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Kentucky Football Spring Preview: Defensive Line

Kentucky Football Spring Preview: Defensive Line

Adrian Middleton (Picture by 247Sports)

B.L.U.F. (Bottom Line Up Front) The Kentucky defensive line must become more disruptive and productive. 101, 10.5, and 6. These numbers represent the Cats’ returning defensive linemen’s combined productivity from 2017: 101 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, and 6 quarterback sacks. Defensive tackle Adrian Middleton was the group’s leading tackler with 25. He was followed by reserve defensive end Calvin Taylor Jr.’s 22 stops. The 6’9, 300-pound Taylor Jr. also experienced a solid bowl performance vs. Northwestern by registering 3 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and 1 quarterback sack. Nose tackle Quinton Bohanna fortified the interior of the line-of-scrimmage but was limited by injury late in the season. It’s safe to say that minus Bohanna, the 2017 Kentucky nose tackle play was less than desirable for coordinator Matt House.

Kentucky finished 2017 ranked 8th in the SEC after allowing 175.31 rush-yards per game. This number is somewhat deceiving given that several opponents from last year were more pass heavy than reliant upon the run-game. It also finished 8th in the conference with 30 quarterback sacks. The organic three within the 3-4 defense (DE, NT, DT) produced 6 of those 30 sacks. This number can be concerning but not overwhelmingly so given the team’s strength and emphasis are at linebacker. The Cats’ defensive line quarterback sack leader was TJ Carter with 3. UK also ranked 12th in the league with 63 total tackles for loss. 10.5 of the 63 came from returning defensive linemen. Now this is one is concerning. Tackles for loss is a “Havoc” category that is non-negotiable in terms of upgrading. One of the defensive linemen’s main roles is to occupy blockers in order for the linebackers to run free to make tackles or chase the quarterback. Bohanna excelled in this function.

UK operates a “multiple” defense. This means that it can present a 3-4 or a 4-3 front. Outside linebackers Denzil Ware and Joshua Paschal become defensive ends when aligned with their hands in the dirt or in a three-point stance. The outside linebacker/defensive end hybrid position contributed 10 combined sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. Ware and Paschal can be dynamic which lessens the microscope on the lack of production from the traditional DL positions. Regardless of schematic construction, late-season yardage totals surrendered against Tennessee, Ole Miss, Georgia, Louisville, and Northwestern highlighted the Cat’s need to progress along the defensive line-of-scrimmage. Let’s dig deeper:

The Departed

Nose tackles Matt Elam and Naquez Pringle completed their eligibility in 2017.

Matt Elam

  • 2017 statistics: 8 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 pass breakup, 1 forced fumble.
  • Season-high 4 tackles and a tackle for loss in a win over Southern Miss.
  • Career numbers: Played in 45 games, started 10. 50 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 3 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble.

Naquez Pringle

  • 2017 statistics: 16 tackles, 0.5 tackle for loss, 1 quarterback hurry.
  • Career numbers: 12 starts. 55 tackles, 1 quarterback sack, 2.5 tackles for loss.

Projected Starters

90 Defensive EndTJ Carter 6’4, 265 Junior

  • 2017 statistics: 18 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 3 quarterback sacks, 1 pass breakup, 2 quarterback hurries.
  • Started all 13 games.
  • Had a career-high of 4 tackles including his first quarterback sack in a win over Tennessee.
  • Played in 14 games, started 14.

99 Defensive Tackle-Adrian Middleton 6’3, 298 Senior

  • 2017 statistics: 25 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 1 quarterback sack, 1 pass breakup.
  • Career: 68 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 1 quarterback sack, 1 pass breakup.
  • Best season came in 2016: 35 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss.
  • Must be noted that new weights listed on the team’s official website shows a significant gain for Middleton.

95 Nose Tackle -Quinton Bohanna 6’4, 340 Sophomore

  • Played as a true freshman.
  • 2017 statistics: 14 tackles, 1 pass breakup.
  • Extremely high ceiling. Has added 20 lbs. of good weight.

Picture by 247Sports

Rotational Defensive Linemen

Some rotational players could change positions or play multiple roles along the defensive line. This is similar to the linebacker group. Hate to be repetitive, but Taylor Jr. and Dubose’s performance in Nashville was encouraging. Phil Hoskins played after rehabilitating a shoulder injury and has gained the weight he lost in the process. Kordell Looney got his feet wet and should experience growth in 2017. Kengera Daniel has yet to experience consistent success. The senior has all the tools to be a pass rush specialist.

20 DE Kengera Daniel 6’5, 235 Senior

  • 2017 statistics: 6 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 quarterback sack.
  • Career statistics: 10 tackles, 1 quarterback sack, 1 tackle for loss.

98 DT/NT Tymere Dubose 6’5, 315 Senior

  • Strong game in the Music City Bowl: 2 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss.
  • 2017 statistics: 4 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss.

92 DT/DE Phil Hoskins 6’5, 306 Junior

  • 2017 statistics: 2 tackles, 1 quarterback hurry, 1 fumble recovery.
  • Added over 10 lbs. in the offseason.

59 DT Kordell Looney 6’3, 297 Sophomore

  • 2017 statistics: 10 tackles, 1 tackle for loss. 

91 DE Calvin Taylor Jr. 6’9, 300 Junior

  • 2017 statistics: 22 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 quarterback sack, 1 quarterback hurry.

The Redshirts

The entire BBN is eager to watch Abule Abadi-Fitzgerald in action. I’m in that group by the way. The sky is the limit for the redshirt freshman but I would caution to be patient. He’s new to the game and still figuring things out. Chris Whittaker is the “wildcard” at both linebacker and defensive line. His new weight (down 30 lbs.) suggests a potential position change or the Florida native could be used as a designated pass rusher. His progress will be interesting to track.

96 DE/DT Abule Abadi-Fitzgerald 6’6, 281 Redshirt Freshman

  • Has added over 20 lbs. during a redshirt season.
  • Extremely high ceiling. Coaches bragged on the former basketball player during the fall.

97 DE Chris Whittaker 6’3, 227 Redshirt Freshman

  • Reportedly weighed 260 lbs. upon arrival to campus. Now listed at 227.
  • Will be interesting to see which position Whittaker plays during spring practice.

Incoming Freshmen

Davoan Hawkins 6’4, 275 Freshman

  • Key line-of-scrimmage player for Florida state champion Chaminade-Madonna High School.
  • Played multiple positions. Extreme high motor.
  • Can’t really explain, but I have a hunch that this kid seems to have the “it” factor to be special.
  • Not an early enrollee. Will not factor in spring practice.

Jerquavion Mahone 6’3, 300 Freshman

  • Late pickup for the early signing period out of Manchester High School, Georgia.
  • Former basketball player. Three-year starter along the offensive and defensive line.
  • Registered 64 tackles, 22 tackles for loss, and 7 quarterback sacks as a senior.
  • Not an early enrollee. Will not factor in spring practice. 

Marquan McCall 6’3, 350 Freshman

  • Will push for immediate playing time.
  • 4-star prospect. Number one ranked guard in the Midwest. The nation’s 135th rated overall player.
  • Regarded as a technician.
  • Not an early enrollee. Will not factor in spring practice.

What does all this mean?  

Non-negotiable: Kentucky must become more dynamic along the defensive front. The Cats will sport one of the top linebacker groups in the conference; however, this strength will be voided if the defensive line doesn’t create more disruption and apply more pressure in the opponent’s backfield. All eyes will be focused on the QB competition next week. As for me? I’ll be camped by the defensive line. Non-negotiable.

Five Players Prepared for a Breakout Spring Season

Jamin Davis

The inside linebacker already has one excellent spring game performance under his belt.  As an early enrollee, the 6’4″ 220-pounder from Long County, Georgia led all defenders with eight tackles and a tackle for loss in the 2017 Blue/White Game.

Davis traveled with the team last year and had the talent to play right away, but depth gave him a year to grow (12 pounds to be exact).  Following the departures of Courtney Love and Eli Brown, Davis will receive a ton of reps this spring as Stoops and House groom him into the preeminent inside linebacker reserve.

What does that role look like for Davis?  As a true sophomore, Avery Williamson was slowly integrated into the defense during Danny Trevathan’s final year.  The future NFL star had 49 tackles, 1.5 for loss and a pick.  We should learn this spring if Davis is capable of that kind of production this fall.

E.J. Price

The first players on the roster people forget are the transfers that spent a year on the sideline.  E.J. Price might be the best Division I transfer to play a down for Kentucky in a decade.  Ranked just behind Landon Young, he was one of the best offensive tackles in America when he signed with USC.

Known for having a mean streak, Young and George Asafo-Adjei will ensure that Price does not have to play right away. However, Price is expected to fill the important role of “third offensive tackle” that was left vacant by Kyle Meadows.

Abule Abadi-Fitzgerald and Chris Whittaker

Kentucky needs depth on the defensive line.  They’ll get just that from Abule and Whittaker.

The man who started the Chaminade-Madonna pipeline, Whittaker was one of Freddie’s favorite 2017 signees.  He used his redshirt year to shed weight.  Whittaker lost 33 pounds, which should improve explosiveness at the line of scrimmage.  Abule went the opposite direction.  The South Florida basketball star packed on 21 pounds.  Their development is critical to Kentucky’s success in the trenches.

Isaiah Epps

As a true freshman, the speedy outside wide receiver could never consistently bring in the deep ball.  Still, Epps persisted and finally hauled in a pair big receptions against Ole Miss, one that setup a score right before half.

There’s not answer as to why Epps couldn’t get it going in 2017.  Blame it on youth, blame it on timing, blame it on the old receivers coach.  Regardless of the reason, Epps has a year under his belt and an offseason to prepare with his new quarterback and perfect the deep ball.

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Today on KSR: Anthony Davis Dropped 50, Again


No Boogie? No problem.  The Brow’s got this.

Last night Anthony Davis out-dueled Devin Booker to lead the New Orleans Pelicans to their sixth consecutive win.  Booker scored 40 points, but he could not keep up with Davis, who finished with 53 points, 18 rebounds and five blocks in the 125-116 win.  Davis is only the second player to ever record a 50-point, 15-rebound, 5-block game.

Davis’ game was great, but The Real MVP is the Pelicans’ social media staff.

Davis has stepped up his game in Boogie’s absence.  Through the six-game win streak he is averaging 41.5 points, 14.8 rebounds, 3.2 blocks and 3 steals per game.  Wow.

Hear from Coach Cal

The Kentucky Wildcats are rolling through a three-game win streak.  This afternoon around 2:00 the head coach will talk about his streaking team as the Cats prepare for the final two games of the regular season.

Clear Bags at the SEC Tourney

The SEC announced yesterday they will continue to have a clear bag policy at all championship events.  If you aren’t prepared for it, you probably haven’t been to a game in two years.  Click here for a clear bag policy refresher.

A Big Night of SEC Basketball

We will have a much clearer SEC Tournament picture after Super Tuesday.  All three teams tied for third place with Kentucky are in action tonight.  If Arkansas, Florida and Miss. State all fall, the Cats are primed to lock up a double-bye in the SEC Tournament.  A complete look at tonight’s packed slate of games:

Time Game Network
7:00 #16 Tennessee at Miss. State SEC
7:00 Florida at Alabama ESPN
7:00 Mizzou at Vanderbilt ESPN2
7:00 Oklahoma State at Iowa State ESPNU
7:00 St. Joe’s at #17 Rhode Island CBSSN
9:00 #14 Auburn at Arkansas SEC
9:00 DePaul at Creighton FS1
9:00 Oklahoma at Baylor ESPN2
9:00 Miami at #9 North Carolina ESPN
9:00 Kansas State at TCU ESPNU


Following a trip to Kentucky for Junior Day, Georgia outside linebacker KD McDaniel committed to Kentucky.  The three-star linebacker is Mark Stoops’ second commitment in the 2019 recruiting class.  For the “wait till Signing Day” crowd, know this: the second player to commit in the 2018 class, defensive end Davaon Hawkins, signed with UK in December and was one of Freddie’s favorite additions in the class.

Stoops Speaks

Spring Practice begins next week (you can now get your Spring Game tickets here).  Before kicking off five weeks of football, Mark Stoops sat down with Matt Jones on Hey Kentucky to reflect on his first five years as Kentucky’s head coach.

Matt sits down with Mark Stoops to talk all things football on Hey Kentucky!

Matt sits down with Mark Stoops to talk all things football on Hey Kentucky!

Last week, Matt Jones sat down with Kentucky football head coach Mark Stoops on Hey Kentucky! Tonight, we got to see the first part of their conversation featuring everything you need to get hyped for the upcoming season.

In the interview, we got to hear about Stoops’ thoughts on his Kentucky career starting rough, the bounce back from 2-10, and just how close his team is close to winning ten games. We also get to see more of the personal side of Stoops, where he talks about life outside of football, how he handles criticism, and what he’s doing to try to make the Big Blue Nation proud.

Take a look at part one of the interview below:

For the entire episode of Hey Kentucky, take a look here:

Go Cats!

YAHTZEE! 2019 three-star OLB K.D. McDaniel commits to KENTUCKY

YAHTZEE! 2019 three-star OLB K.D. McDaniel commits to KENTUCKY


The Wildcats have officially picked up their second pledge of the class of 2019, as three-star linebacker K.D. McDaniel has committed to KENTUCKY!

He just announced his decision on Twitter:

The 6-foot-2, 225-pound outside linebacker chose the Wildcats over South Carolina, UCF, and USF, among others.

Rivals lists the newest Wildcat as the 63rd-best recruit from the state of Georgia in 2019, and he has the numbers to back that up. Just last season, McDaniel managed 104 tackles, 10 sacks for Tift County High School, a top-level program in the state.

Earlier today, McDaniel tweeted that he is “100%” and Kentucky is “where he wants to be,” adding that he will not be decommitting later on in the recruiting process.

In an interview with Justin Rowland of Cats Illustrated, McDaniel said his trip to Lexington this past weekend was the deciding factor in his decision.

“The trip went so great,” McDaniel told Cats Illustrated. “I had built up a relationship with all the defensive coaches to where I have a trust with them. They told me how it was down there and then they showed me and told me how it’s going to be when I get there. I know that I can trust them. It seemed like I can trust them. They’re good coaches.

Watch the newest Wildcat work:

Welcome home, KD!

Photo by UK Athletics

Kentucky Spring Practice Preview: Linebackers

A great deal of pressure is placed on linebackers within the 3-4 scheme. Mark Stoops has four proven starters, capable rotational players, and slew of newcomers that can be mixed and matched in several different positions. Thus, projecting the Kentucky two-deep linebacker rotation is virtually impossible prior to spring practice. We’ll do our best to paint a somewhat accurate picture.

The Departed

Mike Linebacker Courtney Love

  • 2017 Wuerffel Trophy Winner
  • 2017 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team Member
  • Lott IMPACT Trophy Quarterfinalist
  • 2017 Capital One Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award Nominee
  • Played in 26 games, started 26 games, named team captain on 25 career occasions. Respect.
  • Love’s 92 tackles in 2017 ranked second on the team. Registered 76 tackles a year ago.
  • Recorded 10 tackles and a fumble recovery in a win over Missouri.
  • Respect, again

Will Linebacker Eli Brown (Transfer)

  • 2017 statistics: 38 tackles, 2 tackles for loss.
  • Had 6 tackles including a tackle for loss vs. Eastern Michigan.
  • Also recorded 6 tackles including a tackle for loss in a critical road win at South Carolina. Brown played his guts out that night.
  • Started 5 games for injured Jordan Jones.

Jordan Bonner (Chose not to return for a senior season)

  • Accounted for 4 tackles in 2017. 

Photo by UK Athletics

Projected Starters

Sam Linebacker Josh Allen 6’5, 252 Senior

  • Sports Illustrated Mid-Season All American
  • AP Mid-Season All-American
  • AP All -SEC
  • Phil Steele Third Team All-SEC
  • Butkus Award Semifinalist
  • 2017 statistics: 65 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 7 quarterback sacks, 1 interception, 3 pass breakups, 4 quarterback hurries, and 2 forced fumbles.
  • Career: 19.5 tackles for loss and 14.5 quarterback sacks.
  • Chose to not enter the NFL Draft. Returned to Kentucky for his senior season.
  • Will push to break Oliver Barnett’s career quarterback sack record of 26.
  • Future pro. Predicted to be on several Award Watch Lists as well as potentially being listed on preseason All-American teams.

Mike Linebacker Kash Daniel 6’1, 242 Junior

  • Has 26 career tackles, mostly on special teams.
  • Registered 2 tackles in 2017 win over South Carolina.
  • A high school quarterback, Daniel rushed for 6 yards on a fake punt on a crucial 4th down in a win over Missouri.
  • Backed up Courtney Love for two consecutive seasons. Played as a true freshman in 2016.
  • Excelled on special teams.
  • Preferred mentality and strength for a Mike LB.

Will Linebacker Jordan Jones 6’2, 218 Senior

  • Bednarik Award Watch List
  • Bronko Nagurski Trophy Watch List
  • Missed four games due to injury.
  • Led the team with 13 tackles in a win over Tennessee. Earned Co-SEC Defensive Player of the Week.
  • 2017 statistics: 64 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 2 quarterback sacks, 1 pass breakup, 3 quarterback hurries, and 1 forced fumble.
  • 2016 Season:
    • One of the top linebackers in the nation. Registered 109 tackles.
    • Athlons Sports Preseason First Team All-SEC, Third Team All-American.
    • Led the SEC with 5.7 solo tackles per game. First on the team with 9 quarterback hurries. Ranked 6th in the SEC with 15.5 tackles for loss.

Outside Linebacker/Defensive End Denzil Ware 6’2, 240 Senior

  • Phil Steele Third Team All-SEC
  • Named SEC Co-Defensive Lineman of the Week in a win over Vanderbilt.
  • Recorded 9 tackles, 1 quarterback sack, and 2 tackles for loss in a win over Tennessee.
  • Named SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week in the season opening victory at Southern Miss: 2 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 quarterback sack, 1 forced fumble, and 2 fumble recoveries.
  • 2017 Statistics: 47 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 6.5 quarterback sacks, 1 interception, 2 quarterback hurries, 2 fumble recoveries, 2 forced fumbles, 1 pass breakup.

Outside Linebacker/Defensive End Josh Paschal 6’3, 278 Sophomore

  • Athlons Sports Freshman All-SEC.
  • Played and did so extremely well as a true freshman in 2017.
  • Accounted for 3 tackles and a sack in wins over Vanderbilt and Tennessee.
  • Named SEC Special Teams Player of the Week for a blocked punt vs. Eastern Michigan.
  • 2017 statistics: 17 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 quarterback sacks, 3 quarterback hurries, 1 blocked punt.

Depth at linebacker is noteworthy and will be tested in 2017 with the unexpected departure of Will LB Eli Brown. This is also the point of this post that becomes somewhat cloudy. The next group of players have yet to solidify within a specific position group. We’ll list the following linebackers into five categories: Push for Starting Positions, Rotational Players, Rookies, Walk-ons, and one Wildcard.

Push for Starting Positions

Jamar “Boogie” Watson 6’3, 234 Sophomore

  • 2017 statistics: 7 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 2 quarterback sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 pass breakup.
  • Registered a quarterback sack vs. Tennessee and Vanderbilt.
  • Can play every position within the linebacker group. Played both inside and on the edge in 2017.
  • Exact position will be determined in spring practice and based off need in 2018.

Jamin Davis 6’4, 224 Redshirt Freshman

  • 2017 statistics: Redshirted
  • Filled in for Jordan Jones in spring game and made the most out of the opportunity. Totaled team-high 8 tackles and a tackle for loss.
  • Added 12 lbs. during redshirt season.
  • True inside linebacker. Will factor in 2018. To what extent will be determined after spring practice.

Rotational Players

Jaylin Bannerman 6’5, 238 Sophomore

  • Moved back to defense after spending a portion of 2017 as a tight end.
  • 2016: Redshirted.
  • Projects as an Outside Linebacker/Defensive End

Alex King 6’3, 236 Redshirt Freshman

  • Sleeper of the group. Coaches praised his work on the scout team as a redshirt.
  • Was one of the Midwest’s most dynamic pass rushers coming out of William Mason High School.
  • Projects to one of the edge positions but could be similar to Boogie Watson and play multiple roles. Potential pass-rush specialist.

Jordan Wright 6’5, 236 Redshirt Freshman

  • Will contribute in 2018. Elite athlete.
  • Was listed at 270 pounds a year ago. Updated roster shows him weighing 236.
  • Edge defender. Coaches were extremely happy with Wright’s effort and development during his redshirt season.


Chris Oats 6’5, 220 Freshman

  • Four-star prospect. Division II Defensive Player of the Year and First Team All-Ohio.
  • Vince Marrow outdueled Ohio State for his services.
  • Was extremely high if not the top player on UK’s big board.
  • Played multiple positions in high school. Can play inside and on the edge in college.
  • Was not early enrollee. Will not factor in spring practice.

Ashtan Pierre 6’2, 200 Freshman

  • Athletic defender. Played multiple positions at Deerfield Beach High School.
  • Projects to the edge. Elite athlete.
  • Was not an early enrollee. Will not factor in spring practice. 

Deandre Square 6’1, 205 Freshman

  • Rated as a 4-star player out of national powerhouse Cass Tech High School. Top 20 LB in the Class of 2018.
  • Early enrollee, will factor in spring practice. Excited to watch Square’s development.
  • Gets a headstart on fellow freshman. Will gauge his ability to immediately contribute during spring practice.


Chris Whittaker 6’3, 227 Freshman

  • Listed as a defensive lineman.
  • Initial weight was 260 lbs., now 237 on updated roster.
  • Could potentially slot at OLB/DE position with those measurables.
  • Position will be identified in spring practice. Could be slated as a pass-rush specialist.


Elijah Barnett 6’3, 238 Junior

  • Legacy Cat. Son of UK career quarterback sack leader Oliver Barnett.
  • From Lexington. Played at Henry Clay High School.

Drew Schlegel 5’11, 218 Sophomore

  • Legacy Wildcat. Son of former UK tackle and team captain Mike Schlegel.
  • Recorded over 100 tackles as a high school senior.

William Nalty 6’0, 228 Sophomore

  • Chose UK over North Carolina.

What does all this mean?

Kash Daniel looks to break into the lineup that is comprised of three All-SEC returning starters and an accomplished former true freshman. Depth and talent are present. Wildcat linebackers should and needs to be the strength of the team in 2018. Kentucky has traditionally been known for developing linebackers. 2018 could be one of the program’s most talented collections with future professionals littering the depth chart.