game atmosphere, which was encouraging.”

Brown doesn’t want the quarterback competition to go until close to the season opener like it did last year between Whitlow, Maxwell Smith and Towles.

“I want it to get narrowed down. The thing I’m pleased about is they’re all much, much better. We’re better. Whoever the quarterback is going to be, they’re going to be better than we played last year,” Brown said. “So that’s pleasing. But I do want to get it narrowed down quicker. When we do that, I don’t know. I’m not going to put any false deadlines.”

Does he want that done by the end of spring practice in two weeks?

“I don’t know. You’re putting words in my mouth now.  I’m not saying yes or no. We haven’t had that discussion. I’d love for one of them to take it and run, but nobody’s done that necessarily yet,” Brown said.

Kemp said he would hate to pick a starting quarterback based on what he’s seen.

“All the quarterbacks did good. They all looked good,” he said. “They all stood out. To me, they all looked great. Don’t count none of them out. They are focused, going through reads. They are all talented and trying to get the starting job and do what is needed to do that.”

Linebacker Khalid Henderson has the same view after going against all four quarterbacks Saturday.

“Each guy is making plays. They are all doing good,” Henderson said. “Barker is showing good leadership and making a good effort. I see a real good competition.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

Offensive coordinator Neal Brown made Ryan Timmons a priority recruit as soon as he joined Mark Stoops staff at Kentucky and was able to persuade the Franklin County star to sign with UK.

Timmons had a solid freshman season in 2013 while learning to be a full-time receiver after playing a variety of positions in high school.

Brown wanted to see him to “take a step” forward during spring practice and thinks he has.

“I’ve been talking to him a lot about a kid we had at Troy named Jerrel Jernigan that plays for the Giants now. He was a lot like Ryan coming in — hadn’t played just a ton of true wideout,” said Brown. “Jerrel had actually been a quarterback — an option quarterback — in high school. Came in, we used him — use Ryan very similar to how we used Jerrel at Troy in 2007.

“Then from the end of the season in 2007 through spring practice, into the start of the season in 2008, Jerrel changed his body, really learned how to play receiver, and he was a first-team all-conference player, a third-round draft pick, so on and so on. So that’s kind of the guy I’ve been talking to Ryan about. I’m pleased with where he’s at. His practice habits are a lot better. He’s catching the ball more consistently. And he gives us a big-play threat.”

Timmons played three sports in high school and, like most multi-sports standouts, wasn’t in the weight room an abundance.

“And he had that shoulder surgery about this time last year, so he didn’t get to go through any of our offseason stuff. So his body looks a lot better,” Brown said.

Coach Mark Stoops feels Timmons is in “great shape” and says he’s even looked “more comfortable” returning kicks this spring.

“He’s not as indecisive about the catching. He’s going and making good decisions and going and getting it. So he’s getting more comfortable,” Stoops said. “He’s more consistent of being a complete wide receiver. We know he’s good with the ball in his hands and he’s got to learn to get open, it’s not just screens and fly motions and handing him the ball and all that. He’s improving, he really is. He’s making some big plays. He’s been more consistent; he’s stronger. I like the way he’s playing.”

By LARRY VAUGHT

For as long as he can remember, Kentucky has been his favorite team. That’s why when Henderson County junior offensive lineman Mason Wolfe realized he had the best relationship with the UK coaches of any staff recruiting him that there was no reason not to make his verbal commitment to the Wildcats as he did last week.

“It’s close to home, a state school, I like the coaches and it was my favorite team growing up,” said the 6-5, 270-pound Wolfe. “I just kind of decided why not go ahead and make my decision. The offense we run at my high school is kind of similar, so I am familiar with that and the blocking schemes.

“I got so much feedback when I made my decision. Twitter blew up for a while with followers. I got a lot of congratulations and fans were happy to see I had committed. It takes a little bit of pressure off my senior year about where I will go to school, but it adds pressure in that people will really want to compete against you. They will give me their best shot ever game, but it is also kind of exciting to see what people can bring at me.”

His father, Ron, was thrilled with the commitment since he is a life-long UK fan.

“I think it is great for him,” Ron Wolfe said. “I am so excited and so happy for him and thrilled he’s going to be playing for coach (Mark) Stoops.”

Clay Clevenger, now the head coach at Danville, was Wolfe’s coach in 2012 when he was a sophomore. However, Clevenger said because of his size, it was obvious in middle school he had the opportunity to be special. His father brought him then to watch the high school team work out in the weight room to show him what kind of work ethic he would need.

“With coach Clevenger, I really learned how to run block and a lot of good techniques,” Mason Wolfe said. “He was a fantastic run block teacher. That hopefully will give me an advantage at Kentucky because I have learned and played in two different types of offenses in high school.

“I am someone who likes to run block and I want to get better in my pass protection techniques. I am a hard worker and consider myself as someone who always wants to get better.”

Wolfe, a three-star player, started developing a mean streak and strong work ethic as a sophomore and Clevenger said the “light bulb went off midway of his sophomore year” about what could make him a special player.

“He has dedicated himself in the weight room and from all I could tell he really had a good junior season,” Clevenger said. “He is a great kid. He was kind of nice on the football field and maybe even borderline soft at one time, but now he understands he can be nice off the field and nasty on the field.

“The biggest thing I always talked to him about was that he needed a better motor. He had the size and you knew the strength would come. He had good hip flexibility for a kid his size and quick feet. He just had to get that motor. Sometimes bigger kids are a little slower to develop that motor. It’s kind of like they are gentle giants and have been afraid they might hurt guys. But he started getting it midway of his sophomore year, was really working had in the weight room when I left and things have continued to snowball in the right direction for him. I think as long as he keeps working like he has, he has a world of potential.”

Wolfe was considering Louisville, Purdue, North Carolina State and Western when he gave his verbal pledge to UK.

“Once I saw all UK had to offer, that was it,” Wolfe said. “I felt the program would go the right direction when coach Stoops came. I just knew he would change the mindset and turn things the right way. I’ve only been around the players a few times and now will get to talk more to the, but you can tell they believe in what he is doing.”

Wolfe hopes to be at UK’s Blue-White Game April 26. He has a Rivals.com camp he will attend earlier in the day. He also plans to go to a Nike camp in June.

“But I am probably going to call off all the other camps because I am going to UK and that’s not going to change.” he said.

* * *

Kentucky now has defensive backs Montrell Custis and Marcus Walker in its 2015 class along with offensive linemen Larry Wells, Logan Steinberg and Levon Livingston.

By: ASHLEY SCOBY

Some of football’s fiercest battles will probably always remain in the trenches, but for Kentucky, it’s been a “dog fight” slightly closer to the sidelines this spring.

Answering their coaches’ call to be more physical, Kentucky’s wide receiver corps has gotten bigger, stronger and maybe a little meaner during the offseason.

“It’s like a dog fight every time you go out there with the DBs,” said receiver Jeff Badet, who is coming off a 22-catch, 285-yard freshman campaign. “We do a lot of one-on-one drills and blocking drills. It’s a lot of physicality out here between us and the DBs.”

Cornerback Cody Quinn said the intensity has picked up tremendously in practice, and that Badet was one of three receivers that really stood out to him in terms of chippiness.

Demarco Robinson, who is fighting for his spot back on the team after being indefinitely suspended last season, and Rashad Cunningham, who was ineligible for all of the 2013 season, were the other two players Quinn mentioned.

“We go at it every day,” Cunningham said. “It’s an ongoing thing, kind of like a cornerback/wide receiver type of beef.”

Offensive coordinator Neal Brown said that at this time last year, Kentucky’s receiving corps was as “behind” as any unit in the country. Although the team is still a year or so away from achieving the depth it wants, according to Brown, the guys this year are “more coachable” and more willing to study the game. Once players better understand where they’re supposed to be and what they’re supposed to do, physicality can reign supreme.

This year’s wideouts are also more willing to step into the weight room. Of all the wide receivers, sophomore-to-be Ryan Timmons was the one with the biggest jump in weight, going from 185 last season to being listed at 193 for spring practice.

Erik Korem’s “High Performance” program prides itself on helping players lose the “bad” weight and gain the muscle necessary to play in the Southeastern Conference.

“His body looks a lot better,” Brown said of Timmons. “Where he played three sports in high school, which is a good thing, he just wasn’t in the weight room a ton, and he had that shoulder surgery about this time last year so he didn’t get to go through any of our offseason stuff.”

For Timmons, the increased intensity in practice is one thing that has motivated him to get in the weight room.

“I want to try and dominate whoever is in front of me so lifting is one of the main things that I’m trying to focus on,” he said.

The competition in practice is not limited to offense/defense, though. There has even been a little friendly rivalry among the receivers.

Freshman TV Williams came into Kentucky with the reputation of having lightning speed, at 5-10 and 160 pounds. At the same height, Timmons has always had that reputation, too, especially as a two-time Kentucky state champion in the 100-meter dash (and one-time champ in the 200). So obviously, there had to be a race between the two.

“I didn’t kill him,” Timmons said with a smile. “He’s fast, but I beat him. We settled that.”

That kind of competition is what Kentucky’s coaches like to see, especially when last year’s receiving corps was lacking in depth and production. The 2013 season saw Kentucky finish 10th in the SEC in passing offense, and 11th in yards-per-catch.

This time around, coaches are preaching physicality not just as receivers try to get open, but in their blocking schemes, too. From top to bottom, this year’s wideouts are bringing more muscle to their duties.

“We’ve incorporated some drills and half line, things like that where maybe the defense knows screens are coming and so we’re just flying to the ball, making them put their face on the defender and learn how to block and how to be tough,” said head coach Mark Stoops. “We’re getting better.”

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For IPhones/IPads, and new for Android devices, the Catalist app by Larry Vaught is the best way to keep up with UK basketball. It's free!

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