- Greg Ostendorf, ESPN Staff Writer
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There were times when Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles looked like a future star in the SEC. Some even went as far as to say that he had the most NFL potential of any starter in the conference. But he was a different player down the stretch. He threw for more than 200 yards just once during the Wildcats' six-game slide to end the season.
The solution isn't to replace to Towles. The talent is there and so is the potential. But Kentucky must find and develop some weapons in the passing game to help the young signal caller.
Position to improve: Wide receiver
Why it was a problem: Kentucky's leading receiver, sophomore Ryan Timmons, finished with a mere 536 yards on the season. Nineteen other SEC players finished ahead of Timmons in yards, and every team other than Vanderbilt had at least one player with more yards. Granted, Javess Blue was right behind Timmons with 525 yards, but there was clearly no go-to wide receiver for Towles and the Wildcats. Timmons and Blue had just three games of more than 100 yards receiving between them, and the duo only accounted for seven receiving touchdowns on the season. The stats look even worse if you go beyond those two. There were simply no big plays, no consistency and very little improvement among the wide receivers, and it was a major reason why you saw Towles and this offense regress in the second half of the season.
How it can be fixed: There's hope. For one, Towles will be better in 2015. He'll have another offseason to train, get stronger and develop a rapport with his wide receivers. Second and maybe more importantly, Kentucky is bringing in Shannon Dawson as its new offensive coordinator. Dawson comes from West Virginia where he was known for running a pass-happy offense. This past season, the Mountaineers featured Kevin White, one of the nation's top wide receivers, and had three wideouts with more yards than Timmons. The Wildcats might not put up those kind of numbers in Dawson's first season, but it's a step in the right direction and one that has to have fans excited about the future in Lexington.
Early 2015 outlook: Timmons is back and could be poised for a breakout season. However, both Blue and Demarco Robinson are gone, which means it's up to the young guns -- Garrett Johnson, Dorian Baker, Blake Bone and T.V. Williams -- to step up and play a bigger role in 2015. All four played as true freshmen and all four made an impact at some point during the season. Johnson, in particular, flashed his potential with six catches for 154 yards and two touchdowns in a double overtime loss at Florida but was quiet the rest of the year. Fellow freshmen Thaddeus Snodgrass is another name to keep an eye on. He redshirted his first season on campus, but the former ESPN 300 star was the highest ranked of any of the wide receivers in Kentucky's 2014 class. He'll likely factor into the mix when the Wildcats return to practice this spring.