Jen Smith on UK Football

Bowden’s Kentucky debut was quiet, but the wow will be worth the wait, analyst says

Even the players already in a Kentucky uniform were a little bit curious about the buzz surrounding Lynn Bowden.

They heard the big talk from their Ohio-centric coaches like Mark Stoops and recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow saying the four-star UK signee was the best player in the state of Ohio in decades.

They were all curious.

Many of them watched his clips in the locker room together.

“We’ve all seen his film; we’ve all seen his tape,” quarterback Stephen Johnson said when asked about Bowden last month. “He’s done a crazy amount of things with the football at his high school. It’s all just a matter of seeing him on the field when he gets here.”

But there was a delay in that part while Bowden finished up some academic work this summer and missed a week of fall camp before the NCAA cleared him to play.

That clearance officially came on Friday evening, and there was Bowden front and center in his No. 1 Kentucky jersey on Saturday morning for autographs on Fan Day.

The newcomer smiled kindly, signed every object placed in front of him and chatted with fans.

He had a muted first full practice in a Kentucky uniform in front of hundreds of fans at the football training facility, catching a few passes in drills and standing around with some potential punt returners.

Coaches aren’t going to rush the 6-foot-1, 190-pound star from Youngstown, Stoops said.

He’ll do what he can handle,” the head coach said of Bowden. “We’ve got to bring him along. He’s missed some days. He can’t install everything. Nobody can handle that, so we’ve got to go to day one install and feed him a little bit.”

There was nothing “wow” about Bowden on Saturday, but the wow will come, promised Bill Greene, an Ohio analyst who has followed Bowden’s career for several years.

Even though he saw Bowden play many times, Greene never stopped being amazed by what the versatile player could do.

“Every week, he would do something that was like, ‘My gosh, how does he do that?’” Greene said. “You could never take your eyes off the field when there was a punt, a kickoff or when they had the ball because there was always that chance he was going to do something special.”

It’s not that Bowden is the fastest player on the field, and he’s definitely not the strongest nor the quickest. But the cumulative effect of his athleticism left even some of Ohio’s elite defenses — with high Division I prospects — struggling to contain him.

“He’s just really special; he’s a special talent,” Greene said. “He’s just so hard to tackle. He’s so elusive and his cutting ability is amazing.”

That cutting skill is what separates him, the analyst said of Bowden, who ran for 2,277 yards and threw for 1,366 more while amassing 57 touchdowns last season alone.

“In open field, that’s where he’s best,” Greene said. “I hope they use him in punt returns and kick returns and stuff like that because in the open field he can score from anywhere. He can take it 90 yards, and good luck trying to tackle him.”

The Ohio analyst is especially intrigued by what Bowden will be able to do against a defense not focused solely on him. Most opponents would stack eight or nine defenders in the box trying to contain the quarterback for Warren Harding High School.

“He really didn’t throw it all that well, so the whole goal was to stop him and people were always so scared of him going wide,” Greene said of Bowden, who was ranked by both ESPN and Scout as one of the country’s top 100 recruits.

“If his team had a quarterback where it could’ve put him out at wide receiver, he would’ve been even more devastating because you couldn’t put eight guys on him if he was a wideout.”

Bowden, who chose Kentucky over Penn State, Indiana, Michigan State, Michigan and Nebraska, might be more dangerous a season from now when he’s had a full year in the weight room.

“That’s kind of like the next step for him is to really get stronger to where he doesn’t have to always run away from people,” Greene said of the player, whose high school offseasons were spent playing basketball. “If he can add 10-15 pounds of muscle and keep that speed and elusiveness, you’re talking about an NFL player.”