Will Lynn Bowden return punts this year?
From all the chitter chatter about all that Kentucky lost from its standout 2018 campaign — space limitations prevent us from providing the list in full — you’d have to wonder if the Cats can even field a football team for 2019.
“Those guys were great,” said Lynn Bowden on Thursday during SEC Football Media Days at the Riverchase Galleria, “but people tend to overlook the players that we do have.”
Like, for instance, Lynn Bowden.
That’s right, Lynn Bowden, UK’s 6-foot-1, 199-pound play-maker of a wide receiver out of Youngstown, Ohio, whose personal accomplishments a season ago didn’t quite earn the accolades they deserved. Now, it’s truly his time to shine.
“I agree with that. I think that’s fair to say,” said UK Coach Mark Stoops on Thursday. “We had some guys with some national recognition. But Lynn had a really good year and a productive year. You saw the games and you know the outcome. There were some plays in there that you could argue he single-handedly gave us the opportunities to win some games.”
Like, for instance, last year’s game at Missouri.
Bowden caught 13 passes for 166 yards, including a pair for gains of 45 and 43 yards, in the 15-14 win. With his team trailing Mizzou 14-3 with under six minutes remaining, Bowden returned a punt 67 yards for a touchdown to switch the momentum UK’s way. Then on the afternoon’s final 81-yard drive, Bowden caught a pair of Terry Wilson passes to set up C.J. Conrad’s game-winning grab.
“I’m just looking for him to take another step,” Stoops said.
“I want to be a leader on this team,” Bowden said.
After catching just 17 passes as a freshman, Bowden proved he had a grip on the receiver position, setting the school sophomore receiving record with 67 catches for 745 yards and five touchdowns. It was the most catches by a UK receiver since a fellow named Randall Cobb caught 84 passes in 2010.
That’s not just a coincidence either, given that Bowden has often been compared to the former UK and Green Bay Packers star preparing for his first season with the Dallas Cowboys. Cobb played quarterback in high school. Bowden played quarterback in high school. Cobb learned how to play receiver at Kentucky. Bowden has learned to play receiver at Kentucky. Cobb returned kicks and carried the ball out of the backfield. Bowden has also returned kicks and carried the ball out of the backfield.
“When I first came here it was an honor to be compared to him, especially what he did for Kentucky,” said Bowden of Cobb. “I talk to Randall here and there occasionally. I’ve asked him for a few pointers. Being compared to him is just great.”
So with Benny Snell, UK’s all-time leading rusher, headed to camp with the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers, might coordinator Eddie Gran’s offense look a bit different this season? Maybe not as run-heavy? Maybe more Lynn-heavy?
“I don’t really know how to answer that question without giving away all our secrets,” said Bowden, who was named to the 2019 Biletnikoff Award watch list on Thursday.
“We have to find ways to get him the football,” Stoops said.
Bowden did provide a hint, however, when asked about Terry Wilson, the sophomore quarterback headed into his second season as the starter. Two words: Deep balls.
“That’s all we’ve been working on,” Bowden said, “hitting the deep outs, the deep posts.”
Here’s another hint: After the now-departed David Bouvier handled the vast majority of the punt returns last season, Bowden will take over those duties this year.
“I’m an athlete,” Bowden said. “I expect to play everywhere, to do whatever the coaches tell me to do.”
Just don’t tell him that with all that UK lost from 2018, it doesn’t have anything left for 2019.
Said Bowden, “There’s no excuse for us to take a step back.”