Five things we learned at Kentucky football media day Sunday at Kroger Field:
1.) Prized UK recruit Lynn Bowden has not yet made it through the NCAA clearinghouse.
Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops announced that Bowden, thought to be a play-making wide receiver recruit, is the only incoming UK freshman not yet cleared by the NCAA for preseason camp.
“It’s (the) clearinghouse, it’s academic eligibility,” Stoops said. “I expect him this week. So we expect him to be here shortly.”
As a senior at Warren Harding High School in Youngstown, Ohio, Bowden (pronounced BO-den) was a dual-threat quarterback. The 6-foot-1, 190-pounder ran for 2,777 yards and passed for 1,366 yards while accounting for 57 touchdowns.
With UK having lost a 1,000-plus-yards rusher (Boom Williams) and its stretch-the-field wide receiver (Jeff Badet) from last season and needing explosiveness to replace them, it has been speculated Kentucky could employ Bowden as a slot receiver, a running back and a Wildcat formation quarterback this fall.
That’s why Bowden’s eligibility is such a vital issue for Kentucky.
McElroy, the starting quarterback on Alabama’s 2009 BCS championship team, was blunt in his analysis of Elam earlier this month.
“This was an embarrassing effort last year, particularly the former 5-star, Matt Elam, who’s lazy and as underachieving a player as I’ve seen in this league in a long time,” McElroy said.
Knowing he would face a deluge of questions about McElroy’s comments at UK media day, Elam asked to field all of them at one time.
“I heard the comment — everybody has,” Elam said. “Everybody is entitled to their own opinion. (McElroy is) a guy behind the desk, that’s what he’s paid to do. I’m just working hard to change that view.”
A former John Hardin High School star, Elam picked Kentucky in 2014 over scholarship offers from Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Tennessee. Yet going into his senior season, the nose guard has started only nine college games and recorded just 42 tackles.
Elam said Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops spoke with him about the McElroy comments and told him he could either accept the negative view — or use it for motivation to change perceptions of him.
Early evidence suggests the 6-foot-6 Elam is doing the latter. He has struggled with his weight while at UK but looked noticeably slimmer Sunday. Elam said he is “down” to 350 pounds.
Asked if McElroy’s comments had bothered him, Elam said “I have pride, so, yeah, it did. I’m not just going to sit there and cry about it. That’s not my personality. I’m going to have to do something about it, and the only way to do something about it is just change it.”
3.) Drew Barker is anxious to test his surgically repaired back by actually taking a football hit.
Barker began last season as UK’s starting QB but missed the final nine games due to an ailing back. He underwent corrective surgery in November. Yet the redshirt junior says he enters fall camp feeling better now than he has since coming to Kentucky in 2014.
Still, Barker acknowledged he will not feel fully “back” until he gets hit by a defender under game conditions.
“I’m actually excited for that,” the Conner High School product said. “Usually, you wouldn’t say ‘I’m excited to get hit.’ But that’s the one thing I haven’t done.”
4.) Even after leading UK to seven wins last season after Barker’s injury, Stephen Johnson is not offended by talk of a preseason quarterback competition at Kentucky this year.
“Going into it, I believe I’m the starter,” said Johnson. “But there is competition every day. And it should be like that. There should be competition all throughout the season. I’m up to it. It only makes us better.”
Johnson threw for 2,037 yards last season with 13 touchdowns vs. only six interceptions. But he completed only 54.7 percent of his 265 pass attempts, at times struggling to connect on short and intermediate routes.
He also had fumbling issues, as Alabama, Mississippi State and Georgia Tech in the TaxSlayer Bowl all returned Johnson fumbles for TDs.
On Sunday, the Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., product appeared to have more muscle on his 6-foot-2 frame than he played with last year. He says he is up to 190 pounds.
Being stronger, he thinks, will allow him to cut down on fumbling. “Working on ball-control fundamentals and getting stronger is really going to help,” he said.
5.) Starting his fifth season as Kentucky coach, Mark Stoops embraced raised expectations.
After going 2-10, 5-7, and 5-7 in his first three seasons, Stoops and UK took a step forward last year, winning seven games overall, claiming four SEC victories and upsetting No. 11 Louisville on the road in the season finale.
Stoops said UK backers should expect an even better team this fall.
“We expect to be better,” the UK coach said. “We should be better. We’re going into year five, we ought to be better in all areas.”