Kentucky freshman wide receiver Ryan Timmons practiced this week but isn't "at 100 percent," coach Mark Stoops said Wednesday.
Offensive coordinator Neal Brown said the staff is "being careful" with how much work Timmons does in practice. They're playing it cautious, and a final determination on his status won't come until Friday.
"If he does play, it probably will be in a limited role," Brown said.
Although Stoops said he "hopes" Timmons -- who missed last week's game with shoulder and ankle injuries -- is fully healthy and ready to go for Kentucky's game at Vanderbilt, it's unlikely.
Timmons' presence would be a boost for UK's receiving corps. He's been targeted 25 times by sophomore quarterback Jalen Whitlow this year, more than any other receiver.
If Timmons can't go or is significantly limited, a stretched-thin group of wideouts will again be asked to step up. Freshman Jeff Badet and sophomore A.J. Legree figure to play important roles again.
Even beyond wanting to win this week, getting Timmons back on the field to continue his progress as a receiver would be beneficial.
"He can improve his route-running a lot," Brown said. "You're going to see a ton of growth between where he's at now and when we kick off the season next year (with that). But I'm pleased with him. He's given us quite a bit."
Although both Kentucky and Vanderbilt have, historically, been at the bottom of the SEC hierarchy, the balance has definitively shifted to the Commodores in recent years.
Vanderbilt has outscored Kentucky by a combined 78-8 the past two games, and with never-before-been-done wins over both Georgia and Florida this season, the Commodores are a team on the rise.
And while Kentucky's bowl dreams are officially over, 5-4 Vanderbilt needs one more victory to seal their postseason eligibility.
"We don't want to be the team that gives them the win," senior running back Raymond Sanders said.
Conversely, Sanders does want UK to be the team that gives Stoops his first conference win.
It's been a frustrating process falling short five times this year, Stoops said.
"Our own fans and people within our program, as coaches and everybody else, we all want immediate success," Stoops said. "We're working extremely hard to get that done. But it doesn't get me down. Because I know we've been doing things right for nine or ten months, and the teams we're playing have been doing things right for nine or ten years, minimum, right?"
Sanders and the rest of the seniors don't have hope of seeing a full turnaround while they're part of the program, and Stoops said he's "staying close" to that group and "telling them to keep it going."
That's not a problem for the veterans, Sanders said.
"I feel like this season here was to set a foundation, get things to change," Sanders said. "How we play, how hard you play -- all those small things we needed. I think this is a teaching season to them. I think that as the years come, even though we're not around, I think this senior class helped show how coach Stoops wanted things done."
Help on the way
If that program-wide evolution does take root, it will be largely on the backs of Stoops' first few recruiting classes.
He expects the nearly full Class of 2015 -- expected to be the highest-ranked in school history -- to retain its commitments, even as the current team struggles.
"The wins and losses on the field have not hurt us at all," Stoops said. "No, it's really not an issue at all. I think anybody that's a fan of our program or involved in our program in any way, shape or form, or is going to be involved in our future, would like to see us win some more games. But nobody's deterred. Everybody knows where we're heading, and we're moving toward good things."
Stoops said strong, ongoing relationships are critical to hold onto those potential future Wildcats.
"Most of these commits knew we were going to be in for a tough year this year," Stoops said. "And they know we're progressing and getting better and building toward the future."
Freshman running back Jojo Kemp was in their place a year ago and said the expectations the staff sold him haven't differed from reality.
"Outside looking in, before I got here, I knew that it was a program that was down," Kemp said. "It wasn't a shock when I got here. … I'm still happy. There's nothing to be down about."