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Position Reviews and Previews: Linebackers

UK Athletics

UK Athletics

Since Kentucky considers Josh Allen and Denzil Ware as OLB/DE’s, they will be considered linebackers for this post.  The D-Line portion will be dedicated exclusively to the three players who always have their hand in the turf.  

2016 Production and Accolades

Nobody knew who was going to lead Kentucky’s linebackers in 2016.  Filled with uncertainty, they proved to have everything the defense needed.

Courtney Love hadn’t played a down for Kentucky, but the transfer from Nebraska was placed on the podium at SEC Media Days as Kentucky’s defensive leader.  The middle linebacker was never bad, but never great.  He continued to improve throughout the season, finishing as the team’s third-leading tackler with 76.

Kentucky’s leader on the field was Jordan Jones.  Before the first game, I asked someone close to the program, “Who’s going to lead the team in tackles?”  Without a moment’s hesitation, “Jordan Jones.  That guy is ****ing psycho.”

Both statements proved to be true.  Jones had 109 tackles (3rd in the SEC), 74 solo (1st in the SEC), 15.5 tackles for loss (6th in the SEC), 4 sacks, 9 QB hurries, 4 pass deflections and a forced fumble.  The last Wildcat with more solo tackles are TFLs was Super Bowl Champ Danny Trevathan.  His production led the defense, but his infectious, relentless energy was the defense’s most valuable asset.

Enjoy these highlights of Jones from our friends at CN2.  Nose for the ball, instincts, quick-twitch, whatever you want to call it, Jones has it.  

On the edge, Denzil Ware and Josh Allen had breakout sophomore seasons.  If you thought Bud and Za’Darius were good during their senior years, Allen and Ware were better.  The NFL defensive ends combined for 12 sacks in 2014; Allen and Ware combined for 12.5 in 2016.  They showed discipline on the edge and created turnovers.  Allen’s four forced fumbles were the most in the SEC and tied for ninth nationally.

The most startling statistic about this group: Kentucky’s linebackers accounted for 17.5 sacks after only recording 8.5 a year ago.

Accolades:

  • Jordan Jones was named Second Team All-SEC by the league’s coaches and Phil Steele.  He was a Third Team selection by Athlon.
  • Denzil Ware was named SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week following a 5-tackle, 2-sack performance against South Carolina.

Grade: B-

They aren’t who we thought they were.  The linebackers were my greatest concern entering the season.  When the season ended they were exceptional playmakers, especially in the pass rush.

The run defense had its woes up the middle, there were mishaps in the pass defense on the outside, and Courtney Love struggled to put everything together, until he absolutely needed to down the stretch (ignore Ed Cunningham, just pay attention to who fell on the ball).

Departures

There are no departures.  Everybody returns in 2017.

Newcomers

  • Jamar “Boogie” Watson: No relation to DeMarcus Cousins, Watson redshirted last season.
  • Roland Walder:  Larger than his DMV counterpart, the redshirt freshman from Trotwood-Madison was one of the best defensive players in the state of Ohio a year ago.
  • Jamin Davis:  The early enrollee has fluid hips, great instincts and the respect of Freddie Maggard.
  • Josh Paschal, Jordan Wright and Alex King:  Elite edge rushers, they are destined to follow in the footsteps of Allen and Ware down the road.

2017 Outlook

When you aren’t losing anybody from an above-average unit, the outlook is going to be good, but there are still a few concerns.

This offseason must be dedicated to depth and strength.  Eli Brown and Jordan Bonner must have significant roles in the defense next year to provide a few snaps off for Jordan Jones and Josh Allen.  Brown needs to add weight, Allen and Ware need help behind them and Kash Daniel must continue to develop.  Kentucky was lucky the injury bug rarely bit the linebackers in 2016, but that luck will inevitably run out.

2016 Reviews and Previews: Offensive LineRunning Back, Secondary


UKFootball | IG

Kentucky Football is Back to Work

UKFootball | IG

UKFootball | IG

Even though the University of Kentucky did not have class on MLK Day, the football team still had plenty of work to do.  The team’s post-bowl break ended with today’s work outs at the Nutter Football Training Facility.

During their time off, Nick Haynes hooped (Yes, that’s a 6’3″3 320-pound offensive lineman dunking).

The coaches didn’t have much of a break.  Once the dead period ended on January 11, Vince Marrow was recruiting, pictured here on the 12th with Naasir Watkins and Josh Paschal.

@Naasir_wat

@Naasir_wat

The Cats did more than lift weights.  Their workout included plyos (short for plyometrics) on the running hill.

@UKStoopsTroops

@UKStoopsTroops

After work, there was time for play.  This afternoon Dorian Baker hit the Commonwealth Stadium turf for a photoshoot.

@UKStoopsTroops

@UKStoopsTroops

The coaches were busy working too.  Vince Marrow and Mark Stoops brought Steve Clinkscale to their hometown of Youngstown to see UK’s latest commit, Lynn Bowden.

@H_Huncho

@H_Huncho


Comparing the 2014 and 2017 football recruiting classes

Screen Shot 2017-01-14 at 2.15.08 PM

With the addition of Lynn Bowden to the 2017 recruiting class yesterday, Kentucky’s class is now listed in the Top 25 of every major website.

Joe Mussatto of SEC Country compared the 2014 class, the best in program history from Stoops second year at UK, and 2017 class to figure out which one was really the best.

The class of 2014 brought Kentucky six four-star recruits, the top ones being Drew Barker, Matt Elam and Darius West. However, it was several others who contributed the most, according to Mussatto:

“Boom Williams, who declared for the NFL Draft, was the No. 5 prospect in the class and was a 1,000-yard rusher in his junior season. He averaged more than 6.5 yards per carry in his three seasons with the Wildcats and found the end zone 20 times. Kentucky had no more dynamic playmaker than Williams.

Safety Mike Edwards and linebacker Denzil Ware have developed into two of Kentucky’s best defenders. Both were top-10 commitments of the 2014 class. Edwards was second on the team with 100 tackles and intercepted Lamar Jackson twice in the regular-season finale against Louisville. Ware was Kentucky’s fourth-leading tackler and was second on the team in sacks and tackles for loss.”

Overall, the 2014 class was ranked No. 22 and tenth in the SEC by 247Sports and then No. 18 and ninth in the SEC by Rivals.

From the class of 2017 Kentucky has four five-star recruits coming in, the top ones being Lynn Bowden, JaVonte Richardson and Joshua Paschal. Ranked N0. 21 and ninth in the SEC by 247 Sports and No. 17 and eighth in the SEC by Rivals. Time will tell with this class, just as it did with the 2014 class but here’s what Mussatto had to say about it:

Bowden projects as a slot receiver and he will join incoming No. 2 prospect JaVonte Richardson in the pass catching corps. The Cats are loading up on playmakers and 4-star wide receiver prospect Danny Davis (Springfield, Ohio) remains a top target.

Defensive end is another position group that sticks out. Three of the top-8 commits in the class are defensive ends, led by 4-star Joshua Paschal (Olney, Md.). Three-star prospects Alex King (Mason, Ohio) and Jordan Wright (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) are the other two.”

National signing day is just a little more than two weeks away, meaning the staff will be spending the time keeping the recruits they have settled with Kentucky. February 1st will tell the tale of which class is the better.

To read the rest of Joe’s post, click here.


SDS: The One Position Kentucky needs to Improve On

secondary

Our friends at Saturday Down South, have given each SEC team which position, on the field or on the sidelines that they must improve this offseason. For Kentucky? They feel the Cats must improve upon their secondary, especially with the losses of Marcus McWilson and Blake McClain.

The Wildcats aren’t losing a lot, but safety Marcus McWilson and nickel back Blake McClain are two valuable pieces on the way out. Coach Mark Stoops engineered a breakthrough season in Lexington last fall, leading the Wildcats to their first bowl game since 2010. If the Cats are to go bowling in back-to-back years, they’ll need Stoops to work his magic again with a secondary.

What do you think? Does Kentucky need to improve its’ secondary more than any other position? Let me know on Twitter @GormleyKSR or in the comment section below. Also, be sure check out the remainder of the article from SDS.

One position — on the field or sideline — each SEC team to improve most during offseason

 


What Lynn Bowden’s Commitment Means to Kentucky

@Worm02

@Worm02

Lynn Bowden is the 23rd commitment and highest-ranked recruit in Mark Stoops’ 2017 class.  Here’s how Bowden can help the team immediately and what it means for Kentucky in the big picture.

Big Play Ability

When the Cats lost Boom Williams to the NFL, they lost a player who could bust open any given play for six.  That’s exactly what Lynn Bowden can do.  Listed as an athlete, he could play running back, wide receiver or Wildcat quarterback.  Wherever he plays, he’s liable to pop one at any given moment.

Landing an Elite Athlete

The Kentucky football program has landed a handful of five-star players, but they’re usually linemen or pocket-passers from the state of Kentucky.

During Mark Stoops’ illustrious recruiting tenure at Kentucky, only Landon Young, Drake Jackson and Drew Barker were ranked higher by the 247 Composite Rankings.  The highest-ranked skills players — C.J. Conrad and Boom Williams — were ranked lower than Bowden.

Improvement in the Short Passing Game

Screens and shallow drags were the foundation of UK’s pro style offense under Rich Brooks.  Last year it took half a season before they could consistently turn short passes into big plays.  These passes take pressure off the quarterback’s arm and away from the pass rush.  Bowden and early enrollee Clevan Thomas are athletes that should dramatically improve this important part of the offense.

Possibly a Game-Changing Returner

The easiest way to get a ball into an athlete’s hands is to let him return kicks.  The Cats finally got a return touchdown from Charles Walker last season, but they still need to take a kickoff to the house.  If they put Bowden back there, anything is possible.

Stoops Owns Youngstown, Marrow Owns Ohio

Kentucky’s 2016 defense was led by a trio from Youngstown: Courtney Love, Marcus McWilson and Jordan Jones.  Now Stoops has Youngstown’s best athlete on the offensive side of the ball.  The gritty rust belt belongs to the youngest Stoops brother.

The same can be said about Vince Marrow and the entire state of Ohio.  No matter how good they are or what part of the state they are from, Marrow has the connection to attract any prospect to Lexington.  Marrow’s only competition is Ohio State.

If the Cats’ trajectory continues to trend upwards…I’ll never doubt Mr. Marrow ever, ever again.

Kentucky Capitalized on Momentum

When the 27-point underdogs went to Louisville and beat the Heisman Trophy winner, Mark Stoops received rare offseason momentum.  It’s safe to say he has seized the moment.  Since the UofL game he’s received nine commitments.  One is the nation’s best JUCO safety, one is a Top 10 edge rusher and Bowden is arguably the state of Ohio’s best athlete.  Kentucky’s win over Louisville did much more than get them to a New Year’s Eve bowl.


Football Position Reviews and Previews: Secondary

Gerry Melendez | The State

Gerry Melendez | The State

2016 Production and Accolades

The Kentucky secondary allowed six more passing yards per game in 2016 than in 2015, but they were still the fifth-best unit in the SEC, allowing just 206.8 yards a game.  After a shaky start to the season, the unit averaged one interception per game, often coming in critical moments, behind three seniors and three exceptional sophomores.

The leader of the secondary was the centerfielder, Mike Edwards.  The sophomore accounted for 100 tackles, 8 pass break ups, 11 deflections and three interceptions.  Edwards was one of only six players in the SEC with over 100 tackles and his three picks were tied for fifth in the league.

Accolades:

  • Snubbed by the SEC coaches, Mike Edwards was named Second Team All-SEC by the AP, and was a Third Team selection by Athlon and Phil Steele.
  • Edwards was the SEC Defensive Player of the Week after recording two interceptions against Louisville, including the game-clincher.
  • Pro Football Focus named Derrick Baity as one of the nation’s most improved players.

Grade: B-

Penned as the team’s best unit entering the season, they struggled mightily in their first three games, especially in the final two minutes before half.  Chris Westry didn’t miss a tackle in the regular season, but failed to record an interception until the Austin Peay game.

Westry’s sophomore slump was countered by Derrick Baity’s breakthrough year.  Baity excelled in the run support, broke up 7 passes, deflected ten, and he had 3 interceptions, including a game-saver in the end zone against New Mexico State.  Along with Edwards’ outstanding season, the secondary was good, but not great, leaving room for improvement in 2017.

Departures

  • Marcus McWilson: A four-star recruit in Stoops’ first recruiting class, the Youngstown native played early and often.  Inconsistent throughout his career, he put it all together in his final season, finishing fifth in tackles with 69.  He also had 4.5 TFL and a HUGE pick six against Miss. State.
  • J.D. Harmon: The Paducah Tilghman product came to Kentucky as a walk-on wide receiver.  Moved to cornerback shortly after his arrival, Harmon had two interceptions on back-to-back plays against Missouri as a freshman.  Awarded a scholarship two seasons later, he was a vital asset on special teams before becoming Kentucky’s primary reserve cornerback.  He had two interceptions in his senior season, finishing his career with seven takeaways.
  • Blake McClain: Recruited by Joker Phillips, McClain stuck around upon Mark Stoops’ arrival and played immediately, starting his first three years at nickel before Darius West’s injury forced a permanent move to safety as a senior.  McClain had 180 career tackles and 3 interceptions, all coming in his final season.  None were bigger than this one in the end zone at Louisville.

Newcomers

  • Darius West: West played two years ago in special teams, but missed this season with a knee injury during a preseason scrimmage.  Considered at the time as one of the leaders of the defense, expect West to shine as the safety next to Mike Edwards.
  • Jordan Griffin: Technically not a newcomer, Griffin played sparingly as a true freshman.  Expect to see more reps from one of the top recruits in the ’16 class.
  • Lonnie Johnson: The versatile JUCO transfer is expected to play immediately.  Johnson is the perfect player to replace McClain and McWilson because of his ability to play nickel, safety or corner.
  • Davonte Robinson: One of the fastest players on the team, the Lexington native impressed coaches during bowl practices.  If he doesn’t find a ton of time at corner, you could see him as a returner.
  • Tobias Gilliam: The redshirt freshman drew comparisons to Melvin Johnson as a recruit, a notoriously hard-hitting safety.
  • Tyrell Ajian:  Freddie Maggard likens the athlete to Randall Cobb, but I expect Ajian to play on the defensive side of the ball.
  • Yusuf Corker: Corker turned down Tennessee and Georgia to come to Kentucky.  That should say it all.
  • Michael Nesbitt: The Florida corner committed to Kentucky early and never wavered, even with offers from Auburn, Florida State and the like.
  • Cedrick Dort: In his senior season, the early enrollee did not allow a touchdown pass, a first down pass or a pass over 5 yards during regular season.

2017 Outlook

The secondary failed to live up to lofty expectations in 2016, but they came close.  Outside of a few blown zone coverages, their opponents were rarely left open.

Filled with exceptional athletes across the board, the days of watching opponents streak past Kentucky uniforms for easy touchdowns are over.  Playing without as much pressure, Chris Westry will bounce back in year three.  Derrick Baity and Mike Edwards are two of the best in the biz, but replacing McClain, McWilson and Harmon will not be easy.  The good news: there’s a ton of talent waiting to fill their shoes.

The return of Darius West should pleasantly surprise fans.  2016’s talented trio — Robinson, Griffin and Gilliam — should thrive after a few growing pains.  This year’s recruiting class is just as talented, but Lonnie Johnson might be the only one to provide an immediate impact.  Next year’s secondary will be the deepest, and most talented secondary that most Kentucky fans have ever seen.

There is still some youth to the group, but as Derrick Baity said after the bowl game, “This year we were more green than ripe.  Next year we’ll be more ripe than green.”


Badet photo by AP, Bowden photo by .

Saturday’s Top 10: A WILD Football Friday, Bowden’s Announcement and a Matchup with Auburn

Badet photo by AP, Bowden photo by .

Badet photo by AP; Bowden photo by R. Michael Semple, Tribune Chronicle.

Normally gamedays begin by discussing the game, but today is different.  Yesterday I woke up to Ryan Lemond’s laugh.  The roster news didn’t end there.  We might even receive more football roster news before the day is done.  Here’s what happened and what could happen before the day is done.

1. Jeff Badet to Graduate, Transfer

Kentucky’s leading wide receiver is leaving the program.  Badet caught 31 passes for 670 yards and 4 touchdowns.  At 21.6 yards per catch, he led the SEC in yards per catch and was sixth in the nation.  What’s most problematic: Kentucky’s two fastest players on the 2016 team, Boom and Badet, left with a year of eligibility remaining.

It stinks, but it makes sense.  Badet was recruited into an Air Raid offense.  He struggled with injuries until his talents were finally validated this year, but in a run-first offense.  Even as Kentucky’s greatest homerun threat, getting 10 caches in a game is improbable.  The most any receiver had in a single game this season was when Badet caught seven passes against Miss. State.

It stinks, but it makes sense, and we wish him the best.

Moving forward, Kentucky has plenty of receivers ready to fill his spot.  Tavin Richardson, Jabari Greenwood and Kayaune Ross have adequate experience on the outside, and Garrett Johnson can be a speedy deep ball threat (just ask UofL).  Also, the highest-ranked recruit in the 2017 class, Javonte Richardson, plays his position.

2. UK Announces Seven Mid-Year Signees

Fifteen minutes after breaking the Badet news, Kentucky announced the addition of seven early enrollees: QBs Danny Clark and Walker Wood, WR Clevan Thomas, RB Bryant Koback, OLB Jamin Davis, and DBs Cedrick Dort and Lonnie Johnson.  Of the seven, JUCO safety Lonnie Johnson is the only one guaranteed to play immediately, filling the holes left by Blake McClain and J.D. Harmon.

Jamin Davis is Freddie’ favorite, but mine is Bryant Koback.  Koback’s play is reminiscent of Benny Snell’s.  He doesn’t run over people like Snell, but he plays with a low pad level, carrying his momentum forward whenever he’s hit.

Koback could have attained some HUGE offers, but was injured in just the fifth game of the season.  Prior to the injury, Koback rushed for 1,096 yards on 93 carries (11.78 yards per carry) and 21 touchdowns in just four games (more than 5 scores per game).  His highlights are not too shabby.

You can see highlights from of all seven early enrollees here.

3. Lynn Bowden Announcement

Before the craziness of yesterday, I planned on leading off with Bowden’s announcement.  Even with a home basketball game, the potential addition of Bowden is the biggest news of the day.  He’s that good.

I’ve ranted and raved about Bowden before, but you can’t say enough about Youngstown’s finest.  The No. 5 athlete in the nation is a program-changing player.  Just like Boom Williams, Bowden has the potential to bust open a big play on any given snap.  Bowden is set to choose between Penn State, West Virginia and the Cats.  If Ohio State stays away, Bowden will be in blue next fall.

Bowden said he’ll announce “around 1:45ish.”  Don’t wait around on your computer for the announcement like last Saturday.  Just download the KSR app (Google Play and iTunes), turn your notifications on and I’ll let the sound of Ryan Lemond’s laughter bring you joyful news.

4. Bruce Pearl Returns to Rupp

The former head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers is in his third season at Auburn.  This year the Tigers are 11-5, but I’m more focused on the coach than the players.  Pearl has a 2-7 record against John Calipari.  He’s never won at Rupp Arena, but the Tigers enter with a one-game winning streak over the Cats after last year’s win at Auburn Arena.

Even though he’s been a Tiger for three years now, this is still the first thing that comes to mind every time I hear Pearl’s name.

Getty Image

Getty Image

5. Quick-Hitters on Today’s Game

  • It tips-off at 4:00 on ESPN with Tom Hart, Kaylee Hartung and Kara Lawson Barling on the call.
  • The KSR Pregame Show begins at 1:30 on 630 WLAP.
  • Auburn is led by Mustapha Heron, a fourth team preseason All-SEC selection. Heron averages 16.2 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.
  • Auburn has two signature wins. They beat Oklahoma by four and defeated UConn by three in overtime.

More on the Tigers later today.

6. Go Behind-the-Scenes for Today’s Game

Drew Franklin is busting out the Snapchat machine to take you behind-the-scenes for today’s game at Rupp Arena.  From watching warm-ups on the floor to the City BBQ nachos, Drew will show you what it’s like to cover a Kentucky basketball game for KSR.  Take a pic of the pic below or add him at drew_franklin.

7. Watch Bamba Play Ayton After UK

After you watch your Kentucky Wildcats, grab a meal, then head back to your TV to see the two best post players in the country face off at 8:00 on ESPN.  DeAndre Ayton, the No. 1 player in the nation, is committed to Arizona.  Mohamed Bamba, the No. 3 player in America, first entered Cal’s radar after dominating Ayton in the first event of this year’s EYBL.  The 247 Composite gives UK and Duke a 50/50 shot at landing Bamba.

The Cats are also recruiting Bamba’s teammate, Cameron Reddish.  The No. 4 player in the 2018 class, John Calipari watched the Westtown teammates play on Wednesday.

8. Today’s Sports Schedule

With the NFL Playoffs beginning at 4:35, it’s a front-loaded college basketball schedule.

  • Noon: Trippers vs. Strippers on ESPN
  • Noon: UGA at No. 23 Florida on ESPN2
  • Noon: UConn at Georgetown on Fox
  • 2:00: No. 9 Florida State at No. 11 North Carolina on ESPN
  • 2:00: Oklahoma State at No. Kansas on ESPN2
  • 2:00: No. 15 Xavier at No. 12 Butler on FS1
  • 4:00: No. 10 West Virginia at Texas on ESPN2
  • 4:30: No. 1 Baylor at No. 25 Kansas State on ESPNU
  • 4:35: Seahawks at Falcons on Fox
  • 8:15: Texas an Patriots on CBS
  • 10:00: No. 21 St. Mary’s at No. 5 Gonzaga on ESPN2

9. You Need to start Watching Taboo

This week FX debuted Tom Hardy’s new show Taboo.  I will not geek, but let’s just say I’m glad I used my DVR.

Without providing spoilers, I’ll set the scene.  It’s London in 1814.  Many thought Hardy’s character was dead, but he returns from Africa for his father’s funeral.  His inheritance causes a split between Hardy and the East India Company.  Hardy’s badassery and the wonderfully created setting will make this show one of the best this year.  Hurry up and start it before you get too far behind.

10. Ali’s 75th Birthday Celebration Begins Today

Muhammad Ali would have turned 75 this upcoming Tuesday.  The Center bearing his name will host a four-day celebration beginning today.  There will be a service project with Ali Center staffers, a new Ali Art Tribute exhibit and free film screenings in the auditorium.  Today’s lineup features a documentary I’m ashamed I’ve yet to see, When We Were Kings. Ali Bomaye!

10:00 a.m.: Ali Rap
11:00 a.m.: When We Were Kings
1:00 p.m.: The Trials of Muhammad Ali
3:00 p.m.: Muhammad Ali: Through the Eyes of the World

Unfortunately, it will not be as star-studded as his 50th birthday celebration.

w


Photo by UK Athletics

Jeff Badet’s Out; What’s Next?

Photo by UK Athletics

Photo by UK Athletics

The University of Kentucky announced that rising senior receiver Jeff Badet is transferring from the program. The news was somewhat surprising given Badet’s late season, big-play significance that considerably influenced Mark Stoops’ team in its resurgence to a New Year’s bowl game. But, thinking back there was an in-season “discussion” between the team’s leading receiver (yardage) and head coach that could have acted as a precursor to Friday’s declaration.

Jeff Badet was the Wildcats big-play receiver in 2016: 31 receptions, 671 yards, 4 TDs, 21.6 ypc. His connection with QB Stephen Johnson during post routes became a thing of beauty. Badet’s YAC (yards after catch) were reflected in his 21.6 yards per reception average that was good enough for 2nd best in Kentucky Football history as well as being one of the best in all of college football.

Badet’s departure will be felt early on in 2017. But, just like in life, the show and team must go on. I agree with assessments that his absence is substantial but I’d be negligent if I didn’t add a realistic approach to the Kentucky receiver corps.

Photo by Jeff Drummond

Photo by Jeff Drummond

During the 2016 season I frequently said that UK needed to focus recruiting on two positions: receiver and defensive line. To be frank; 31 catches and 4 TDs are not #1 receiver numbers and are replaceable; granted, if the Cats had been more proficient in the passing game, Badet’s stats would have been much higher. But if Kentucky’s 2017 leading receiver doesn’t exceed 31 catches and 4 TDs then there will be bigger issues than a single player’s decision to transfer. While the importance of losing a home run threat and a veteran receiver like Jeff Badet cannot be understated, Lamar Thomas will have other options. Garrett Johnson is now expected to be the Cats’ top explosive-play receiver. Juice will have company in that department.

X, or outside receivers Dorian Baker, Blake Bone, Kayaune Ross, Jabari Greenwood and Tavin Richardson will be joined by incoming 4-star JaVonte Richardson and late-riser Isaiah Epps.

Screen Shot 2017-01-13 at 12.19.23 PM

Left: Clevan Thomas (Pic by The Spun); Right: JaVonte Richardson

Inside or slot pass catchers will include Charles Walker, Zy’aire Hughes, and Garrett Johnson along with highly explosive rookie Clevan Thomas who is already on campus preparing for spring practice. If things play out to trend, Saturday’s announcement in Youngstown would mean that the ultra-explosive athlete Lynn Bowden will be added to the list. UK is also diligently working for signatures from Miami WR Kevaughn Dingle and 4-star Danny Davis. All incoming freshman receivers are good enough to play now.

If you noticed in the title, my question is “what’s” next, not who. Wildcat running backs’ pass catching status will be enhanced by redshirt freshman AJ Rose as well as possible late additions to the Class of 17. Kentucky’s outside-WR/inside-WR/RB/TE should be talented and deep enough to evolve into a complete passing game that can absorb Badet’s departure while providing balance to Benny Snell’s rushing attack.

While leaning on freshman can be a dangerous proposition in college football, receiver is a position that is friendly towards the inexperienced. The football rule of thumb states that the further the position is from the pre-snapped football the easier the transition is for rookies.

As expected, both Mark Stoops and Jeff Badet were classy and respectful in remarks:

Stoops, “I appreciate Jeff and the contributions he made to the program during his time here.” We wish him the best of luck in the future.”

Jeff Badet, “I want to thank all the coaches, especially Coach Stoops, for everything they’ve done for me over the past four years.” I also want to thank my brothers on the team and the Big Blue Nation for their support. I just feel like it’s the best decision for me to finish my career as a graduate transfer. I’ll always be proud of receiving my degree from UK and I’ll bleed blue forever.”

We wish Jeff Badet the best of luck and would like to say thanks for hard work and positive results while in Lexington. Set to graduate in May with an Agricultural Economics degree, Badet has performed his duties as a Wildcat at an extremely high level.


VIDEO: UK’s seven early-enrollees explain why they chose Kentucky

Screen Shot 2017-01-13 at 9.35.25 AM

ICYMI the giant post from earlier, UK Football announced its seven early-enrollees this morning, a bit of good news to offset Jeff Badet’s transfer. They also released a video of each player explaining “Why Kentucky.” Check ’em out below:

Danny Clark, Quarterback, 6-2, 230, Fr.-HS, Columbus, Ohio (Archbishop Hoban)

Walker Wood, Quarterback, 6-0, 190, Fr.-HS, Lexington, Ky. (Lafayette)

Lonnie Johnson Jr., Defensive Back, 6-3, 215, Jr.-JC, Gary, Ind. (Garden City CC/Gary West Side)

Jamin Davis, Linebacker, 6-4, 210, Fr.-HS, Ludowici (pronounced lou-da-WISSEE), Ga. (Long County)

Clevan Thomas, Wide Receiver, 5-11, 190, Fr.-HS, Miami, Fla. (Charles W. Flanagan)

Cedrick Dort Jr., Defensive Back, 5-11, 170, Fr.-HS, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. (Dwyer)

Bryant Koback, Running Back, 6-0, 200, Fr.-HS, Holland, Ohio (Springfield)

Welcome aboard, boys.


What Jeff Badet’s transfer means for Kentucky football

badet

This morning, we found out that UK’s leading receiver Jeff Badet will graduate in May and transfer to another school for his final year of eligibility. The news is surprising; not only did Badet lead Kentucky in receiving yards this season (670 yards, 4 touchdowns), he became Kentucky’s best deep threat and look poised to continue that success next season. Yet, with Kentucky’s offense trending towards the run, Badet chose to go somewhere else to best maximize his exposure, which is totally fair.

But, what does Badet’s departure mean for Kentucky next season? Here are my two cents:

Kentucky loses its best deep threat

With Boom Williams off to the NFL, Kentucky loses another “big play” guy on offense. Badet was Kentucky’s best deep threat option, finishing the 2016 season with seven plays of 40+ yards. He averaged 22.8 yards per reception, which is the second best in program history. Who will step up in his place?

Stephen Johnson loses his most trusted receiver

Badet was the first receiver Stephen Johnson developed a rapport with when he took over for an injured Drew Barker. Johnson and Badet connected for three touchdowns this season, including this gorgeous 65-yard strike vs. Missouri:

The silver lining: UK’s got lots of wide receivers

The only good thing for Kentucky about this news? At least the stable’s full of talented wide receivers, including Garrett Johnson (who led the team in receptions), Dorian Baker, Tavin Richardson, Jabari Greenwood, and Blake Bone, who was Badet’s backup. Add in some major 2017 studs and if there’s one position that could afford a loss, this may be it.

Freddie Maggard will be by later with a much more comprehensive and in-depth analysis of what losing Badet means. In the meantime, best of luck to Jeff in his future endeavors. We’re all rooting for you.


Good football news! UK announces seven early enrollees

Good football news! UK announces seven early enrollees

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Here’s some good news to hopefully offset the horrible news that Jeff Badet is transferring. UK just announced its seven early enrollees: quarterback Danny Clark, linebacker Jamin Davis, defensive back Cedrick Dort Jr., running back Bryant Koback, wide receiver Clevan Thomas, quarterback Walker Wood, and JuCo transfer Lonnie Johnson Jr.

Here’s the release from UK, which includes quotes from Stoops on each player:

Danny Clark, Quarterback, 6-2, 230, Fr.-HS, Columbus, Ohio (Archbishop Hoban) – Rated among the top 15 pro-style quarterbacks nationally in the 2017 class … Four-star recruit by ESPN and Scout … Ranked as the 26th best QB overall and No. 2 in the state of Ohio by Scout … A three-star prospect 247sports and Rivals …Four-year letter winner and starter who played his freshman and sophomore seasons at Massillon High School before transferring to Archbishop Hoban … Led the Knights to back-to-back Division III state titles … Coached by Tim Tyrrell at Hoban… Helped lead Hoban to a 14-1 record in 2015 with a Division III state title … Followed with another championship in 2016 by defeating Trotwood-Madison 30-0 in the finals … Completed 7-of-10 passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns, and also ran for a 34-yard score in the title game … Finished his senior season 117-of-213 passing for 2,122 yards and 15 TDs … Named second-team MaxPreps/JJHuddle All-Ohio and was an All-League selection … Elected captain at Hoban as a junior and senior … Became the first freshman to start a varsity game at Massillon …. Left-handed … Picked UK over Ohio State, Georgia, Alabama, Miami and Florida State.

Personal: Born in Columbus, Ohio … Son of Jeff and Tiffany Clark … Major is undecided. 

Coach Stoops on Clark: “Danny is an exceptional leader, competitor and winner, having led his team to two state championships.”


Jamin Davis, Linebacker, 6-4, 210, Fr.-HS, Ludowici (pronounced lou-da-WISSEE), Ga. (Long County) –Considered one of the nation’s top 50 outside linebackers by 247Sports … Has been clocked running a 4.65 40-yard dash, and has a 38-inch vertical leap … Finished his senior season with 126 tackles, with an impressive 89 solo tackles … Averaged 14.0 tackles per contest (nine games) … Also had four tackles for loss, a sack, a hurry and a fumble recovery which he returned to the opponent’s three-yard line … Forced two fumbles and blocked both a punt and a field goal … Offensively, he had 11 carries for 50 yards, along with 12 receptions for 151 yards and three scores … Had 131 tackles as a junior and 45 tackles as a sophomore, totaling 302 career tackles in his prep career … Just the second player in Long County High School history to sign with a Division I football program … A four-year letter winner and three-year starter at Long County for coach Eric McNair … McNair said, “If I had to sum up Jamin Davis, it would be role model.” … Gridiron Now says, “He can fly to the football and is a fierce hitter. Not only can he bring the wood, Davis shows excellent wrap up fundamentals. He has excellent speed, plays with tremendous aggression and makes plays all over the field. Davis also shows the ability to get up field and after the quarterback and make plays in space.” … Named Class AAA All-State honorable mention by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution … Three-time All-Region II selection, earning first-team honors in 2015 and 2016 … Father, James Davis, played football at Bethune-Cookman, while a cousin, Attiyah Henderson played football at San Diego State … Chose UK over Louisville, Georgia Tech, Purdue and N.C. State.

Personal: Born in Honolulu, Hawaii … Son of Tanga Davis and James Davis … Plans a major in mechanical engineering.

Coach Stoops on Davis: “Jamin is a prototype will (weakside) linebacker, a very athletic player with great length. He is an exceptional person and leader.”


Cedric Dort Jr., Defensive Back, 5-11, 170, Fr.-HS, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. (Dwyer) –  Rated a three-star recruit by 247sports, ESPN and Scout as the No. 42 cornerback in the 2017 class … As a senior, named first-team All-Area by the Palm Beach Post and first-team All-County by the Sun Sentinel after recording 40 tackles, 14 pass breakups and six interceptions, returning one for a touchdown … Played a key role in helping Dwyer finish 10-1 overall in 2016 with its second-straight appearance in the Class 7A regional semifinals … Did not allow a TD pass, a first down pass or a pass over five yards during the regular season … Did not miss a tackle all season and battled against six receivers who are expected to sign Division I scholarships … Named one of ESPN 106.3’s top seniors in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast … Was All-Area honorable mention in 2015 after helping lead the Panthers to an 11-2 overall record, a district championship title and a berth in the 7A regional semifinal … Helped Dwyer shut out two opponents and held six others to 14 points or less … A three-year letter winner in basketball as a combo guard … Has a huge upside as he played only two years of high school football … Coached by Jack Daniels … Chose UK over Wisconsin, Virginia Tech, Minnesota, Colorado and USF.

Personal: Born in Palm Beach, Fla. … Son of Clevette Wiggins and Cedrick Dort Sr. … Major is pre-management. 

Coach Stoops on Dort: “Cedric is a great cover corner. I’ve been familiar with that school for a long time and Cedric comes here from a winning program.”


Lonnie Johnson Jr., Defensive Back, 6-3, 215, Jr.-JC, Gary, Ind. (Garden City CC/Gary West Side) –Rated by 247sports as a four-star prospect, the No. 2 safety and No. 43 overall player in the junior college ranks …  Sat out the 2016 season to concentrate on academics … In 2015, selected second-team All-Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference after totaling 35 tackles, including 28 solo at Garden City Community College (Kan.) … Also recorded five interceptions and had one fumble recovery … Coached by Jeff Sims … Totaled 66 tackles, two interceptions, two blocked field goals and a blocked punt, while catching 40 passes for 772 yards and 14 touchdowns at West Side High School … Also charted 253 rushing yards on 22 carries with five TDs … An extremely talented athlete who also excelled at track and field, helping Gary West Side win the 2014 state championship with individual titles in the long jump and 4×100 relay … Chose UK over Georgia and West Virginia … Will have two years of eligibility remaining.

Personal: Born in Gary, Ind. … Son of Nora and Lonnie Johnson … Major is pre-journalism.

Coach Stoops on Johnson: “We’re very excited to add Lonnie. He has great size and athleticism, with the versatility to play multiple positions.”


Bryant Koback, Running Back, 6-0, 200, Fr.-HS, Holland, Ohio (Springfield) – A three-star recruit by 247Sports who is rated the No. 37 running back in 2017 … Was set to have a standout senior season, even rushing for a school-record 375 yards and six touchdowns in a win over Perrysburg, before suffering a season-ending leg injury the following game … Prior to the injury, Koback had rushed 93 times for 1,096 yards and an impressive 21 total touchdowns (19 rushing and two receiving) in four games … Also had seven catches for 154 yards and two scores … Rushed for 2,015 yards and 31 touchdowns on 194 carries as a junior … Named Division II first-team All-State by The Associated Press in 2015 … Compiled over 100 yards in every full game he played, totaling more than 400 all-purpose yards a game … Overall, totaled 57 career touchdowns and over 4,400 all-purpose yards in his prep career … A four-year letter winner and three-year starter at Springfield who was elected team captain as a junior and senior … Coached by Pat Gucciardo … Also lettered two seasons in track and field … Chose UK over West Virginia, Georgia and Northwestern.

Personal: Born in Toledo, Ohio … Son of Mary Koback … Major is undecided.

Coach Stoops on Koback: “Bryant is a great kid and a home run threat on the field.  He is an electric runner, with excellent vision and top-end speed.”


Clevan Thomas, Wide Receiver, 5-11, 190, Fr.-HS, Miami, Fla. (Charles W. Flanagan) –  Three-star recruit who is ranked as one of the nation’s top 100 receivers by every major scouting service … Scout says, “Thomas is a pass catcher that flashes a great burst when getting in and out of his breaks.” … Contributed at several positions for the District 12-8A champions and regional semifinalist Falcons in 2016, playing defensive back, wide receiver and tight end … Named to the Broward Football 8A-6A Offense First Team as a receiver … Caught nine TD passes as a junior in helping lead the Falcons win the 2015 Class 8A state championship … A three-year letter winner and starter for coach Stanford Samuels Jr. … Father, Clevan Thomas, was a defensive back at Florida State in the 1990s … Chose UK over Michigan, Louisville and Syracuse.

Personal: Born in Miami, Fla. … Son of Yera and Clevan Thomas … Major is sociology with a minor in criminology with aspirations of being in the FBI. 

Coach Stoops on Thomas: “Clevan is an exciting wide receiver, an extremely tough competitor who has shown the athletic ability to play multiple positions. His father was a great player at Florida State and I see a lot of the same qualities in Clevan.”


Walker Wood, Quarterback, 6-0, 190, Fr.-HS, Lexington, Ky. (Lafayette) –  Three-star recruit by every major recruiting service … Rated as the No. 24 dual-threat quarterback in the 2017 class by Rivals … Completed 203 of 321 passes (63.2 percent) for 3,047 yards and 30 touchdowns in leading the Lafayette Generals to a 13-2 overall record and an appearance in the Class 6-A championship game for the second straight year … Also rushed for 1,321 yards and 31 touchdowns and averaged 6.6 yards per carry … Received the Paul Hornung Award, given by the Louisville Quarterback Club to the state’s top player and was a first-team All-State selection by the Courier-Journal … Lexington’s Player of the Year by the Herald-Leader … Earned All-USA Kentucky Football Offensive Player of the Year and First Team honors by USA Today … Candidate for Kentucky’s Mr. Football award … Named third-team All-State by The Courier-Journal as a junior after totaling 43 touchdowns (22 rushing, 21 passing) and leading Lafayette to the Class 6-A state final … Saw varsity action as a freshman and finished his career with 8,230 passing yards and 74 touchdowns, along with 4,199 rushing yards and 73 touchdowns … Elected team captain as a junior and senior … Four-year starter for coach Eric Shaw … High school teammate of current UK offensive lineman Landon Young … Chose UK over Louisville, Ohio and Wake Forest.

Personal: Born in Lexington, Ky. … Son of Tom and Wesley Wood … Major is undecided.

Coach Stoops on Wood: “Both of the quarterbacks in this class have similar qualities – Walker is an exceptional leader, competitor and winner. He’s a dual-threat quarterback who can be the most dangerous when a play breaks down.”


BREAKING: Top wide receiver Jeff Badet is transferring

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Well here’s some news I didn’t see coming: UK just announced that wide receiver Jeff Badet will transfer. The junior wide receiver is on track to graduate in May and will play his final season for a different program.

“I want to thank all the coaches, especially Coach Stoops, for everything they’ve done for me over the past four years,” Badet said in a release from UK. “I also want to thank my brothers on the team and the Big Blue Nation for their support. I just feel like it’s the best decision for me to finish my career as a graduate transfer. I’ll always be proud of receiving my degree from UK and I’ll bleed blue forever.”

This past season, Badet caught 31 passes for 670 yards, a 21.6-yard average per catch, with four touchdowns. During his career at Kentucky, he had 82 receptions for 1,385 yards, a 16.9-yard average, and seven touchdowns.

“I appreciate Jeff and the contributions he made to the program during his time here,” Stoops said. “We wish him the best of luck in the future.”

Badet also penned this goodbye letter to the BBN on Twitter:

Gonna be honest, didn’t see that coming.


How Good is Lynn Bowden? Really, Really, Really Damn Good

How Good is Lynn Bowden? Really, Really, Really Damn Good

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For those who follow football recruiting, you know how good Lynn Bowden is.  You also know how big of a deal it is that he’s announcing Saturday instead of January 25.  For those that don’t know anything about the 4-star athlete from Youngstown, this post’s for you.

4-Star Athlete

That short description doesn’t do him justice.  He was the runner-up for Mr. Football in Ohio, no small task.  Bowden is the No. 5 athlete in America.  Kentucky has pulled in a few guys that are top five at their position, but they are usually linemen or linebackers.  They are never guys who can make all 11 defenders miss in a single play.

Bowden will draw comparisons from many people, but you just have to see him play for yourself.  He does things on the football field you will not believe.

Normally you save the word “ankle-breaker” or “human highlight” for basketball players, but Bowden fits the mold.  He also messes around on the basketball court a bit.  He dropped 30 during this game:

Youngstown

Often times Jordan Jones was described as the “heart and soul” of the Kentucky football team.  That statement encapsulates Jones’ infectious energy, but it doesn’t reflect his craziness.  I use the word “crazy” in the most endearing way possible.  The dude simply has a few screws loose and that’s what makes him the most dangerous man in a Kentucky uniform.  He is the last person you’d ever, EVER want to get in a fight with.

Bowden is second on that list.

Youngstown has a reputation and these guys fit the mold.  You cannot learn one’s mentality from a highlight strip.  I learned it when I saw Bowden at the UK-Georgia game.  Seven years older, five inches taller and 50 pounds heavier, I cowered in Bowden’s presence.  It’s an intangible that’s difficult to describe, but you gotta know that dude is a dog.

A Change of Plans

Bowden originally planned to hold out on making a college decision until January 25, a week before National Signing Day.  With a pair of Youngstown guys recruiting him — Vince Marrow and Mark Stoops — the Cats have been long-time favorites, but the longer the wait, the worse for Kentucky’s chances.

Penn State, Michigan, West Virginia and Michigan State have always been in the mix.  The kicker, as is for all elite Ohio athletes, has always been Ohio State.  Bowden delayed his decision with the hopes that an Ohio State offer might come.  It appears that he’s either given up hope or quit caring about the Buckeyes.

Bowden’s change of plans puts Kentucky in the driver’s seat.  Even so, Bowden didn’t announce a time for his decision, fueling Saturday with drama until the news breaks.

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If Bowden selects Kentucky, the Cats will receive an athlete we aren’t used to seeing.

Randall Cobb comparisons will ring throughout the Commonwealth.  It’s not unfair, but I don’t see Bowden being used in the same way.  My mind drifts more to Florida’s Percy Harvin.  Simply get him the ball in space, by whatever means necessary.  Bowden will definitely receive carries in the Wildcat, he might receive them as a typical running back, but I see his skills best utilized a scat back or a slot receiver.  Regardless of where he plays, Bowden will be electric.

National Signing Day is already on pace to be a spectacular day for the program.  If Bowden selects Kentucky on Saturday, start playing Waka Flaka now and don’t stop until February 1.

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The Kentucky Football 2016 Season Recap Video You Need In Your Life

UK Athletics

UK Athletics

Earlier this week you saw KY Wildcats TV’s 2016 highlight reel.  As usual, it was spectacular, but there was one problem: it was too short.

This feature from Barry Slice has more highlights, more wonderfully synced music and a conversation with Mark Stoops and Chester.  Get the popcorn ready.

233 days until football season.


I’m Back! Let’s Catch Up

The fine folks at Kentucky Sports Radio Headquarters graciously allowed me to take a week off to recharge my batteries and to get a head start on research for National Signing Day. Both went well. Batteries and full charge. NSD notes now number over 4,000 words.

Let’s catch up:

Four-star athlete Lynn Bowden moved his decision date from January 25th to this Saturday the 14th. Most, if not all indicators favor Kentucky.

I find it unfair to place an overabundance of expectation on incoming freshman.  However, the more film I watch the more enamored I become. Bowden is the most Randall Cobb-like prospect that I’ve evaluated since Randall Cobb. To add even another level of expectation; Bowden also possesses Lamar Jackson-type elusiveness and open field fluidity.

His commitment and eventual signature could add an all new dimension to Eddie Gran’s Wildcat package and overall offensive approach. Huge, huge announcement. Stay tuned.

In a strange way Kentucky’s Class of 2017 has a large dose of Jordan Jones influence. Let me explain. The Edge prospects (Paschal, King, Whittaker, and Wright) in this class are downright nasty. Same can be said with offensive linemen, linebacker, receivers, and secondary. We’ll discuss each signee in depth on a later occasion but I really, really like outside linebacker Jamin Davis.

Just as 2014 is known as the class with the most stars, this class could eventually be remembered as the most aggressive, fastest, and athletic of the Stoops’ era.

The Wildcat coaching staff resumed full recruiting operations on Thursday as the NCAA mandated dead period came to an end. Flights and rental cars are now being occupied in order to maintain its current list of pledges. In addition to nurturing those already on the list, Vince Marrow and crew will be selling recent success to a small number of prospects in order to flip their loyalties to Kentucky. 

Stay tuned.

UK Athletics

UK Athletics Photo

Benny Snell garnered more honors as he was recently named Freshman All-American according to the Football Writers Association of America. Snell’s rookie season will now be the standard of which all Kentucky running backs are compared to going forward.

Clemson won the National Championship by defeating the unbeatable Alabama Crimson Tide. Just for fun; let’s apply Clemson’s strategy, personnel, and methodology to Kentucky as ten short years ago the programs were virtually even in terms of significance and status:

— As much as defense is mentioned as being the most important phase in college football; Clemson showed that having the better and most experienced quarterback in a game can trump defensive prowess. Watson is/was special.

Stephen Johnson has to advance his strength, development, and pocket mechanics over the course of a full offseason.

Darin Hinshaw also has to identify two additional game-ready quarterbacks. UK coaches rave about Gunnar Hoak. Questions of Drew Barker’s health status may linger. Johnson showed flashes of upper-shelf, SEC quarterback play in 2016. Consistency, purpose, and depth are questions going into spring practice. 

— QB play is extremely vital, but it all starts and finishes up front. Dabo’s done an incredible job identifying, signing, and developing linemen on both sides of the football. UK’s offensive line executed at an unprecedented level in 2016. It has to continue that upward trajectory in spring practice. Even with returning 4/5 starters; positional competition will be heated. Finding Jon Toth’s replacement will be a priority.

Jimmy Brumbaugh’s defensive line will again be under the microscope. Depth should be enhanced with Kordell Looney and JaQuize Cross coming off redshirt. True freshman TJ Carter impressed in the Taxslayer Bowl.

Depth and effectiveness at NT as well as developing a starting defensive end concern.

— A one dimensional team will normally struggle to win. Alabama finished the game 2/15 on 3rd down and lost the Time of Possession game by nearly 6 minutes mainly due to Jalen Hurt’s inability to complete a downfield pass. Clemson could then focus on stopping the run and it did so in a violent and physical manner. Offensive balance is crucial.

When Kentucky struggled offensively in 2016 it did so mainly because of its inability to execute a balanced game plan. Play action passing and achieving an optimal run/pass ratio will need to be accomplished in spring practice.

National Signing Day is rapidly approaching. Let’s stay in touch.