Freddie Maggard’s Take
Defensive “Havoc” statistics are explosive plays that alter the course of a drive or opposing offensive series. For example; tackles for loss, quarterback sacks, forced fumbles, and quarterback hurries are a few classifications that align with this category. It should come as no surprise that the higher number of havoc statistics produce a greater likelihood for victory. This theory was tested and proven by the Wildcats over the course of 13 games in 2017.
Let’s take a look at how those numbers were distributed in wins and losses as well as by position groups over the course of the 2017 season:
@Southern Miss–Win, 24-17
Total Yards Surrendered: 364
Tackles for Loss: 8
- Defensive Line-1
Quarterback Sacks: 2
- Defensive Line-0
Eastern Kentucky–Win, 27-16
Total Yards Surrendered: 318
Tackles for Loss: 3
- Defensive Line-.5
Quarterback Sacks: 1
- Defensive Line-0
@South Carolina–Win, 23-13
Total Yards Surrendered: 358
Tackles for Loss: 3
- Defensive Line-.5
Quarterback Sacks: 2
- Defensive Line-0
Total Yards Surrendered: 395
Tackles for Loss: 4
- Defensive Line-0
Quarterback Sacks: 1
- Defensive Line-0
Eastern Michigan–Win, 24-20
Total Yards Surrendered: 312
Tackles for Loss: 7
- Defensive Line-2
Quarterback Sacks: 5
- Defensive Line-2
Total Yards Surrendered: 568
Tackles for Loss: 2
- Defensive Line-0
Quarterback Sacks: 1
- Defensive Line-0
@Mississippi State–Loss, 7-45
Total Yards Surrendered: 441
Tackles for Loss: 3
- Defensive Line-0
Quarterback Sacks: 0
- Defensive Line- 0
Total Yards Surrendered: 445
Tackles for Loss: 12
- Defensive Line-2
Quarterback Sacks: 7
- Defensive Line-1
Kentucky’s passing game was inconsistent.
That statement has been discussed and written about on many occasions but lacked substance until claims could be supported my numerical facts. Here you go: The Cats completed 63.7% of its passes and threw 7 touchdowns in the first and second quarters of the 2017 season. However, after halftime its completion percentage dropped to 52.4% and resulted in just 3 touchdown passes. Four quarters of passing game stability is a major priority for Eddie Gran’s offense which will be led by a first time starting quarterback. Running back Benny Snell is an all-timer but needs help in the form of a passing attack that can lessen the number of defenders stacked within the tackle box. Let’s dig a little deeper.
First, let me say again that QB Stephen Johnson is my all-time favorite Wildcat. The former Wildcat battled through significant injuries that led to three offseason surgeries. He was not close to being 100% healthy at any point during his senior season. Passing game matters also worsened in the offseason when homerun hitting receiver Jeff Badet departed Lexington for Norman, Oklahoma and long-time starter Dorian Baker sustained a season ending injury during fall camp.
Second, in my opinion Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw have worked wonders by adapting their offensive intentions in back-to-back seasons. From injuries to unforeseen attrition as well as surprising stars, Gran has been forced to amend his mid-season playbook in order to identify strengths to match available personnel. Gran is highly thought of throughout football circles (me included) and will finally have the majority of his tools available for 2018. But a tremendous amount of responsibility will fall on the shoulders of a new starting quarterback.
Numbers indicate that Kentucky’s completion percentage actually increased from 54% in 2016 to 59% in the 2017. However, touchdown passes dropped from 17 to 10 (fewest in the SEC). Yards per attempt fell from 7.8 yards to 7.4 during the same time period and yards per completion dropped 2 yards as well. Let’s take a look at differing results from the first to second half:
2017 Second Half Passing Numbers
The comparative figures from the first to second half are staggering and telling. Kentucky attempted 78 fewer passes in the third and fourth quarters which is not all too uncommon. But, its completion percentage dropped 11.3%, threw for 522 fewer yards, and passer rating decreased 17.77 points.
Theories vary and are difficult to support by data but let’s be honest here. Opposing defenses were not presented with a deep threat which allowed teams to load the box and deploy defensive backs closer to the line-of-scrimmage. By doing so, opposing back sevens negated screens and short to intermediate passes which in turn forced over-the-top throws that were low in completion percentage. This strategy also took away CJ Conrad who is the Cat’s top pass catcher. Kentucky’s receivers were not dynamic a year ago and struggled to separate from defenders. In other words, Johnson rarely had viable, open receivers to throw to on a regular basis. An emphasis has been placed on correcting that deficiency.
Stephen Johnson’s injuries could have played a role as the game went into the final periods. The more hits he took early in the contests could have increased pain and discomfort which potentially affected his throwing motion. The fact that the senior completed the season was an amazing testament to courage and fortitude. Respect.
The scoreboard often dictates second half offensive philosophy. Kentucky led at the half in six games, trailed in five, and was tied in two. The Cats failed to blow out an opponent and relied upon its running game and star Benny Snell to salt the clock in the fourth quarter. This could have played a hand in its lower number of late-game attempts and touchdowns.
Gunnar Hoak or Terry Wilson will be tasked to provide four quarters of consistent passing in 2018. This is non-negotiable. For that to happen, UK receivers have to increase their yards after catch and develop an explosive play pass catcher to take the top off opposing defenses. CJ Conrad and the tight ends must become more active and the offensive line has to protect. This is the most athletic Kentucky offense in quite some time. If a passing game can co-exist with Benny Snell, then a screen game could develop which will highlight Lynn Bowden and others in space. Lots of moving parts that will be piloted by a new signal caller. Exciting times in Lexington.
Mark Stoops confidently spoke like a head coach that returns 18 starters while understanding that his cupboard is full of youthful talent that could challenge complacent veterans. If anything, the head coach appeared determined for his team to take a step forward.
“It’s really important to make those players from good to great, and I think we have some good players and its time to get them to go to great and that’s where the details come in play.”
Eli Brown’s Replacement
Junior linebacker Eli Brown abruptly announced his plans to transfer from the program. Brown filled in for injured starter Jordan Jones at the Will Linebacker position and figured to be a regular in the LB rotation. Next up is redshirt freshman Jamin Davis who impressed in last year’s spring game. Davis arrived to campus at 198-pounds and is now near 220. Another interesting note was that outside linebacker Alex King has been moved to inside linebacker in order to provide athletic depth. King is nearly 240-pounds and was considered one of the top pass rushers in the Midwest coming out of high school.
STOOPS: “Jamin (Davis) would be the first option. Jamin, there’s a perfect example of a kid that’s come in, and he kept in about 195, maybe 198 pounds. He’s 6-3 and now he’s 6-3, about 220 pounds, and looks like on his way to looking like a grown man, and that’s what we need in there. And we also moved Alex King inside, as well, but he’s working at Mike. But they will be interchangeable, but Alex is another guy, 6-3, 6-4, 230, 240 pounds, getting some size in there that we need.”
Former Outside Linebacker Josh Paschal Moves to Interior Defensive Line
To me, this is the most exciting news of the press conference. Josh Paschal has an opportunity to be a breakout player for the Wildcats and the Southeastern Conference.
STOOPS: “With him it gives you the versatility when he’s an inside guy with some of our fronts to slide to a true defensive end with his hand in the dirt, so getting technical there but he did move to the inside position right now, and Josh is just a very good football player as I mentioned.
I feel like we have some guys at outside backer with some experience and he’s a guy that’s hard not to play. He needs to be on the field playing for us. He’s definitely one of our best 11. Just because we have some depth at outside backer, you don’t want him sitting there on the sidelines next to me. You want him out there playing and he came to me, actually, because he knows we’ve talked about this, and he said, “Coach, I believe that I could help the team and we’re better off if I move inside.”
I said, “Well, then, let’s get eatin'” (Laughter). Because he’s a guy that’s really worked hard, and I don’t want to say he starved himself but he’s very conscious of what he’s been eating to make sure he stayed in that range. I mean, you don’t see many 3-4 outside linebackers in the NFL playing every down that are 280, 290 pounds and that’s what he has the ability to be.
So he worked pretty hard to stay in the 260 range, you know, a couple biscuits and he’s at 270-something right now. So he can help us and he gives us that athleticism.”
A Challenge to Defensive Linemen
No secret, Kentucky’s defensive line needs to take a giant leap for the Cats to consistently challenge in the SEC East. Paschal’s move is just a start. The head coach appeared determined to light a fire under a unit that has underachieved.
STOOPS: “And there’s some other guys, there’s a list of those guys that have played: Adrian (Middleton), and Tymere Dubose has done some good things late in the year last year; hopefully he’ll continue to improve. But also T.J. Carter also needs to have a big year. He’s a guy that has to take the off-season serious. Again, we pounded it for the seven weeks. I really wanted to work those guys. Coach (Corey) Edmond, Coach Mark Hill, those guys worked very hard in the weight room, I think our players did. They took it serious for the seven weeks that we had, and now we’re in the spring.
But T.J. is a guy that needs to have a good off-season, continue to get stronger. Calvin Taylor did some decent things. Kordell Looney is a guy that’s got to make a move. We’re going to put tons of pressure on him. He’s either going to be accountable, do the things that he’s supposed to become the player I think he can be or he’ll get caught in the wash. But he needs to take a step.”
Don’t Expect a Quick Quarterback Decision-Quarterback Improvement Mandatory
I’ve written throughout the offseason that the starting quarterback could be named at the end of spring practice. Most likely, this will not be the case.
STOOPS: “Yeah, it’s going to be hard to say there. That’s going to take some time. I tell you, I’m very impressed with the way they are throwing the football. You just look at the talent and you look at the way they are spinning the ball, and you know, it does jump out at you at times and I think all of us would agree for us to take it to the next level, we need to be more efficient at throwing the football. We need to throw the ball better, and that’s not just from the quarterback, and you know I’ve always said that but it’s so true. We need to — we need to grow up and have some guys outside and some guys at wide receiver that make some really competitive plays that could separate and get open and I think we’re going to be fine at the tight end position, although we’re very thin right now in the spring.
I think we have some guys that can create some opportunity in the pass game and I’ve been impressed with the quarterbacks and just their talent, their arm talent and the way they throw the ball and their poise and they have worked really hard. I feel good about it. In particular, Gunnar (Hoak) and Terry (Wilson). You know, Danny (Clark) is running right now, doing some good things, and getting just as many reps as the other guys, but — and you see his flashes at times. But we’ll see where it goes here this spring. We cannot go live with our quarterbacks. You cannot let them get a blind shot and get hurt and I’m not going to do that. So I think it just — that quarterback situation is definitely going to need some time to work its way out. And look, you know, — who has it figured out? So obviously they don’t have it figured out. I think with us to act like we can just watch one or two or even a spring practice and think we have it figured out, I don’t know, if we have the ability to do that. So we have to let them play and see what happens. I feel confident that we’re going to improve at that position. As much as we love Stephen and what he’s done for us, I think we’re going to improve.”
Fielding an Experienced Team
STOOPS: “You know, it’s really much more enjoyable to have guys with some experience, there’s no question about that, because they can pick things up. When they make mistakes, they understand. It’s really important to make those players from good to great, and I think we have some good players and it’s time to get them to go to great and that’s where the details come in play. You know, for them to really hone their craft and really understand what they want to do and take the medicine to take it to another level, and I do think there’s some maturity there that I’m liking, and you know, we’ve just got to continue to work and continue to grind, and they have got to continue to have good attitudes to want to be great, to want to be coached, to want to learn to take it to another level. But it definitely does help. You feel better and you hope it translates to the field.”
What does all this mean?
Monday portrayed a different version of Mark Stoops. The head coach was rather matter-of-fact in discussing players that need to become accountable or be passed over on the depth chart by younger talent. Kentucky is in new territory. The Cats have a team packed with senior starters as well as future professionals to go along with a great deal of talented youth. Spring competition will be heated and have depth chart implications at certain position groups.
Mark Stoops will field a secondary that could potentially feature four to five senior starters. Behind those starters lie the most talented collection of rotational players on the roster.
Remember our offensive line post from last week when we said that some analysts evaluate teams based on the number of returning OL starters? Well, other experts apply the same formula to the secondary. 2018 is the year for the Wildcat defensive backs to play at the high-level that the BBN has expected for the past couple of seasons. Potentially the most substantial offseason personnel news did not involve a player. Instead, Associate Head Coach Dean Hood is changing responsibilities from outside linebackers to the secondary. Hood is a long-time, proven football teacher and has an extended track record of player development. For example, think back for a moment and consider which defensive position group showed the most growth during the 2017 season? I’d argue the answer is the outside linebackers which produced two all-conference players and a true freshman that demonstrated tremendous potential.
All-SEC safety/nickel Mike Edwards is UK’s most decorated defensive back. Edwards has averaged 98.5 tackles over the past two seasons. The two-time All-SEC senior spurned the NFL Draft in order to return to Lexington for a senior campaign. Fellow safety Darius West returned in 2017 following a two-season battle with injuries to finish the season as the team’s third leading tackler with 86. Cornerbacks Derrick Baity and Chris Westry have been starters for the better part of three seasons. Lonnie Johnson Jr. showed flashes in 2017 and earned starts at cornerback. With an overabundance of experience at all four spots and plenty of quality depth, spring practice could see experiments with position changes within the secondary.
5 Nickel/Safety Kendall Randolph 6’0, 183 Graduated
- Career statistics: 70 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 1 interception, 3 pass breakups, 2 fumble recovery, 1 forced fumble, 3 quarterback hurries.
Mike Edwards has played safety and nickel throughout his stellar career. Cornerback could be added to that list with spring practice positional experiments. UK plays a great deal of nickel coverages which features five defensive backs. 2018 will see a great deal of depth across the board which means that playing time will be coveted by several Wildcats. The task of unseating a senior starter will be a challenge. The following five defensive backs have played a great deal of college football. Experience is an invaluable trainer.
29 Cornerback Derrick Baity 6’3, 186 Senior
- Four pass breakups vs. Northwestern in Music City Bowl
- Intercepted two passes in 2017. One vs. Vanderbilt, the other vs. South Carolina
- Named as Co-SEC Defensive Player of the Week in a winning effort vs. South Carolina
- Seventh on the team with 47 tackles
- Career: Played in 38 games, started 29. 110 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 5 interceptions, 1 fumble recovery, 1 forced fumble, 16 pass breakups
6 Cornerback Lonnie Johnson Jr. 6’3, 215 Senior
- Started last 5 games of 2017 season
- Career-high 7 tackles vs. Louisville
- Six tackles and a blocked field goal in a victory over Missouri
- Blocked extra point vs. Eastern Kentucky
21 Cornerback Chris Westry 6’4, 195 Senior
- Posted 4 tackles vs. EKU, South Carolina, and Eastern Michigan
- Career statistics: Played in 38 games, started 33. 113 tackles, 3 interceptions, 13 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 1 quarterback hurry
25 Safety Darius West 6’0, 210 Senior
- Ranked third on team with 86 tackles in 2017
- Game-high seven tackles vs. Georgia
- 11 tackles vs. EKU. Caused a fumble in week 1 at Southern Miss, also had 7 tackles including 1 for loss.
7 Safety Mike Edwards 6’0, 200 Senior
- Phil Steele 1st Team All-SEC
- Led the team with 97. Ranked 9th leading tackler in the SEC
- Team-high 4 interceptions as well as 7 pass breakups
- Fourth player in school history to lead Kentucky in both tackles and interceptions
- Six double digit tackle games
- Career: 235 tackles, 8 interceptions, 1.5 quarterback sacks, 11.5 tackles for loss, 1 fumble recovery, 1 quarterback hurry, and 17 pass breakups
- Averaged 98.5 tackles over the past two seasons. That average projected to 2018 would place Edwards in the prestigious 300-Tackle Club
This list includes former 4-star athletes and players that could play multiple positions within the secondary. This group also consists of many defenders that play a key role on special teams.
27 Cedrick Dort Jr. 5’11, 170 Sophomore
- Played as a true freshman in 2017
- Two tackles vs. Northwestern in bowl game
17 Tobias Gilliam 5’11, 195 Sophomore
- Two tackles vs. Northwestern
- Steady role player that can make a jump with a strong spring practice
3 Jordan Griffin 6’0, 186 Junior
- 2017 statistics: 22 tackles, 3 pass breakups, and 1 interception
- Can play multiple secondary positions
- Career-high 6 tackles and 1 pass breakup in a win over Missouri
- Highly-skilled defender
13 Zy’Aire Hughes 6’1, 193 Sophomore
- Registered 1 tackle in 2017
9 Davonte Robinson 6’2, 187 Sophomore
- Played in all 13 games of 2017
- Career-high 5 tackles in a road win over Vanderbilt in Nashville
- One of the fastest players on the team
16 Marcus Walker Junior 6’1, 212
- Season-high 2 tackles in win over Vanderbilt
- Active on special teams
23 Tyrell Ajian 6’0, 190 Redshirt Freshman
- Played defensive back, receiver, and quarterback in high school. 4-star prospect
- Projects to multiple positions within the secondary as well as special teams
- Joins Yusuf Corker to make a highly skilled duo of redshirt freshman that can make an impact in spring practice
29 Yusuf Corker 6’0, 190 Redshirt Freshman
- Nation’s 26th ranked cornerback, top rated CB in the state of Georgia. 4-star prospect with a high ceiling
- Will factor in rotation and special teams
Stanley Garner and Dom Williams are early enrollees and will factor in spring practice.
Cornerback Jamari Brown 6’2, 180 Freshman
- Had offers from every Power 5 Conferences
- Top 100 cornerback in America. Missed time with injuries during senior season.
- Did not enroll early. Will not factor in spring practice.
Cornerback Stanley Garner 6’2, 180 Freshman
- Early enrollee, will participate in spring practice. Confident athlete.
- Two-way standout at Dillard High School, Florida. 4-star prospect, teammate of Jordan Wright. Entertained dozens of offers.
- Rangy, tall cornerback. Extremely talented.
Defensive Back Domonique Williams 5’10, 180 Junior
- Twice recruited by Dean Hood. Originally signed with EKU out of Fulton High School, Tennessee.
- Highland Community College, Kansas product. Recorded 79 tackles, 6 interceptions, and 15 pass breakups.
- Can play nickel, cornerback, or safety.
What does all this mean?
Kentucky’s defensive backs construct the most talented secondary in recent memory on paper. Multiple 4-star prospects litter its depth chart which is led by experienced, senior players. The table is set for a bounce-back season from 2017 when the Cats finished 13th in the league by allowing 251.6 passing yards per game. Pass defense involves more than just the defenders tasked in covering receivers. A disruptive pass rush hurries the quarterback which lessens the time for pass catchers to get open. Dean Hood will improve the secondary. How much is the only question I have going into spring practice.
By KSR on ©March 01st, 2018 @ 5:00pm
The beginning of March means it’s almost NCAA Tournament time, and that it’s almost time for Spring Football. Recording from the Jack Kain Ford showroom, Freddie Maggard and The Depth Chart Podcast have everything you need to know about the Kentucky football team before spring ball begins. Highlights:
— If UK played a game today, who would be the starting QB?
— How you can help UK Children’s Hospital with Cowboy Up for a Cure.
— Freddie is down to 212 pounds?
— Scoop Pilgrim provides some insight on position changes in the secondary.
— Is Benny Snell the biggest Kentucky football star since Tim Couch?
You can easily listen on the KSR App, available on iTunes and Google Play. Streaming online is simple through Pod Paradise. You can also get it directly to your phone by subscribing to The Depth Chart Podcast on iTunes or via Android’s Podcast Addict app.
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:
Nose tackles Matt Elam and Naquez Pringle completed their eligibility in 2017.
- 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.
- 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.
90 Defensive End–TJ 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
By Freddie Maggard on ©February 23rd, 2018 @ 7:00pm
Vince Marrow could have up to four NFL caliber tight ends in his meeting room come fall camp. That’s a bold statement. I guess in today’s world that could be considered a hot take.
Regardless, even while rehabilitating an injury, CJ Conrad would have been drafted this year if he had decided to forego his last year of eligibility. He’s back and joined by Justin Rigg to go along with a pair of highly talented freshmen: Keaton Upshaw and Brenden Bates.
Let’s take a look:
Greg Hart | 6’5, 245 | Graduated Senior
-Transfer from Nebraska
-Played in 25 games with 2017. Caught 9 passes for 57-yards, and 1 touchdown.
-Solid blocker as a fullback/H-back.
-Traveled to Ethiopa on a service/educational trip. Graduated with a marketing degree and is currently working on a second degree in communications.
-Excellent teammate and leader. Hart will prosper in whatever post-UK endeavors he encounters. Respect.
CJ Conrad | 6’5, 250 | Senior
-All-SEC performer, 2-time Mackey Award Watch List. Should again be on several preseason honors lists.
-Opponents bracketed Conrad in 2017 after catching 2 TD passes in the team’s first two games. Excellent blocker, considered by some analysts as the most complete TE in the Southeastern Conference.
-Suffered a season-ending injury vs. Georgia. Had surgery on November 21st.
-Averaged 17.9 yards per catch in 2017.
-Has 9 career TD receptions.
-Career: 50 catches, 697-yards, 9 TD’s.
-Career day vs. New Mexico State: 5 receptions, 133-yards, and 1 TD.
-Led all SEC freshman TE’s with 15 catches in 2015. Named 3rd Team Freshman All American. All SEC Freshman Team.
Justin Rigg | 6’6, 250 | Junior
-2 catches for 34-yards vs. Northwestern in Music City Bowl. Averaged 17-yards per catch.
-2017: 3 catches, 40-yards.
-Excels in on line-of-scrimmage or blocking from fullback position.
Brenden Bates | 6’5, 245 | Freshman
-Bigger yet similar version of CJ Conrad coming out of high school.
-Class of 2018 Top 20 TE in the nation.
-Caught 22 passes for 303-yards, and 5 touchdowns as a senior at Archbishop Moeller.
-Has the skill and physical demeanor to compete for immediate playing time. Accomplished blocker and H-back/slot receiver.
Keaton Upshaw | 6’6, 250 | Freshman
-Rated as nation’s 25th best TE in the Class of 2018.
-Bigger version of Brenden Bates.
-1st Team All-Northwest Ohio, 2nd Team All-State.
-Caught 48 passes for 758-yards, and 4 touchdowns as a senior.
-Excellent basketball player.
-Has preferred measurables for an SEC tight end. Should compete for immediate playing time. Like most freshmen, playbook familiarity as well as strength and conditioning gains will be necessary. There are high ceilings, then there’s Keaton Upshaw’s potential. His career possibilities are somewhat unlimited.
What does all this mean?
In typical Marrow fashion; all four tight ends are from the state of Ohio. Pound for pound, this collection could be the second most talented position group on Mark Stoops’ team falling behind the four combined linebacker spots. However, Kentucky will need to develop an over-top receiver and an additional home run hitting running back in order to loosen coverage. This should free up the tight ends in the short-to-intermediate passing game.
The Cat’s offense features its tight ends in the position’s traditional role, as a H-Back, slot receiver, and fullback. UK TE’s combined for 22 catches for 351-yards. However, the group tied the WR’s with 5 touchdown receptions. Telling on both accounts. Understandably, the lack of Conrad touches frustrated the Big Blue Nation. Stephen Johnson and CJ Conrad experienced difficulties connecting over the past two seasons. Also, TE is a position that can be successfully schemed against, especially within the RPO scheme. That happened quite often in 2017. Limiting CJ Conrad was a high objective for opposing defensive coordinators and limited the future pro to 16 catches on the season.
To go along with Conrad, Justin Rigg has also received rave reviews by TE coach Vince Marrow. Both are excellent blockers that have the potential to have a break-out season in relation to catches and touchdowns. Brenden Bates and Keaton Upshaw are two highly skilled athletes. I would not be surprised to see both make an immediate impact.
Remember, the freshmen don’t report until this summer. Therefore, depending on CJ Conrad’s availability, spring practice could get a little tricky with Justin Rigg being the only scholarship TE participating in spring practice. The smart play would be to continue Conrad’s rehabilitation and let the rising senior use the time to add quality weight/strength. He has very little to prove during spring ball.
Vince Marrow has stacked his meeting room with future pro talent. This group needs to ascend in the statistical category in order for Eddie Gran to ease the pressure on Benny Snell and for his offense to reach its full potential.
By Freddie Maggard on ©February 22nd, 2018 @ 7:00pm
Some highly respected analysts project seasons based upon returning experience along the offensive line. If that’s the case, then Kentucky should be receiving higher marks than it’s earned thus far during the silly season. This post will address the UK big fellas in relation to the team’s pending spring practice.
The Kentucky offensive line experienced one of the program’s most dominant seasons from the position group in 2016. Major factors for its success were depth, a quality center, experience, and collective healthiness. Fast forward to 2017. Starting left tackle Cole Mosier’s season ending injury that occurred during fall camp led to a seesaw effect within John Schlarman’s unit. Guards played tackle, left and right tackles flip flopped, and a revolving door at center resulted in bad snaps and other mistakes. Throughout early struggles, Schlarman stayed true to his coaching philosophy of establishing a standard substitution rotation and cross-training players amongst other positions.
Center Drake Jackson solidified the middle of the offensive line-of-scrimmage midway through the season. The rising sophomore’s play improved on a weekly basis. Jackson is said to have gained quality weight and strength in the offseason. He will be the base in which Kentucky builds for the next three seasons. The “Drake Effect” projects confidence for the three prior position groups we’ve discussed through this point prior to spring practice: Quarterback, Running Back, and Receiver.
The Departed Starter
Kentucky returns four out of five offensive line starters to go along with three players that factored in the rotation. The sole departure is long-time contributor Kyle Meadows. Meadows started 35 consecutive games. He started at both left and right tackle.
Projected Spring Practice Starters
Left Tackle: Landon Young 6’7, 305 Junior
- Started 9 career games at left tackle; 6 in 2017
- Rotated with Kyle Meadows and Cole Mosier at left tackle
- Extremely high ceiling. Needs to get “there” this spring. It’s time.
- Registered 27 knockdown blocks as a true freshman
- Former 5-star prospect, US Army All American
Left Guard: Logan Stenberg 6’6, 320 Junior
- Started all 13 games as a sophomore
- Only UK offensive lineman to start all 13 games at the same position in 2017
- Recorded 8 knockdown blocks vs. Tennessee
- Locked down starting role. Considered the group’s “enforcer”
- Registered 37 knockdown blocks as a freshman, missed just one blocking assignment, and allowed one QB pressure in 2016
Center: Drake Jackson 6’2, 305 Sophomore
- Started final 7 games. Jackson’s improvements coincided with Benny Snell’s increase in rushing yardage.
- First start was against Mississippi State after an encouraging performance in a win over Missouri
- Former US Army All-American
Right Guard: Bunchy Stallings 6’3, 318 Senior
- Started 18 games at both guard and center
- Was recruited as a center. Appears much more comfortable at guard.
- Seven consecutive starts within an interior offensive line grouping that consists of G Logan Stenberg, C Drake Jackson, and G Bunchy Stallings. This is an important note going into spring practice. Experience and familiarity are two vital coaches within a football program.
- Joins Stenberg to construct a physical duo of guards. Both play with a necessary nasty streak for the position.
Right Tackle: George Asafo-Adjei 6’5, 315 Senior
- Started in 11 career games at both guard and tackle
- Diverse nature of Asafo-Adjei’s game projects to multiple positions
- Finished 2017 by starting the team’s final 6 games at right tackle
- Played in over 30 games
Available Offensive Linemen for Spring Practice
The UK offensive linemen will be doing a great deal of jersey swapping during the spring game if my math is correct. Eleven scholarship lineman will participate in spring practice. No incoming freshmen enrolled early and will not factor in spring practice.
Sebastien Dolcine 6’4, 305 Freshman
- Redshirted in 2017. Projects inside to guard. Athletic mauler. Excited to gauge Dolcine’s development during the spring.
Austin Dotson 6’6, 310 Freshman
- Preferred measurables and demeanor for a right tackle. Redshirted last season. Much like Dolcine, I’m eager to watch the former Belfry Pirate match up against Denzil Ware, Josh Paschal, and Josh Allen.
Luke Fortner 6’6, 305 Sophomore
- Earned playing time as a redshirt freshman
- Joins Mason Wolfe as returning players that were actively involved in the offensive line rotation. Considered to be in starting rotation and will compete to be counted with the first five.
- A force multiplier, Fortner can play tackle, guard or center.
EJ Price 6’6, 311
- Transfer from USC
- Extremely high potential. Will be interested to see him compete during spring practice.
- Possesses talent, build, and ability to push for immediate playing time within the rotation or perhaps even as a starter at one of the tackle positions.
Naasir Watkins 6’5, 300 Freshman
- Redshirt was nearly taken off following the injury of Cole Mosier and others along the offensive front.
- Talented athlete. Watkins played tight end and offensive tackle at Our Lady of Good Counsel High School.
- Coaches have raved about Watkins’ ceiling. Will compete for starting tackle position. Assuredly will be in 2018 rotation.
Mason Wolfe 6’6, 310 Junior
- Provides quality depth. Considered another starter due to the rotation. Solid, will push for a starting role.
- Showed significant strides from 2016 to 2017
What does all this mean?
Starting positions are effectively locked up at guard and center. The interesting competitions could occur at tackle. Landon Young will have to hold off Naasir Watkins. George Asafo-Adjei should get the role but will have quality backups in Wolfe and Dotson. Fortner will factor somewhere. This group’s ability to play multiple positions paid dividends in 2017.
The Class of 2018 is the best offensive line group that Mark Stoops has signed. We’ll incorporate the rookies in a preseason post. Also reporting in June will be Chris Rodriguez and Kavosiey Smoke. Both are 200-pound plus bruisers that can run behind the pads. The fact that UK returns physical starters at guard-center-guard can only be considered a positive as the aforementioned youngsters will join Benny Snell to make up a group of downhill runners. Break out the Tylenol in fall camp.
Much like the highly successful 2016 OL campaign, experience, depth, and a quality center return in 2018. Will this current group of Cats produce as did Toth and company? Stay tuned as all offensive position groups tie together.
By Freddie Maggard on ©February 19th, 2018 @ 11:00pm
Kentucky receivers are in need of enhanced production and depth. The bad news is that the Cats return just eight starts from the position group in a spring practice that will feature a quarterback competition (all eight belong to junior Tavin Richardson by the way). Four true freshmen receivers saw action a year ago; only Lynn Bowden Jr. showed flashes. The good news is that Dorian Baker and his 1,015 receiving yards return to provide leadership and a deep threat for Eddie Gran’s offense. Let’s dive deeper into the receiver position:
Lost Production from 2017
— For two consecutive seasons Garrett Johnson led the team in receptions. Johnson also finished his Kentucky career with over 2,000 receiving yards which ranks fourth in program history. His innate knack to move the chains on 3rd down will be sorely missed.
— Fellow starters Kayaune Ross and Charles Walker will also need to be replaced. Ross finished the 2017 strong but his bid for an additional year was declined. Walker worked his way from walk-on to starting WR and punt returner. The fan favorite also provided clutch catches in key moments of critical games.
— In total; 65% of WR catches, 64% of receiving yards, and 80% of the position’s touchdown catches have moved on.
Returning Production from 2017
|Lynn Bowden Jr.||17||210|
|Clevan Thomas Jr.||1||4|
— Tavin Richardson is the group’s top returning producer and should remain in his role as a consistent starter.
— Sophomore Lynn Bowden Jr. evolved into an essential role within the Cats’ offense and special teams. Bowden Jr.’s role should see a significant increase in 2018. A rise in production is estimated due to his familiarity with the position (Played QB in high school).
— The three freshmen must show strides: Josh Ali, Isaiah Epps, and Clevan Thomas Jr. 2017 saw far too many “near misses” within this trio. Route execution and increased yards after catch are two obvious developmental essentials.
Incoming Freshmen Receivers
— Kentucky has zero early-enrollee receivers. No impact on spring position competition.
How Important is Dorian Baker’s Return?
— Dorian Baker missed 2017 due to a preseason injury. He was the 27th player in program history to surpass 1,000 receiving yards and brings a wealth of experienced to a receiving unit that returns just 8 combined starts, 48 receptions, 665-yards, and 1 touchdown from a year ago. Baker’s health status, leadership, and complete availability are vital to the team’s success.
Who are the Post-Spring Practice Starters?
Tavin Richardson, Dorian Baker, and Lynn Bowden Jr. should emerge from spring practice as the Cats’ starters; however, Baker’s participation may be limited due to continuing rehabilitation. The smart play could be to limit the 5th year senior’s reps. Richardson and Bowden Jr. need to separate from the pack.
— Tavin Richardson is a prototypical X or outside receiver. He needs to become more consistent within the catching process to increase yards after reception.
— Lynn Bowden Jr. simply demands more repetitions at the receiver position. His transition from ATH/QB to receiver slowly developed a year ago; expect the electric sophomore to fly in 2018.
— Developing the second rotation is important. Here’s where new WR coach Michael Smith will earn his keep. Kentucky dropped from 17 TD receptions in 2016 to just 10 a year ago. This statistical drop can be attributed to Stephen Johnson’s injuries as well as not finding an adept replacement for Jeff Badet. In addition, yards after reception seemed to be significantly lower.
— This is a cycle. UK lacked the WR/QB combination to take the top off opposing defenses which allowed opponents the luxury of lying and waiting on the screen game. In other words, with no to little deep threat, the defense could play closer to the line-of-scrimmage.
— While possessing upper-shelf speed, Josh Ali and Isaiah Epps require detailed progress in executing the complete route tree and catching the football in traffic. Clevan Thomas is more of a possession receiver than speed merchant.
What does all this mean?
An incoming freshman or possibly two may see immediate playing time. However, spring practice offers an opportunity for those on campus to develop and improve under new WR coach Michael Smith. Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran must replace the majority of his offense’s receptions, yards, and touchdowns. Last year offered immediate playing time for four true freshmen. Only Lynn Bowden Jr. showed flashes. The other three not so much. Coach Smith’s starters could be Bowden Jr., Baker, and Richardson. The next four-to-six are the players that make or break the position.
Smith has his hands full. Competition will be fierce, as it should be from a position that demands detailed improvement.
By Freddie Maggard on ©February 14th, 2018 @ 4:00pm
Eddie Gran will face the challenging task of selecting and developing a successor for one of the most charismatic and courageous leaders in recent Kentucky Football memory.
Stephen Johnson played in 24 games, started 20 and experienced a surprising yet effective two-year stint as the Wildcat’s starting quarterback. Johnson battled through injuries during his senior campaign which led to three surgeries to repair damage incurred during the 2017 season. He personified the “Go to Work” and “Don’t Flinch” persona that Stoops has stressed throughout his tenure in Lexington.
Stephen Johnson’s Statistics to be Replaced
- Rushing: 200 carries, 702-yards, 8 touchdowns
- Passing: 334/581, 23 TD’s, 12 INT’s, 4342-yards
- Won 14 regular season games; lost 10 as the primary quarterback.
Rising senior Drew Barker also left from the program. The former 4-star’s initial intent was to play elsewhere as a grad-transfer but has since announced that he is giving up football to concentrate on completing his master’s degree.
The exoduses of Johnson and Barker leave QB coach Darin Hinshaw in a game-experience pickle. No matter the QB competition winner, his starter will sport exactly zero career passing attempts as a Kentucky Wildcat. Wide receiver Lynn Bowden is actually the team’s top returning passer. Spring practice will be the battleground for a quarterback competition that will have significant ramifications on the Cat’s 2018 win/loss record.
Gunnar Hoak, 6’4, 210, RS Sophomore
Hoak has played extremely well in two consecutive spring games and has the upper-hand due to experience and understanding of the offense. He has the preferred disposition of a starting quarterback.
Strengths: Calmness and effectiveness in the pocket as well as schematic familiarity. Can make every throw required. Timing and anticipation have proven to be more than adequate. Blue collar worker. Quiet natured; but highly competitive.
Areas for Improvement: Hoak is well versed in Eddie Gran’s offense but has yet to take a game-snap. Time in the “Hot Seat” or as the starter during spring practice could define his 2018 role.
Terry Wilson, 6’3, 205, Sophomore (Transfer)
Wilson comes to Lexington with a nickname. I’m restraining from using that phrase until actual touchdowns are produced on the playing field. However, Mark Stoops and Vince Marrow identified and signed the best available junior college quarterback that fits the system that Stephen Johnson led over the course of two seasons.
Strengths: Extremely high ceiling. Understands and executes the RPO at a high level. Did so in high school, at Oregon and junior college. Creator, can turn a negative play into a positive. On-field speed is faster than track-time. Quick release and can make all throws in the passing tree. A better passer than being given credit for by some analyst.
Areas for Improvement: Accuracy. However, prior completion ratios in the 50’ish percentile can be attributed to unfamiliarity with playbooks and teammates. He’ll be learning his third offense in three years as well as throwing to new receivers. Wilson must also learn the intricacies of Gran’s playbook as well as playing against elite defenders on a weekly basis.
Danny Clark, 6’2, 230, RS Freshman
Clark was originally committed to Ohio State before choosing Kentucky. All indications from the Joe Craft Football Training Center is that Clark is a team-guy that embraced his scout team role during the 2017 season. Superb attitude and work ethic.
Strengths: A cannon for a left arm.
Areas for Improvement: Reps, reps, and more reps. Arm talent is there but the redshirt freshman must develop touch to go along with that Howitzer.
Walker Wood 6’0, 180, RS Freshman
Unfortunately, Wood has dealt with injuries since signing with the Cats. A hard worker, the Lafayette product has diligently labored to rehabilitate injuries in order to get in the QB competition fight.
Strengths: Get and stay healthy.
Areas for Improvement: Same as Clark; reps, reps, more reps. Wood has taken less practice snaps than the other three due to injury. He must enter the race in order to have a chance to win the job. He’ll put in the work necessary to compete.
2018 Quarterback Competition Stabilizing Factors
— Four of five starting offensive linemen return to include center Drake Jackson. Jackson’s improvement and development throughout the course of 2017 was a substantial occurrence for Eddie Gran. Jackson will assist the quarterbacks by directing his offensive line mates and easing protection/slide calls.
The “Jackson Factor” cannot be overstated. Plus, the OL will have a consistent carryover from 2017. In a QB race; the more stable other positions are the better. This is especially applicable to the offensive line.
— Tight end CJ Conrad returns for his senior campaign. The BBN has clamored for the All-SEC performer to be targeted more than in previous seasons. After re-watching all 13 games in the offseason it was obvious that opposing defenses were focused on bracketing the junior more so than rotating coverages toward any specific WR. This was a derivative from UK’s lack of yards after catch and presenting a true threat by the receiver position in total.
However, a TE of Conrad’s caliber can be a new quarterback’s best friend through simple, short-to-intermediate throws to gain confidence. But, the receivers must prove they can vertically stretch the field in order for Conrad’s increased role to become a reality.
— Benny Snell. Period. There’s nothing more gratifying for a new starting quarterback than having the ability to simply hand the football off to an All-SEC running back and watching him put in work. Snell is a star. A major, major concern for 2018 is RB depth behind Snell. We’ll address that situation in a future post as well as throughout spring practice and fall camp.
What does all this mean?
This offseason is critical for the Kentucky quarterbacks. Gaining teammates’ trust and respect are musts. That starts with organizing and leading voluntary passing drills which is more difficult than it may sound due to class schedules, willingness to participate, and so forth.
In addition to extra-work in the offseason; every drill-rep in the weight room and track are vital. Maximum effort is required from the four aforementioned signal callers. QB’s can’t expect the best from the other 10 if they’re not giving it their all in non-football activities. I’m not referencing “Rah Rah” BS. I’m talking straight up, old fashioned hard work. Anybody can talk the game; leadership is not a part-time job.
Spring practice throws, handoffs, checks, and runs will be scrutinized and analyzed from every imaginable angle. Other factors to consider are game management and the understanding to build upon playbook basics. A quarterback competition will make the offense better as there will be a heightened sense of urgency with every snap.
Who has the upper-hand? Right now, Gunnar Hoak (see above why). This spring is setting up to be the most fun to follow during the Mark Stoops era. A new starting quarterback brings excitement and anxiety to a fan base.
By KSR on ©February 08th, 2018 @ 3:45pm
The Depth Chart Podcast returns to recap an excellent National Signing Day for the Kentucky Wildcats. This year’s class is ranked No. 37. Freddie will help you understand how the Cats slightly dipped in the recruiting rankings and why you shouldn’t be worried. You’ll also hear the NSD from a high school coach’s perspective when Scott County’s Jim McKee joins the program. Highlights:
— The significance of the Early Signing Period and stealing on from Ohio State.
— Who will be able to make an immediate impact?
— How high school coaches are involved in the recruiting process.
— Why kids should play as many sports as they want to in high school.
— UK signed zero instate kids; is it an anomaly or cause for concern?
You can easily listen on the KSR App, available on iTunes and Google Play. Streaming online is simple through Pod Paradise. You can also get it directly to your phone by subscribing to Kentucky Sports Radio on iTunes or via Android’s Podcast Addict app.
Mark Stoops took full advantage of the inaugural December Signing Period by inking 20 Wildcats. By doing so, the UK head coach and his ace recruiter Vince Marrow were afforded the luxury of condensing their staff’s efforts on key positions and or players to complete the Class of 2018. NSD is on Wednesday. UK, like most programs with slots to fill, may have a few tricks up their Nike cladded sleeves.
Kentucky has received commitments from offensive tackle Nick Lewis and WR LiAllen Dailey since the early signing period. This brings the Class of 2018’s total to 22.
Offensive Tackle Nick Lewis
- Measurables: 6’9, 348-pounds (Per 247Sports)
- Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
- High School: The Bolles School
- Chose UK Over: Was committed to Washington State. Had over 20 FBS offers.
Lewis comes from the same high school as former UK commit and current Alabama quarterback Mac Jones. 247Sports ranks Lewis as the 53rd OT in the class. I trust and value Mike Leach’s ability to identify pass blockers. Lewis adds a final piece of Kentucky’s best offensive line haul in the Mark Stoops era.
Wide Receiver LiAllen Dailey
- Measurables: 6’3, 196-pounds
- Hometown: Pinson, Alabama
- High School: Pinson Valley HS
- Chose UK Over: Louisville
Dailey is a 1st Team All-State (6A) Alabama wide receiver with 80 receptions, 1441-yards, and 23 TD catches on 6A state championship team. Considered a late-bloomer. Dailey’s 1,441 single season receiving yards also ranks among the state’s top-10 single seasons in AHSAA history. Kentucky sorely missed an explosive play WR in 2017. Yards after catch dropped from 2016. Dailey will have a chance to compete for early playing time.
Running Back Kavosiey Smoke
- Measurables: 6’0, 215-pounds
- Hometown: Wetumpka, Alabama
- High School: Wetumpka HS
Smoke visited UK on January 26. His physical running style coupled with deceptive top-end speed match Kentucky’s preference in running back style. North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida Atlantic are also in hot pursuit for Smoke’s services. He helped lead Wetumpka to the 6A state championship game against LiAllen Dailey’s Pinson Valley. Both Carolina programs may want him; Kentucky needs Kavosiey Smoke. There’s a huge difference in need and want.
Linebacker Chris Oats
- Measurables: 6’4, 215-pounds
- Hometown: Cincinnati, Ohio
- High School: Winton Woods HS
Frequent Xavier Peters and Chris Oats compare and contrast articles have been written by recruiting services and other media outlets. Per 247Sports, Oats is the only one of the two to hold offers from both Ohio State and Michigan. Those two program’s official interest in Ohio prospects is the measuring stick that Ohio players are measured by through the evaluation period. Oats led his team to the Ohio Division II state title game. Winton Woods HS also produced Kentucky’s All SEC safety Mike Edwards.
You can read my thoughts on his projected development here: Prospective Wildcat Compares to NFL Linebacker
Mark Stoops Completes His Coaching Staff
Excerpts from UK’s official release after White’s hiring:
“My wife and I are really excited and grateful to Coach Stoops for the opportunity to join the Kentucky family,” White said. “Kentucky is a program on the rise. I’ve been very impressed with how Coach Stoops is building this team. I’m especially impressed with the linebackers. They are a diverse group with rising seniors and talented young players all showing they can be successful in the SEC. I’m eager to get started.”
Stoops confirmed that White will take over the outside linebackers, freeing up special teams coordinator Dean Hood to help Steve Clinkscale in the secondary.
“When I talked to Brad, he impressed me with his expertise, his NFL experience and what a very, very good technician he is,” said Stoops, who did not know White prior to the hiring search. “Brad came highly recommended from people I know at Indianapolis. In addition to his knowledge of coaching linebackers, he has ‘big picture’ expertise.
“I’m also excited about hiring Brad because it will enable us to move Coach (Dean) Hood to the secondary, where he will assist Coach Clink (Steve Clinkscale). Dean has been a defensive backs coach for most of his career.”
What This Means
— White’s NFL experience coaching outside linebackers will only augment the games of two future professionals-Josh Allen and Denzil Ware. Plus, UK has recruited this position at a high level. White will also greatly help Josh Paschal, Jordan Wright, and other younger players.
— Historically, Kentucky has been a linebacker developmental program. White’s NFL experience and coaching competence only enhances that status.
— He coached at the Air Force Academy. White was instrumental in the development of Falcon linebackers Jordan Waiwaiole and Brady Amack, who were each first-year starters in 2010. Waiwaiole led the team in tackles with 96 in 2010, while Amack led the team with 136 in 2011. The Falcons advanced to post-season play in both 2010 and 2011, defeating Georgia Tech in the 2010 Independence Bowl and falling to Toledo on the 2011 Military Bowl.
— As you could have predicted; I highly approve of coaches that have worked at a military academy.
— This move frees up Coach Dean Hood to move from outside linebackers to the secondary. The manner in which position coaches are measured is the year-to-year improvement of assigned players. UK’s OLB’s were noticeably better under Hood’s tutelage in 2017. The Wildcat secondary struggled a year ago. I expect the same leap from the senior laden group in 2017. Hood’s move alone could impact the W/L column.
Stay tuned for a heavy-football week on Kentucky Sports Radio Dot Com.
By Freddie Maggard on ©February 02nd, 2018 @ 3:15pm
Vince Marrow has won his fair share of recruiting battles. Kentucky went into Michigan and signed the state’s highest-rated overall player (Marquan McCall) and its best defensive prospect (Deandre Square). Currently, Winton Woods LB Chris Oats is considered by many to be a Kentucky lean. Oats sports offers from Michigan, Georgia, Michigan State, The U, and many, many more. Intriguingly, Oats hails from Cincinnati and according to 247Sports has also been offered by Ohio State. Kentucky beating the Buckeyes for an Ohio prospect would be a ridiculous hallucination prior to Mark Stoops taking over the Wildcat football program. I have no say-so in the crystal ball predictions; but if I did….I’d project the Big Dog (Vince Marrow) for the win proving that prospect/coach relationships can overcome in-state preferences. Vince Marrow. Big Dog. Folks, Marrow is an invaluable and irreplaceable leader of the Wildcat’s recruiting program.
Chris Oats is a 6’4, 215-pound linebacker. He also played special teams and hardly left the field. Most, if not all recruiting services are projecting him to play on the edge, more specifically outside linebacker. I disagree and forecast the elite athlete putting on quality weight and strength to become a Mike (Middle) LB. After watching hours of Oats’ tape, I had a reoccurring sensation that I’d seen a similar type player but I couldn’t quite recall the name. I couldn’t sleep last night after watching the Cats beat Auburn so I watched Lone Survivor for about the 20th time. While in the middle of the movie and second bag of popcorn, the answer hit me right between the eyes; Oats possesses a build (while in high school), instincts, speed, and traits that are eerily similar to former Mississippi State linebacker Benardrick McKinney. My investigation ensued. My hunch was correct, or at least in my opinion. If Oats’ anticipated development goes as expected, he indeed sufficiently compares to McKinney.
Benardrick McKinney was an All-American inside linebacker while playing for Dan Mullen at Miss State. He was the defensive captain of the Bulldog team that bolted to the nation’s top ranking. Prior to leading the Dog defense, McKinney was 6’3, 210-pound all-state ATH prospect from Rosa Fort High School, Mississippi. He played multiple positions (same as Oats) and was the team’s quarterback and starred on the basketball court. He totaled 2,036 yards and accounted for 22 touchdowns. McKinney grew, added weight-strength, settled in on an inside linebacker position, developed, and flourished in Starkville by finishing his career measuring 6’4, 245 pounds. Oats is also 6’4 which is considered tall for an inside linebacker. He was drafted by the Houston Texans in the second round and was recently selected by NFL.com to the All-NFL Under 25 Team.
Let’s Go to the Tape
Benardrick McKinney at Rosa Fort High School
Chris Oats at Winton Woods High School State Championship Highlights
National Signing Day is on February 7. The BBN could learn of Oats’ final decision prior to NSD or it could come down to a hat trick next Wednesday. Kentucky could be getting a tremendous athlete that I project to inside linebacker. Oats has the speed and instincts to play that position at an extremely high level. Expect an earth-shaking roar from the Joe Craft Football Training Center if and when Chris Oats’ fax is transmitted. This is big boy recruiting at its finest.
Mark Stoops signed a quarterback and a punter in the Class of 2018; both positions were of vital need. The following post contains my first impressions of quarterback Terry Wilson and punter Max Duffy as well as abbreviated film analysis from notes taken prior to December’s National Signing Day:
Quarterback Terry Wilson
Measurables: 6’3, 205
Hometown: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
High School: Del City
Junior College: Garden City Community College
Chose UK over: Florida, Nebraska, Indiana, Ole Miss, many more
Abbreviated Film Analysis
— Astute RPO execution. Familiar with scheme and comfortable in multi-read options from various personnel groups, formations, motions, and field position. Understands defensive intent to counter from countless repetitions and familiarization.
— Good athlete. Shifty, smooth runner but not a burner. Top-end, on-field speed seems faster than reported 40-time.
— Playmaker. Finds ways out of trouble in and out of the pocket. Creator.
— Quick decision maker in pass game but has a tendency to stare-down intended targets. Will need to improve read/scan to throw mechanics. However, no panic in pocket as he can fall back on his ability to create if progression tree results in no openings. High Football IQ.
— Not hesitant to attempt courage throws between the hashes. This indicates quick 1-2 option read off play action and drop-back. Workable touch over LBs and in front of safeties. Accuracy and completion percentage will increase with system and personnel familiarity. Played two years, each with different/new playbooks and teammates.
— Adequate touch in red-zone, back-shoulder-fade throws, and deep-dig routes.
— Capable in vertical passing game. Arm strength-check.
— Can throw off the run, better to right than left which is natural
— Requires more eye discipline
First Impressions from Press Conference
— Exuded leadership and self-assurance. Always mentioned “team,” not “me,” which must be considered as a positive given his short stay on campus. Fan expectation is for Wilson to be named as the starter immediately; that is not reality. He handled what could be a delicate situation (QB competition) in the correct manner and again worked the word “team” in most comments. When asked what his expectations for during his first game, he gave a simple answer: “win the game.” Another spot-on answer you’d expect from a quarterback.
— On purpose or not, Wilson repeatedly proclaimed his love for the University of Kentucky and at one point referenced the university and Lexington as “Heaven”; this will endear him to the BBN. He seemed sincere with those remarks which leads me to believe that after a stint at Oregon, junior college revealed a reigniting of appreciation for the amenities that come with major college football. In other words, Wilson seemed hungry to prove his worth and is appreciative of the opportunity.
— Working to build trust with teammates in non-football activities. Plays basketball with teammates which is a way to prove competitive nature and willingness to lead. I like that. A team that participates in recreational activities together normally has a stronger locker room. Not all the time, but more than not.
— Excellent posture, poise, eye contact, and calculation when answering questions or making statements. QB is a position in which actions during a press conference can translate to on-field standing. Wilson never wavered or appeared nervous. In my opinion, he was cognizant of presenting a positive, confident, yet humble front to the media, teammates, and fan base. He was superb in this area.
— Terry Wilson seemed to have the confidence, personality, intent, and outlook to become the face of a franchise; whether he will he or not will depend on spring practice.
Punter Max Duffy
Measurables: 6’0, 181
High School: Kent Street Senior High School
Former Team: Freemantle, AFL
Coached by: Nathan Chapman and John Smith, Pro Kick Australia
Ranked number one punter in the Class of 2018 by ProKicker.com
First Impressions from Press Conference
— BBN, you’re going to love Duffy.
— Personable, eager to learn the game of football and Kentucky culture.
— Oldest player on the team. Mature in remarks and approach in front of the cameras and recorders. Seemed extremely comfortable.
Five early enrollees. Five different personalities and backgrounds. Diversity is one of the most beautiful aspects of collegiate athletics. All of the Wildcat rookies passed their first test on Tuesday.