When Ryan Timmons saw Green Bay Packers punter Tim Masthay and his high, booming kicks on the Kentucky practice fields this spring, the sophomore couldn't help himself.
"I wanted to catch something from a punter in the NFL," Timmons said of the former UK standout who came back for a bit. "So while he was here, I just caught some of the balls."
The ball goes a lot higher than college punts and it's in the air for what feels like forever, giving Timmons plenty of time to psyche himself out.
But fielding Masthay's punts had the reverse effect. "It was great work for me," Timmons said.
Now Timmons — originally penciled in at the punt return spot at this time a year ago before a few drops in scrimmages derailed that plan — has gained some confidence in his ability to return punts at any level.
"Last year I felt like I was thinking too much, not being myself, just trying to do everything right," the 5-foot-10 former Franklin County star said. "Now I'm just playing more loosely, just playing the game."
Because of the added confidence in his game and his body, the punt return duties are likely to fall in his hands.
"I would love to see Ryan do it," Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops said. "He's been very reliable so far in camp. He's done a very nice job, and I'd like to see him win that job."
Even Timmons' coordinator is happy to see one of his top weapons on offense get in on the punt returns.
"Field position is a huge part of the game," Neal Brown said. "We feel he's one of our most skilled athletes. He's one of the best, if not the best, guys with the ball in his hands.
"If you can steal a first down on a kickoff team or steal a first down on the punt return team, that's a huge advantage in this game."
It has not been an advantage Kentucky has had in recent years. In fact, UK hasn't returned a punt for a touchdown since Masthay's Packers teammate Randall Cobb was wearing "Kentucky" across his chest in 2010.
UK is the only Southeastern Conference school to not score a single touchdown off a punt return in three seasons.
Simply getting better field position would be key for the Cats, who averaged just 6.2 yards per punt return last season, 10th in the league.
Kentucky's coaches are convinced Timmons could be the difference-maker in the punting game, perhaps even on kickoff returns, but several players are vying for those spots.
Timmons is excited for any and all opportunities.
"Gives me a chance to make more plays outside of the offense," he said. "I can give us good field position with those returns. If I'm back there, I'll just try to give us the best advantage to score points as possible."
Fielding punts isn't the only place where Timmons has gained swagger.
"I feel a lot better with my body," he said after a full off-season of training and lifting. "I'm more conditioned than I was last year. I'm stronger than I was last summer when I came in. Makes it a lot easier for me."
Brown, who also noted that Timmons got a 4.0 grade-point average last semester, is expecting big things from his second-leading wide receiver last season.
"He looks the best I've ever seen him," the coordinator said. "He's matured a lot. His body looks better. I'm really expecting some big things from him."
Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.