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Freddie Maggard’s Take

Linebackers Departures Cause for Concern?

Linebackers Departures Cause for Concern?

Pic by KSTV

No. I could end this post with a one-word sentence but Tyler Thompson prefers that I expand on my opinions and such. ESPN generally devalues Kentucky Football in polls, power rankings, predictions, and most other measurable categories. The Network recently ranked the Wildcat linebacker as the 3rd best in the Southeastern Conference. Think about that for a moment. Lindy’s preseason publication has the group rated as the 6th best in the nation. So, the answer remains; recent linebacker departures are not a cause for concern.

My reaction to specific player exits vary and at times differ from most. For example, contrary to popular opinion, Alvonte Bell’s dismissal will hurt the Cat’s capacity to influence opposing quarterbacks. For the defensive end position as a whole, the Bell situation will be difficult to absorb in relation to personnel and experience. Unproven defenders will be called upon to demonstrate vast improvement and development in order to counter his leaving.

Jeff Badet’s surprise transfer to Oklahoma is somewhat different. Eddie Gran will have to identify a deep-threat receiver to replace Badet’s 21-yards per catch average. For complete analysis purposes, his drops also factored into the overall equation. After reviewing an extensive amount of film, I came to the conclusion that opportunity played a minor factor in Badet’s success. This take is in no way intended to downplay his influence on Kentucky’s 7-win season; however, the quarterback’s throw, formation, timing, defensive alignment, and play call must be taken into consideration when discussing multiple post-route completions.

Hear me out. Garrett Johnson’s performance against Louisville highlights this assumption. It was Johnson who was lined up at the right place at the right time against a vulnerable defense with the right plays called to catch perfectly thrown post-routes from Stephen Johnson. UK’s receiver corps can somewhat compensate for Badet’s exodus, but his absence will sting. This will especially apply in the season’s early games.

Now back to the linebackers. Losing four roster players won’t immediately alter UK’s two-deep depth chart nor devalue the position group. However, special teams may take a hit. To what extent is yet to be seen as linebackers play a major role in the third phase.

Let’s take a look at the departed foursome’s 2016 contribution:

Nico Firios recorded five tackles in 2016 and was credited with a blocked punt vs. Georgia Tech. Frequent injuries slowed development.

D’Niro Laster played in 5 games, registered 14 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 QB sack, and recovered a fumble. Of the four, Laster will be missed the most.

Roland Walder redshirted, did not participate in game action. 

Kobie Walker was a safety converted to linebacker that had a great deal of talent. He played in just three games, started two, totaled 10 tackles and .5 TFL. Injuries and off the field difficulties prevented Walker into developing into a dependable defender.

What does all this mean?

Pic by Scout.com

Even after the most recent attrition, Kentucky’s linebacker corps is still talented and deep (See above ESPN and Lindy’s ranking). Resourceful recruiting and detailed development have given Matt House and Dean Hood meeting rooms full of SEC-ready athletes.

Pre-Camp Linebacker Depth Chart

*Returning starter

— OLB/DE Junior* Denzil Ware, Redshirt freshman Jamar Watson

— MLB Senior* Courtney Love, Sophomore Kash Daniel

— WLB Junior* Jordan Jones, Sophomore Eli Brown

— SLB Junior* Josh Allen, Junior Jordan Bonner

All American candidate Jordan Jones is the SEC’s top returning tackler. Josh Allen led the conference in forced fumbles and led the team in QB sacks. Allen is listed as all conference in various preseason outlets. Denzil Ware is the group’s designated pass rusher and listed as a Top 5 outside linebacker/defensive end in the Southeastern Conference. Courtney Love is the team’s captain and showed progress in last season’s final weeks. Jones, Allen, and Ware are on NFL Draft lists. Depth is sufficient with seasoned veterans with several talented rookies at the ready (see below).

Pic by Bleacher Report

The Newcomers

— Jaylin Bannerman, 6’5 240-pound redshirt freshman is ready to contribute at linebacker and on special teams. Bannerman is regarded as one of the better overall athletes on the team.

— Jamin Davis was one of the stars of the spring game. Could see playing time as a true freshman. As predicted on National Signing Day, Stoops and company found a gem in Davis.

— Alex King was regarded as one of the most disruptive high school pass rusher in the Midwest. Think a more polished Josh Allen at this stage in his career.

— Josh Paschal, Class of 2017 prize signee. Will compete for immediate playing time and could enhance the Wildcat’s pass rush.

— Jamar Watson was the spring game’s Most Valuable Player after registering 4 QB sacks and 4 TFL’s. The redshirt freshman is a star in the making.

— Jordan Wright is a freakish athlete that has the build and skill to play either defensive end or linebacker. His best football lies ahead.

It’s never pleasant to lose football players to transfer or dismissal. As of now, Kentucky’s linebacker situation is stabilized and poised to star. But, it cannot afford more attrition prior to traveling to Hattiesburg.


The Depth Chart Podcast with Pookie Jones

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Freddie’s “Has Been” Series continues on The Jack Kain Ford Depth Chart Podcast with the player who replaced him on the depth chart, legendary quarterback Pookie Jones.

Pookie is best remembered for leading the Cats to the 1993 Peach Bowl, but did you know 1989’s Mr. Football from Calloway County also hit 17 homeruns for Keith Madison’s Bat Cats?  Pookie shines a brighter light on the Bill Curry era, connects with former wide receiver Mark Chatman, and…

—  How Freddie tried to prevent Pookie from coming to UK.

—  Pookie was much more than an “option quarterback;” how the option hurt their offense.

—  They explain Tommy Bowden’s revolutionary “triangulation of progression.”

—  Pookie makes a prediction on Stephen Johnson’s 2017 season.

—  Comparing Benny Snell and Moe Williams.

—  What loss hurt more?  To Florida in the Chris Doering game or the Peach Bowl?

—  The challenges of playing baseball and football for UK.

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.

Pookie’s 357 yard passing game vs. Mississippi State.

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Week One SEC East Loss Probabilities

For quite some time the SEC East has been considered the lesser of the league’s two divisions. Some go as far as labeling it the SEC LEast. Week one matchups offer several opportunities to improve upon or maintain its reputation within the conference and all of college football. 

Two neutral site games vs. Power 5 opponents are accompanied by one home matchup against a 1AA foe as well as two road games and two at home vs. Group of 5 opponents.

Let’s take a look:


Florida vs. Michigan, Arlington TX | September 2nd

Michigan is favored by 3. The Gators must find a resemblance of an offense with a new quarterback while replacing 8 defensive starters. Florida’s kicker and punter are excellent; that should make Steve Spurrier proud. Redshirt freshman QB Feleipe Franks or incoming grad-transfer Malik Zaire will compete for the starting job in fall camp. Zaire makes three grad-transfer quarterbacks to call Gainesville home in a very short period of time. At some point in time continually bringing in mercenaries at the team’s most vital position could cause friction.

Michigan was also hurt by attrition. It lost 17 starters, 10 from the defense. This will be a contest of the unknowns in both personnel and team quality. Both teams are talented and extremely well coached. Annually Florida reloads defensively. New coordinator Randy Shannon may not have an overabundance of experience, but his unit will possess elite talent across the board. The Wolverines should be refreshed and bonded from its Italy vacation but may lack the athletes to keep up with the speedy Gators. 

Florida Loss Probability: Low


Kentucky at Southern Miss | September 2nd

Kentucky is favored by 12. Former Wildcat offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson put it to his former team a year ago. In a game that was defined by two distinct halves, Southern Miss won the contest by dominating momentum, tempo, and the scoreboard in the 3rd and 4th quarters. Last year’s game was no fluke. Southern Miss out-played, out-toughed, and out-ran the home team.

USM will be without the services of longtime starting quarterback Nick Mullens. But, it returns RB Ito Smith. You’ll read this many more times this summer; Ito Smith is a bad, bad man that must be taken seriously. Reminder, he rushed for 173 on the Cats in 2016. Don’t be logo fooled, Smith will be one of the better running backs that UK will face all year. 

The Wildcats are nearly a two-touchdown favorite for the 4:00pm kickoff in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. It’s going to be nasty hot which could benefit the team with the most line-of-scrimmage depth. Kentucky’s offensive line has a dominant advantage in this category. Defensively, not so much which could be a cause for concern; see the Ito Smith and 2016 outcome reference above.

Golden Eagle fans have this game circled on the scheduled as it marks a shot to knock off a SEC team at home. Mark Stoops should have no problem motivating his team after last year’s second half meltdown. September 2nd will be a heated game, and I’m not talking about the 100-degree temperature.

Kentucky Loss Probability: Low-Medium


Georgia vs. Appalachian State, September 2nd

Georgia is a 14-point favorite. The game is between the hedges and the Dawgs have a potent offensive that should be able to score touchdowns in bunches. Only question on that side of the football is offensive coordinator Jim Chaney’s ability to effectively utilize the plethora of talent under his control. Chaney’s play calling a year ago baffled fans, media, and players alike. Here’s a foolproof game plan; hand the football off to RB’s Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Then, use future NFL QB Jacob Eason to throw play action passes to elite TE’s Isaac Nauta and Jeb Blazevich. Game over. UGA is arguably the most talented team in the East and returns 10 defensive starters off a Top 20 unit a year ago.

Appalachian State is favored to win the Sun Belt Conference. It put a scare into Tennessee a year ago as the Volunteers required an overtime period to win 20-13 in Knoxville. Expect the fearless Mountaineers to put up a valiant fight.

Georgia Loss Probability: Low


Missouri State at Missouri | September 2nd

Spread not available. Missouri State (1AA) went 4-7 in 2016. The Tigers may score 80 in this one with South Carolina coming to town the next week.

Missouri Loss Probability: Extremely Low


South Carolina vs. North Carolina State, Charlotte | September 2nd

North Carolina State is favored by 4. South Carolina is the trendy pick to contend for a division title. The Gamecocks will have their collective hands full in Charlotte. NC State returns 11 starters, 8 of which are on defense. The Wolfpack also sports one of the better defensive lines in college football.

Sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley impressed as a true freshman. He’ll be surrounded by 8 returning starters that include talented and fast skill players that have the potential to light up a scoreboard. Unlike the vast majority of media types, I’m yet to be completely sold on USC. But, I will become a complete believer in the Fighting Muschamps if Carolina consistently blocks the Wolfpack defensive line that’s led by Bradley Chubb (22 TFL, 10.5 QB sacks).

South Carolina Loss Probability: High


Vanderbilt at Middle Tennessee State | September 2nd

Vanderbilt is favored by 9 against a dangerous MTSU team. Two questions surround this neighborly grudge match: 1. How will the Vanderbilt defense cope without the services of All American LB Zach Cunningham? 2. Will MTSU QB Brent Stockstill be fully recovered from a February shoulder surgery?

MTSU beat Missouri 51-45 in Columbia a year ago. Ironically it now has former Mizzou Tiger Walter Brady leading its pass rush. Vanderbilt has 17 players on its depth chart that saw extensive action in 2016. QB Kyle Shurmer and RB Ralph Webb led the Commodore offense to a strong finish to the 2016 regular season before falling flat in a 41-17 loss to NC State in the Independence Bowl. I’d be more confident in the Blue Raiders if Stockstill was completely healthy.

Vanderbilt Loss Probability: Medium


Tennessee vs. Georgia Tech, Atlanta | September 4th

Tennessee is a 4-point favorite. The Champions of Life trophy wasn’t exactly the prize that Volunteer fans coveted going into 2016. Head coach Butch Jones has many sets of shoes to fill after several of his building block stars moved on. For beginners, he has to find a new starting quarterback to fill a void vacated by Josh Dobbs. Furthermore, the program’s all-time leading sacker Derek Barnett now plays his football on Sundays.

Georgia Tech finished last fall much like as senior led team should. The Yellow Jackets beat its archrival (Georgia) then went on to win the Taxslayer Bowl with a victory over Kentucky. Coach Paul Johnson must also find a replacement for his starting quarterback as Justin Thomas finally graduated. Seems as if he’d led that option attack for a decade. But, don’t fret my cut blocking friends, several key offensive pieces are coming back to Atlanta including Clinton Lynch and Dedrick Mills.

Butch Jones will be joined by six new assistant coaches and a bus load of new non-coaching coaches (aka support staff) to prepare for Johnson’s perplexing rushing attack in the offseason. A Tech win would give it three consecutive victories over SEC East opponents (Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee).

Tennessee Loss Probability: Medium


It’s June. Suspension and Dismissal Season hasn’t gotten into full swing just yet. Fall camp injuries will also play a factor in projections changing from now until September. Mizzou is the only team that will be serving dessert in its opener. The other six programs best be on their toes in order to quiet the SEC Least detractors.


Todd Perry to Enter the Kentucky NFL Hall of Fame

Former UK guard Todd Perry will be inducted into the Kentucky NFL Hall of Fame on June 23rd at the Lexington Opera House. He was recruited to UK by Jerry Claiborne. The former Wildcat head coach remained loyal with his offer even after an injury that occurred prior to Perry’s senior season at North Hardin HS. He was later selected in the 4th round by Chicago. Twenty years passed before another Kentucky offensive lineman was selected in the NFL Draft (Larry Warford). Perry went on to enjoy a successful professional career as he played eight years with the Bears and three with the Dolphins.

Todd’s was a teammate of mine. I’m proud of his football accomplishments. He’s also comprehensively respected and revered as one of the good guys in UK Football history. Here’s a Q&A interview with my friend:

-Question: Why did you choose to attend the University of Kentucky?

-Todd Perry: I grew up a Kentucky fan and had attended the football camp early in high school. UK was one of my first offers. I started getting many other offers before my senior year and some of them were very tempting. I injured my knee in a preseason scrimmage, had surgery, and missed my senior year. Many schools dropped their offers. When I told Coach Claiborne about my injury, he said, “I am sorry to hear about your injury, but it will be ok, because you will recover and go on to have a great career as a Wildcat.” He was the only coach that stuck with me, so I knew Kentucky was the place for me.

-Question: Describe your “Welcome to the SEC” moment.

-Perry: It was during my freshman year. I was going to be redshirted, but every week a scout team player was allowed to dress out for the game. I was lucky enough to win it the week we beat Georgia, who was ranked #11 in the country. It was the first time I was ever on the field and I remember standing there the whole game with my jaw open. The speed and violence of the collisions shocked me. It was way different than practice. That’s when I knew I was getting ready to play on a whole other level.

-Question: What was your fondest memory as a Kentucky Wildcat?

-Perry: Beating LSU in Death Valley my Senior year.

-Question: How did you spend Draft Day?

-Perry: I spent my draft day at home with my family. It was quite a long day, because back then they did four rounds the first day of the draft and I didn’t get the call until about 8 pm. When the Bears called it was a mixture of relief and surprise. I was glad the waiting was over, but I had very little contact with the Bears organization (a scout, who came to practice during the fall) during the entire process, so I was surprised they drafted me. I was convinced I was going to be drafted by the Buccaneers or the Browns because of the meetings I had with them. Funny story about draft day – I never had cable TV growing up and my Dad had to finally break down and order it so he would have ESPN and could watch the draft. My younger brothers were probably more excited about finally having cable, than an older brother drafted in the NFL.

-Question: How difficult was your transition from the SEC to the NFL?

-Perry: I believe playing in the SEC gave me a tremendous advantage in my transition to the NFL. I played against NFL caliber defensive lineman my whole career at Kentucky.  However, it was still an extremely difficult transition. It was an eye-opening experience. The speed of the game and talent level was nothing I had ever seen. I wasn’t totally comfortable and confident with it until about my third year in the league. Every single player I faced was an elite talent. I’m glad I didn’t think much about it at the time. Playing in the NFC Central, I faced Reggie White, Gilbert Brown, Warren Sapp, John Randle, Henry Thomas, and Luther Ellis TWICE a year!! Three of those guys are in the Hall of Fame. When I think about that now, I have no idea how I blocked them.

-Question: Did you watch UK play in 2016 and what are your thoughts on a 2-deep offensive line rotation? Did I watch UK play in 2016 and opinions of rotating two offensive lines?

-Perry: I have kept up with and watched UK football over the years and was very impressed with the 2016 team. I knew they have been close these last few years and have struggled to finish seasons strong. It was great to see them finish strong with a win over Louisville and a get back to a bowl game. I think Coach Schlarman has done an excellent job developing the offensive line and I think it is awesome that UK was able to play two offensive lines last year. In most situations, any team will only play 6 linemen throughout a season. The ability to have as many linemen with playing experience returning will pay huge dividends this season. There are multiple guys who can play multiple positions and it will help protect the team from injury concerns, plus, the competition to earn playing time will only make the group better.

Question: Why 20 years between offensive lineman drafted?

-Perry: That is a great question with a hard answer. I didn’t realize it had been that many years between me and Larry Warford being drafted. I was surprised because UK has had some very successful years in the span. I suppose there hasn’t been a consistent enough performance that would allow you to recruit top offensive lineman prospects. The best prospects have traditionally gone to the powerhouse programs with a long winning tradition. The critics have always said you can’t recruit top linemen in the state of Kentucky, because you lose the best ones to out of state programs and you get second best from their states. The most exciting thing for me has been the number of highly ranked recruits that Coach Stoops and the staff have been able to bring home to UK, especially offensive lineman.  I don’t believe there will be a long wait for the next drafted offensive lineman out of UK.

-Question: How good can Kentucky be in 2017?

-Perry: I think last year put the program over the hump. Even with some big graduation losses, the players returning will have tons of playing experience and with some of these young but very talented recruits coming in, the team has the competitive depth to compete in the SEC. I think the offensive and defensive skill is as talented as it has been in years and if the lines can continue their progress, there is no reason they can’t compete for an East title next season. The future is very bright, in my opinion, and for me personally, I’m ready for the Florida losing streak to GO AWAY!!!!!!

-Question: What are you doing these days?

Perry: I have been coaching offensive line the last ten years and love it. I was fortunate to help Coach Curry start the program at Georgia State the first two seasons and then was able to coach my son, Tyler, in high school at Milton High School. There have been six of my offensive lineman go on to play at the FBS level and have had a ton of success.  It has been very rewarding.

-Question: What does it mean to be named an KY NFL HOF?

-Perry: It is a perfect ending to my football career. I wasn’t lucky enough to have many winning or championship seasons during my football career, but to be considered one of the best players from the state of Kentucky is unbelievable honor.  When I look at the list of men in the KY Pro Hall of Fame, I am extremely humbled.  There are men that played my position, who I have idolized, such as Jeff Van Note and Dermontti Dawson, and to become a member of their team is amazing!

Humble, thoughtful, and loyal. These words accurately describe Todd Perry. But, don’t be fooled by his nice natured personality. He was a technical mauler on the line-of-scrimmage. I was honored to be in the huddle with Todd during his first college football snap. The wide eyed rookie never looked back and went on to experience tremendous success in the National Football League.

For tickets and further information on the Kentucky NFL Hall of Fame go to http://kyprofootballhof.org/.


The Depth Chart Podcast: Coaches Edition

depth-chart-jack-kain-ford

After a few episodes of The Depth Chart Podcast featured as Freddie so lovingly puts it, “has beens,” today he switched gears to get perspective from a pair of coaches.  Rob Manchester of Georgia Military College explains a few nuances to JUCO football before Conner High School coach Dave Trosper shares insight on his program and Drew Barker’s playing days.  Highlights:

—  How JUCO recruiting works and the differences between California JUCOs and the rest of the country.

—  Drew Barker feels 100%, but he still needs to take a hit.

—  People forget Barker also was Conner’s punter.

—  A story from UK football camp, scuttlebutt around the program and the loss of Alvonte Bell.

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.


Better Late than Never: An Unlikely Foursome That Led a Turnaround

AP Photo/David Stephenson

Florida receiver Shocky Jacques-Louis de-committed from Kentucky. Ohio defensive tackle Tyler Brentley pledged his loyalty to the Wildcats. This all happened within a short period of time. Following summer football recruiting can be a tiring proposition. Commitments, de-commitments, camps here-combines there are all challenging to track and even more confusing to interpret. Terms like “committable offer” also pop into the equation which makes even less sense.

Four improbable Wildcats committed to Mark Stoops late in the process and were described by some as being “reaches”. Reach is a word that’s used to describe prospects that don’t rate high in the eyes of recruiting services and are questionable to contribute quality minutes while in college. In this post you’ll read that these four “reaches” substantially contributed to the success of the 2016 season. How much you ask? Keep reading.

Imagine if these Wildcats hadn’t signed. Oh boy, things may have turned out differently a year ago. It’s important to remember that National Signing Day was held on the first Wednesday in February for the context of this post.

Let’s take a look: 

Josh Allen, Outside Linebacker

Committed on January 31st, 2015; three days prior to National Signing Day (NSD).

Chose UK over Monmouth and Buffalo.

Contribution

2015: Allen played in all 12 games as a true freshman after being forced into action following the Jason Hatcher fiasco. Finished the season with four tackles including 1.5 tackles for loss and .5 QB sack. A redshirt would have been ideal. 

2016: Played in all 13 games, starting nine. Ended the season as Kentucky’s 7th leading tackler with 62 total. Led the team and SEC with four forced fumbles. Finished 12th in the SEC with 7 QB sacks, also good enough for tops on the team. -2017 Outlook

Rated as one of the SEC’s top outside linebackers. Projected starter and is on NFL Draft watch lists. A 2-star prospect at the time of his Kentucky commitment; Josh Allen has evolved into an upper-level producer for Mark Stoops. His best football lies ahead.

Stephen Johnson, Quarterback

Committed on January 16th, 2016; 18 days prior to NSD.

Chose UK over Hawaii and Arkansas State

Contribution

Entered fall camp as the No. 2 quarterback behind starter Drew Barker. Led the Cats to seven wins in its last eleven games of 2016. Holds a 5-4 record as a starter but entered the game early in relief duty in wins over New Mexico State and Austin Peay.

Completed 145 of 265 passes (54.7%) for 2,037 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also rushed for 327 yards and 3 touchdowns. Johnson was named SEC Player of the Week by Gridiron Now and the Manning Award Start of the Week for his 16-27, 338 yard, 3 TD, and 83 rush-yards performance in the Cats win over Louisville. He was also selected as the Taxslayer Most Valuable Player after completing 19 passes for 175 yards and 2 touchdowns. Johnson did not throw a 4th quarter interception in 2016.

2017 Outlook

Stephen Johnson was a program lifesaver. Wasn’t always the prettiest quarterback in the league, but the California native simply won games. At times, UK quarterbacks in the Stoops era appeared to become rattled in the face of adversity. Not the unflappable Stephen Johnson. He made mistakes, sure. But the positives greatly outweighed the negatives.

Nobody could have guessed that he would eventually lead the team to a New Year’s bowl after being thrown into the early fire following Barker’s injury. I think most agree that Johnson has much to improve upon. But; his composure, leadership, and tendency to play his best in big games were essential to Kentucky’s 7-6 season.

Coaches insist a quarterback competition will ensue but Johnson is considered to be the team’s starting quarterback and team leader going into fall camp.

TJ Carter, Defensive End

Committed on January 29th, 2016; three days prior to NSD.

Chose UK over Memphis, Samford, and Wyoming

Contribution

2016: Not a lot of folks jumped up and down following the Georgia native’s commitment. One that did was former UK great Jeremy Jarmon. Jarmon took one look at his film and proclaimed that “this kid will be a starter.”

The former 2-star prospect earned playing time as a true freshman. Carter registered 11 total tackles, .5 tackle for loss, and 1 pass breakup in his rookie year. He earned PFF (Pro Football Focus) top grade for all defensive Wildcats in the Taxslayer Bowl.

2017 Projection

Projected as the starting defensive end following the news of Alvonte Bell’s dismissal. His January 29th commitment now has major win/loss ramifications and Stoops and company appear ingenious in hindsight. Extremely high ceiling.

Naquez Pringle, Nose Tackle

Committed on January 17th, 2016; seventeen days prior to NSD.

Chose UK over Appalachian State and Central Florida

Contribution

Given the direness of the nose tackle position, an argument could be made that Naquez Pringle was the most essential Class of 2016 signee. Pringle came on to the scene with very little fanfare but quickly earned respect by inserting himself into the lineup and becoming a key component of the Wildcat defensive line. While the BBN awaited Matt Elam’s emergence as a reliable starter, it was Pringle that went on to lead the defensive line in tackles.

2016: Started five games after recording his first start against Vanderbilt. Did not play vs. Southern Miss, registered 5 tackles and a TFL in game two against Florida. Finished last season as the team’s top interior defensive line tackler with 39 total tackles, 2 TFL, 1 QB sack.

2017 Outlook

Projected to start at nose tackle. Transformed his body into a more durable down-lineman. Was in my opinion the most improved player on the team from spring to fall. Diligent worker, Pringle’s best football lies ahead. 

What does all this mean?

Kentucky would not have enjoyed a winning season in 2016 if not for the four late, unheralded pickups listed above. Plain and simple. Think about it; this group includes the team’s highest offensive stat producer, most QB sacks and forced fumbles, top defensive line tackler, and the future at defensive end.

Football recruiting is a strange business. Yes, I said business. The premise of this post is based on the significance of four prospects that were late additions that chose Kentucky over the likes of Appalachian State, Samford, Buffalo, Arkansas State, and Monmouth. Efficient roster management requires all types of players: From 4-stars to 2, early and late commitments, JUCO and high school prospects alike.

Full disclosure; I tried my best to watch last weekend’s recruiting showcase camp at Kroger Field. I lasted all of three minutes. I understand their importance but I can’t imagine having to watch those type events on a regular basis throughout the duration of the summer.

I know; I’m old and suffer from a severe case of old-schoolitis. The game has passed me by. Fill in the blank with any other reaction that will likely be made here. But, call me when the pads start popping for accurate evaluations. The truth of the matter is that we really don’t know which players will decide the fate of a season until they get onto campus. Very few if any predicted that the foursome comprised of Josh Allen, Stephen Johnson, Naquez Pringle, and TJ Carter would quickly become fundamental members of a bowl team that is currently trending upward in the SEC East.


From the Governor’s Cup to Now

From the Governor’s Cup to Now

November 26th, 2016 resonates within the Big Blue Nation as the moment that Kentucky Football began to turn the proverbial corner under Mark Stoops. The Wildcats entered the game as a 26-point, road underdog. It proceeded to beat the Louisville Cardinals and its Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Lamar Jackson 41-38.

Excitement surrounding the program pinnacled. Several, including me and mine, raced to Kroger Field to welcome the triumphant Cats back to Lexington. Conversations began to surface about pending bowl games and what could be in 2017.

Mark Stoops was projected to return ten offensive starters from the Governor’s Cup lineup. In that expected unit was running back Boom Williams and his 1170 rush yards as well as receiver Jeff Badet’s 21 yards per catch. The defense was expected to return eight starters. 18 of 22 starters coming back from a 7-5 team. Expectations ascended. Then; unexpected, key personnel departures ensued.

Boom Williams declared for the NFL Draft immediately after the Taxslayer Bowl. Weeks later Jeff Badet announced his intentions to transfer. We learned on Tuesday that defensive end Alvonte Bell was dismissed for violation of team rules.

As of today, offensive coordinator Eddie Gran will begin fall camp with eight starters from the Louisville game instead of ten. Defensive coordinator Matt House will have seven starters from last November’s contest instead of eight. 18 of 22 is now 15 of 22. Still good, but not as eye popping in a division that contains several teams with a high number of returning contributors.

Couple surprise personnel losses with the word that “two to three” incoming freshman did not report for June summer workouts and the lineup in Hattiesburg, Mississippi will be a little different than expected back on November 26th, 2016. Is this topic a cause for concern?
Let’s take a look at departed starters:

OFFENSIVE STARTERS vs. LOUISVILLE

Tight End- CJ Conrad
Left Tackle- Cole Mosier
Left Guard- Nick Haynes
Center- JonToth
Right Guard- Bunchy Stallings
Right Tackle- Kyle Meadows
Receiver- Jeff Badet
Receiver- Dorian Baker
Receiver- Garrett Johnson
Running Back- Boom Williams
Quarterback- Stephen Johnson

— Jon Toth: The All SEC performer and team captain started 48 consecutive games. That level of consistency and leadership will be missed. Starting guard Bunchy Stallings was moved to center. Stallings originally signed as a center prospect then was moved to guard. He’s familiar and comfortable at the position. Redshirt freshman Drake Jackson will also be a part of John Schlarman’s 2-deep rotation.

The Post-Toth era offensive line should again be the team’s best offensive grouping. I’m not alone in this thinking. The SEC Network’s Cole Cubelic listed Kentucky’s offensive line as the 3rd best unit going into the 2017 season.

An important factor in the Wildcat OL’s high rating is the fact that UK returns nine players that consistently rotated throughout last season at all positions other than center. Experience and proven success equal expectation.

— Boom Williams: 171 carries, 1170 rushing yards, 6.8 yards per carry, 7 TD’s, 90 rush yards per game.

The Wildcats finished 3rd in the league with 3304 rush yards in 2016. Williams’ loss will be felt, but to what extent remains to be seen. History has taught us that four running backs are required to survive the physical nature of the SEC.

Benny Snell, Sihiem King, and AJ Rose are poised to run in 2017. Snell is a Top-5 SEC RB that also topped 1,000-yards a year ago. But, Gran will need one more. Remember, it takes four. True freshman Bryant Koback’s rehabilitation will be closely monitored. At a minimum, his on-field presence could provide a safety net. Fellow rookie Lynn Bowden has been rumored to get situational carries from the RB position as well. More on Bowden later. Boom’s explosive nature will be difficult to replicate.

Benny Snell is special. Just how special? I’ve interviewed some of UK’s all-time great defensive players and they describe Snell as unique; or possessing a style unlike any other historical UK running back. Should be fine here.

— Jeff Badet’s 2016 numbers: 31 catches, 670 yards, 21.6 yards per reception, 4 TD’s, 51.5 receiving yards per game. Badet was poised to become Kentucky’s number one pass catcher as a senior but transferred to Oklahoma as a grad-transfer. Playing against Big 12 defenses will be refreshing and a path of lesser resistance than those he faced in the SEC. The Big 12 had just 14 players selected in the 2017 NFL Draft good, or bad enough to be ranked 5th amongst all conferences. 5 of those 12 played defense. On the other hand, the SEC had 53 players selected; 35 played defense. He could catch 100 passes in Norman.

Garrett Johnson led the team in catches a year ago. But, Badet was Stephen Johnson’s top deep-ball threat. Defenses were forced to honor his speed which loosened the box for Benny and Boom.

True freshman Lynn Bowden is penciled in to help replace Badet’s explosiveness. Garrett Johnson, Charles Walker, Tavin Richardson, and other true freshman will also attempt to fill the void. Bowden’s campus arrival is crucial. Receiver is a deep position group and theoretically should be able to absorb a portion of this departure.

DEFENSIVE STARTERS vs. LOUISVILLE

Defensive End/Outside Linebacker- Denzil Ware
Defensive Tackle- Adrian Middleton
Defensive End- Courtney Miggins
Nose Guard- Avonte Bell (Position listed in UK media guide)
Free Safety- Marcus McWilson
Nickel- Blake McClain
Will Linebacker- Jordan Jones
Mike Linebacker- Courtney Love
Strong Safety- Mike Edwards
Cornerback- Derrick Baity
Cornerback- Chris Westry

Courtney Miggins’ 2016 numbers: 28 total tackles, 4 tackles for loss, .5 QB sack, 5 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble, 1 recovered fumble. Miggins was a solid run stopper and provided a steady but not forceful influence in the pass rush. Alvonte Bell was slated to be his replacement; see below.

Alvonte Bell’s 2016 numbers: 27 total tackles, 1 tackle for loss, .5 QB sack, 2 pass breakups, 1 QB hurry, 4 starts. Bell was coming on strong at the end of the 2016 season. A knee injury in the Taxslayer Bowl prevented spring practice participation. His unexpected departure will lessen the Wildcat’s ability to chase the quarterback in 2017. TJ Carter, Calvin Taylor, and Kengera Daniel are veterans that will vie for the starting defensive end job. True freshmen Josh Paschal, Jordan Wright, and Abule Abadi-Fitzgerald will also get early fall camp looks.

Marcus McWilson finished 2016 as the team’s 5th leading tackler with 69 total. He also registered 4.5 tackles for loss, and had 1 INT. McWilson is a player that Stoops wishes he could have redshirted as the light really came on in his senior season.

Blake McClain was another dependable defender that played a whole lot of football over the years. 2016 stats: 6th leading tackler with 62 total, .5 tackle for loss and 3 interceptions. The safety/nickel position took a hit with the departure of McWilson, McClain, and JD Harmon.

The Cat’s secondary is deep and talented enough to recover from their exit.

What does all this mean?

Let’s be completely honest here. The loss of Boom, Badet, and Bell will sting. Unforeseen exits are a commonplace across college football; attrition happens. The “Next Man Up” mantra will be frequently stressed in fall camp. There is no other course of action.

Leadership is always tested during the summer time. My projection for this team has not changed. Kentucky has a legitimate chance to make a run in the SEC East. However, the Wildcats cannot afford to suffer additional personnel losses.


Cole Cubelic still likes the UK Offensive Line

Cole Cubelic still likes the UK Offensive Line

The SEC Network’s Cole Cubelic freely speaks his mind; and does so frequently. He ruffled Golden Flake feathers throughout the south a year ago by ranking the Kentucky Wildcat offensive line as the top unit in the Southeastern Conference.


PROJECTED 2017 OFFENSIVE LINE DEPTH CHART

Left Tackle
Senior Cole Mosier (6’6, 335)
Sophomore Landon Young (6’7, 310)

Left Guard
Sophomore Logan Stenberg (6’6, 325)
Freshman (RS) Luke Fortner (6’6, 310)
Junior Tate Leavitt (6’6, 317)

Center
Junior Bunchy Stallings (6’3, 320)
Freshman (RS) Drake Jackson (6’2, 300)

Right Guard
Senior Nick Haynes 6’3 300
Junior George Asafo-Adjei (6’5, 320)/Junior Tate Leavitt (6’6, 317)

Right Tackle
Senior Kyle Meadows (6’5, 300)
Junior George Asafo-Adjei (6’5, 320)/Sophomore Mason Wolfe (6’6, 305)


Cubelic made his case for the Cats early in the 2016 season and well before UK’s rushing attack became a hot topic for talking head conversations. In other words, he was first to bring attention to Mark Stoops’ high achieving Hog collection. He’s back at it again. This time he lists John Schlarman’s group third.

I concur with Cubelic’s list. Most will wait to see how the Wildcat big fellas execute without All SEC center Jon Toth. But if Cole ranks it 3rd, he must be awfully high on the projected 2-deep rotation. No college football analyst watches more film or studies the game more than the former Auburn center.

Full disclosure, he and I often communicate about all things college football. Cole’s a friend to Kentucky Sports Radio as well and is set to host the KSR radio show while Matt vacations. Give him a Twitter follow if you don’t do so already @colecubelic.


Governor’s Cup Luncheon News and Notes

Governor’s Cup Luncheon News and Notes

Mark Stoops and Bobby Petrino coexisted in the same room for the annual Governor’s Cup press conference, held at the Frankfort Country Club on Tuesday.

The event surrounds a golf tournament and preceded Monday night’s reception at the Governor’s Mansion.

Each year the Governor’s Cup honors former Wildcats. This year’s honorees were former linebacker Marty Moore, former wide receiver/kick returner Derek Abney, and former running back Doug Kotar.

Several on Twitterville question why the two-day affair continues to exist, given the fact that the Cats and Cards don’t meet on the gridiron until late November. One of the answers is charity. Funds are raised and distributed to the Dare to Care and God’s Pantry Food Banks. Thus, I hope the event continues on indefinitely.

But back to football. A leaner version of Mark Stoops addressed the gathering and provided some insight into the Kentucky Football program.

Some interesting tidbits were:

 

— Drew Barker has been cleared for full-go workouts.

Barker is back and ready compete for the starting quarterback job after being limited during spring practice. He’s diligently worked to expedite rehabilitation. I’m personally happy for the former starter.

— Open competition exists at all positions including quarterback.

Mark Stoops confirmed his stance that every position is open for competition and that includes his signal callers. “Quarterbacks are no different even though everybody likes to write about it. You have to earn it every day.”

It appears that there will be a three-way competition. “Don’t discount Gunnar Hoak as well.”

— Not all the freshmen have reported.

The Cats reported to the Joe Craft Football Training Center on Monday. Summer school starts this week. When asked if all his newcomers are on campus; Stoops said, “Not all of them were there (team meeting) this morning.” He continued, “We expect all but two or three to be here for this summer.”

“Two or three” is a loaded statement and has the BBN feeling a tad bit anxious. Which two or three? Speculation abounds. This is an ongoing situation.

— Alvonte Bell is no longer on the team.

If you’re a regular listener of the Depth Chart Podcast then you’re familiar with the term “Suspension Season”. This refers to the period of time that starts when players report for summer workouts and continues all the way up until September openers. This is a dangerous stretch for suspensions and dismissals and is common across college football.

Preseason magazines and May-June predictions are fun, but “suspension season” has the tendency to alter rosters throughout the summer months. Stoops announced on Tuesday that senior DE Alvonte Bell has been dismissed for violation of team rules.

Ouch, here we go again. Regie Meant’s unexpected departure a year ago significantly impacted the front seven. Only time will tell how much the Bell situation will influence the DL depth chart and rotation. Kentucky’s lack of an organic, defensive line pass rush is the most pressing deficiency for the 2017 Wildcats. Bell was a projected starter and his absence will only magnify that personnel question mark.

Sophomores TJ Carter and Calvin Taylor will join junior Kengera Daniel in the fight for the starting role. I’d also expect a true freshman or two to compete for the spot. Josh Paschal, Jordan Wright, and Abule Abadi-Fitzgerald will get early, fall camp looks.

Mark Zerof | USA Today

— It’s now or never for Matt Elam.

Mark Stoops, “He and I (Matt Elam) had a sit-down in mid-April about some things he needs to do. And, you know, it’s up to Matt. Matt is a good worker and does good things and everything that’s expected of him when he’s with us. There are sacrifices you have to make when you’re away from college and you’re away from your coaches. That’ll be up to Matt.”

Translation: The team sorely needs Matt Elam. He possesses the tools to be an upper-level, SEC defensive lineman. If he reaches his full potential or not is solely up to the senior from E’town. In other words, it’s now or never.

The Depth Chart Podcast will be taking a week off as we focus on the baseball Cat’s quest for Omaha. Let’s all get behind this team.


Running Back Decisions Will Greatly Impact the SEC East

Running Back Decisions Will Greatly Impact the SEC East

We continue our SEC East discussion by analyzing NFL Draft decisions made by five running backs. Their choice to either stay in school or for early departure to the NFL will substantially influence the division’s outcome. Let’s take a look: 

RETURNED TO SCHOOL

Nick Chubb-Georgia

 2016 Results: Finished 8th in the SEC with 224 carries, 1130 yards, and 8 TD’s.

Decision’s impact on the Dawgs: Momentous; both for Kirby Smart’s hopes for a conference title and for Chubb. He’s second on several Bulldog statistic columns: most yards in a game (Hershel Walker 283, Chubb 266) and most rush yards in a season (Walker 1891, Chubb 1547). Furthermore, Chubb’s 3424 career mark is good enough for second in school history; 2,017 yards behind Herschel Walker.

Sony Michel-Georgia

2016 Results: 152 carries, 840 yards, and 4 TD’s.

Decision’s impact on the Dawgs: Momentous part two. Along with Chubb, Michel gives the Dawgs the best 1-2 punch in all of college football. Sorry Tide fanatics. The duo’s overall influence propels Georgia into a potential SEC Championship and National Playoff contender.

Ralph Webb-Vanderbilt

2016 Results: SEC’s 5th leading rusher. 250 carries, 1283 yards, 13 TD’s.

Decision’s impact for the Commodores: Everything. Webb has been the focal point of the Vandy offense for several years. Vanderbilt is poised to have a promising season based off Webb’s decision to return to Nashville.

DECLARED FOR THE NFL DRAFT

Stanley “Boom” Williams-Kentucky

2016 Results: SEC’s 7th leading rusher with 171 carries, 1170 yards, and 7 TD’s.

Draft Status: Undrafted. Williams rolled the dice but was not selected. He did sign an undrafted free agent contract with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Decision’s impact on the Cats: Pending. The Boom Williams-Benny Snell Show was fun to watch for the BBN as the Wildcats rushed for 3,044 yards in 2016. Williams was the Cats’ homerun threat. Now, offensive coordinator Eddie Gran must find Snell a running mate. The pool is not empty with AJ Rose, Sihiem King, and Bryant Koback pushing to fill Boom’s void.

With a Top 3, SEC offensive line returning; “What could have been” will be a saying that could resonate for all parties involved. Boom left the program 1,324 yards shy of Sonny Collins’ all-time career rushing record.

Alvin Kamara-Tennessee

2016 Results: 103 carries, 596 yards, 9 TD’s in an injury shortened season.

Draft Status: New Orleans Saints’ third round selection.

Decision’s impact on the Volunteers: Severe. Kamara appears to have made the correct decision to enter the NFL after being injured last season. But, the Volunteers will sorely miss his services as he was arguably the hottest SEC RB in the final games of 2016. Butch Jones started last year with the formidable punch comprised of Jalen Hurd and Kamara. Hurd transferred from the program; the latter is now a pro. Couple that will the departure of QB Josh Dobbs and WR Josh Malone; the question posed in an earlier KSR post stands clear. Who’s going to score the touchdowns?

What does all this mean?

These decisions are arguably the division’s most pressing offseason storylines. Chubb-Michel’s surprising decision to return could hand the Dawgs an Eastern title. Ralph Webb’s call to stay in Nashville catapults the Dores into a legitimate threat to win on any given Saturday. Boom Williams’ exit took a jab away from a program with a puncher’s chance to reach Atlanta. Alvin Kamara’s professional declaration was the final exiting piece of a once potent offensive skill group on a team that may struggle to score touchdowns.

Five decisions, four teams, one East title chase prominently impacted.

UP NEXT: All things Governor’s Cup from Frankfort.


The Depth Chart Podcast with Mark Higgs

depth-chart-jack-kain-ford

This week it’s another edition of Freddie Maggard’s “Has Beens” series on The Depth Chart Podcast.  Chris Chenault returns with his roommate, Jay Dortch, to bust the chops of former UK great Mark Higgs.  One of the best to ever run the football at the University of Kentucky, his old teammates spend more time teasing him then praising him for his long list of accomplishments.  Highlights:

—  The time Higgs crossed Chenault’s dog, 45.

—  Their summer jobs, and how Higgs got the easiest.

—  Where Benny Snell stacks up against the best running backs in the SEC.

—  Can Kentucky hit the over of six wins in 2017?

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.


Bleacher Report

A Way Too Early Look at the SEC East

Times Free Press

The last week of May marks the arrival time for college football magazines. Athlon, Street and Smith, and several other periodicals are stocked at Kroger stores across the Commonwealth. All will proclaim to be the most accurate predictors of all things college football.

I’m still eagerly awaiting Phil Steele’s dissertation. Steele’s work fits my statistic-driven wheelhouse. Annually I’ll buy two of his books; one to mark up with highlighters that also features several underlined factoids. The other is used as a desktop reference. Respect.

The SEC East has been dissected in every format imaginable. I find it difficult to prognosticate the outcome of football games that are 90+ days out. Way too much time for teams to incur personnel losses with the dog days of summer probations-suspensions on the horizon. We’ll have a better grip on the situation following Media Days in mid-July.

So, here’s my way too early and abbreviated overview of the SEC East (In alphabetical order):

Strengths: All in the foot; kicker Eddy Pineiro and punter Johnny Townsend are excellent. The duo is perhaps the Gator’s most potent weapons.

Concerns: First year defensive coordinator Randy Shannon has to replace eight starters, many of which are now in the NFL. Freshman QB Felipe Franks will be charged with upgrading an offense that absolutely gasped in November.

Summary: Jim McElwain is one heck of a football coach. He could have his hands full in 2017 but don’t count him or the Gators out of contention.

Strengths: Personnel. The Dawgs are flat loaded. I mean flat out loaded.

Concerns: Must replace 3 starters off an underachieving offensive line. Sophomore QB Jacob Eason is poised to soar. TE’s Isaac Nouta and Jeb Blazevich are elite pass catchers. But, UGA lacks a go-to, downfield threat at receiver. Can Georgia effectively stretch the field in order to take the pressure off two, alpha-dog RB’s in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel? We’ll see in September.

Summary: Ten extremely talented starters return from a 2016, Top 20 defense. Two of the best running backs in the country call Athens home. Georgia could be a tough out and should be the preseason pick to win the East.

Strengths: Lots of starters coming back.

Concerns: Defensive line depth and explosiveness.  Stoops also has to replace two homerun offensive threats.

Summary: Winnable but contested road games will define the 2017 Wildcats: @ Southern Miss, @South Carolina, @Vanderbilt, @Mississippi State.

USA Today

Strengths: Plenty offensive skill players put up huge numbers in a wide-open system could light up scoreboards. This group includes the conference’s top rated-returning passer in QB Drew Lock, the 5th ranked rusher RB-Damarea Crockett, and the league’s leading receiver-J’Mon Moore.

Concerns: Defense. Bad defense. The Tigers allowed 302 yards per game in 2015. 2016 saw an increase of 177 yards in the same category. Astonishing. And, it lost veteran defenders at critical positions.

Summary: Barry Odom limped to a 4-8 record in year one. Not much on paper indicates that his defense will be much improved. The Tigers can win games, but it will have to do so in Big 12 fashion.

Strengths: Momentum and youthful, rising stars at offensive skill positions. QB Jake Bentley started 7 games a year ago and completed 65% of his passes.

Concerns: Defensive personnel losses and inconsistency.

Summary: Which end-of-season, 2016 game will act as a precursor for the 2017 Gamecocks: demoralizing loss vs. Clemson (56-7) or an encouraging performance in a loss against South Florida (46-39)? I’m not as sold as many are on Carolina, but Will Muschamp surely overachieved in year one.

Bleacher Report

Strengths: UT’s offensive line returns 7 players that have logged time as a starter. Experience and talented offensive linemen will be necessary to pull along other question marked position groups.

Concerns: Who’s going to score the touchdowns? Gone are its QB, 2 RB’s, and its top receiver. An unsettled quarterback situation going into fall camp certainly won’t expedite the situation.

Summary: Butch Jones failed to capitalize on less than stellar East with a loaded roster. Back-to-back nine-win seasons would be a blessing on most campuses. However, a year-five rebuild may ignite the head Vol’s seat.

Strengths: Coach Derek Mason will field a depth chart compiled of juniors and seniors after getting a justified raise and contract extension.

Concerns: Replacing LB Zach Cunningham. Cunningham is arguably VU’s best all-time defender.

Summary: RB Ralph Webb returned. QB Kyle Shurmer finished 2016 with a flare. A bad showing (41-17 loss) vs. NC State in its bowl game is the only reason I’m not more bullish on Vanderbilt. The Commodores have a chance to be pretty darn good in 2017.

What does all this mean?

The SEC East is wide open even with Georgia’s pro-filled depth chart. Again, lots can happen between the first of June and September openers.

UP NEXT: My theory that SEC East RB’s NLF decisions are the most impactful personnel storyline of the offseason.


Memorial Day: A Tribute to Fallen Hero Athletes

At times, we can all be confused by two distinct American holidays: Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day. To clarify, Memorial Day is a federal holiday intended to remember those who died while serving in the armed forces. Veteran’s Day is an official holiday that honors military veterans. Today, Memorial Day cookouts and gatherings will be commonplace. War movies will be predominantly aired on television. But, surpassing casual observances are real stories of true American heroes that should never be forgotten. From the Greatest Generation and beyond, a number of athletes have taken up arms when their nation called. Let’s take a look and pay tribute to three that paid the ultimate sacrifice:

Bob Kalsu

As an Oklahoma Sooner, Kalsu was an All American tackle. Along with being a gridiron star, the Oklahoma City native completed ROTC and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the US Army. Following a stellar year for the Buffalo Bills in which he earned the team’s Rookie of the Year award, 2LT Kalsu entered active service and was later deployed to Vietnam. While serving in the 101st Airborne, 1LT Kalsu was killed in combat action on July 23rd, 1970 at Firebase Ripcord. He was survived by his wife Jan and daughter Jill. His son James Robert Kalsu Jr. was born just two days after his death. He was 25.

Sacrifice- to give up something that is valuable to you in order to help another person.

Jack Lummus

Lummus was football and baseball star at Baylor University. Upon graduation he went on to play for the New York Football Giants before eventually enlisting into the United States Marine Corps. After earning the rank of Corporal, Lummus attended and graduated from Officer Training School. In the first wave to land on Iwo Jima on February 19th, 1945; his platoon engaged the enemy for two straight weeks. After being wounded by grenade shrapnel, 1st Lt. Lummus knocked out three enemy fighting positions before losing both legs after stepping on a land-mine. He succumbed to his wounds while on the operating table. The Ellis County, Texas native was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. He was 29.

An excerpt from Jack Lummus’ Medal of Honor citation:

Although knocked to the ground when an enemy grenade exploded close by, he immediately recovered himself and, again moving forward despite the intensified barrage, quickly located, attacked and destroyed the occupied emplacement. Instantly taken under fire by the garrison of a supporting pillbox and further assailed by the slashing fury of hostile rifle fire, he fell under the impact of a second enemy grenade but, courageously disregarding painful shoulder wounds, staunchly continued his heroic one-man assault and charged the second pillbox, annihilating all the occupants. Subsequently returning to his platoon position, he fearlessly traversed his lines under fire, encouraging his men to advance and directing the fire of supporting tanks against other stubbornly holding Japanese emplacements. Held up again by a devastating barrage, he again moved into the open, rushed a third heavily fortified installation and killed the defending troops. Determined to crush all resistance, he led his men indomitably, personally attacking foxholes and spider traps with his carbine and systematically reducing the fanatic opposition, until, stepping on a land mine, he sustained fatal wounds.

Courage- strength in the face of pain or grief.

Pat Tillman

In the prime of his NFL career, Arizona Cardinal safety Pat Tillman left professional football to enlist into the United States Army. As a member of the elite 75th Ranger Regiment, Tillman deployed in support of both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. On April 22nd, 2004; Pat Tillman was killed in action by friendly fire. As the first professional athlete killed in action since Bob Kalsu, the Arizona State alumnus was posthumously awarded the Silver Star. He was 27.

Duty-moral or legal obligation; a responsibility.

So on Memorial Day, honor those that heroically gave all by enjoying the simple freedoms for which they courageously protected. May God Bless Our United States of America.


One Concern Will Be An Ongoing Question Mark

Scout

One deficiency jumps off the stat sheet when studying Kentucky’s returning defensive starters. In a year when some are projecting UK to compete for an East title, defensive line production will continually be addressed.

The Wildcat defense showed significant improvement in its final eleven games by lowering its allowed point average from 44.5 to 27 points per game. A great deal of that trajectory can be credited to Mark Stoops assuming play calling duties. Other causative factors were the emergence of a skilled group of sophomore linebackers and defensive backs.

When analyzing the three levels of defense in relation to 2017; the defensive line contains the lowest statistical producers. And, unlike at secondary and linebacker, it has no players receiving SEC preseason accolades. Here’s a breakdown of returning defensive starters:

UK Athletics

LINEBACKER

The SEC’s top returning tackler is all-conference linebacker Jordan Jones. Early preseason All SEC teams also include OLB Denzil Ware. Those forthcoming may also feature Josh Allen. Allen, Ware, and Jones are listed as SEC Top 5 performers at their respective positions.

As you can hear on Wednesday’s Depth Chart Podcast, Kentucky has historically produced prolific inside linebackers. The emergence of junior linebackers Josh Allen and Denzil Ware has brought on the pass rush and explosive stat producing edge defender. There is quality depth at all four positions. The LB position is trending upward.

  • Jordan Jones: 109 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss (TFL), 4 QB sacks.
  • Courtney Love: 76 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 QB sack.
  • Josh Allen: 62 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 7 QB sacks.
  • Denzil Ware: 70 tackles, 12 TFL, 5.5 QB sacks.

SECONDARY

The SEC’s second top returning tackler is safety Mike Edwards. Edwards and CB Derrick Baity tied for 4th in the SEC for most interceptions in 2016.

Mike Edwards is arguably the best safety in the conference. CB Derrick Baity is on the verge of being mentioned in the All SEC circles. CB Chris Westry had a solid, but not spectacular sophomore season statistically; but is somewhat limited playing the boundary corner. Identifying a starting safety to go along side Edwards will be a pressing fall camp matter. Overall, Kentucky’s secondary is the most talented in recent memory. All secondary positions are significantly trending upward.

  • Chris Westry: 43 tackles, .5 TFL, 1 INT, 3 Pass breakup (PBU)
  • Derrick Baity: 42 tackles, 2 TFL, 3 INT, 7 PBU
  • Mike Edwards: 100 tackles, 5.5 TLF, 3 INT, .5 QB sack, 8 PBU,

DEFENSIVE LINE

  • Adrian Middleton: 35 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 0 QB sacks
  • Naquez Pringle: 39 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 QB sack.

Naquez Pringle was favorably productive in just five starts, but the NT position must find quality depth. DT Adrian Middleton’s 2016 and spring performance provide hope for the junior to have a breakout season.

Depth and production is questionabe at all three defensive line positions. This especially applies in the explosive play category (QB sacks, TFL, FF-forced fumble, QBH-quarterback hurry). I often get ridiculed for spending too much time discussing the line-of-scrimmage. For that, I do not apologize. Regardless of continuous skill position obsession, the SEC is a line-of-scrimmage league.

Organic, or DT-NT-DE, numbers must increase in order to take the pressure of the linebackers and secondary. Secondary interception numbers could increase with an improved DL pass rush. A more definitive DL run push could increase tackles for linebackers and decrease that same category for the secondary. Defense is much like its offensive counterpart; it takes all eleven.

There are promising additions in TJ Carter, Calvin Taylor, and Kordell Looney. JUCO product Phil Hoskins and possibly true freshman Quinton Bohanna could be called upon for early contribution. Make no mistake, the Kentucky defensive line will be scrutinized in 2017.


The Depth Chart Podcast with Bill Ransdell and Chris Chenault

The Depth Chart Podcast with Bill Ransdell and Chris Chenault

This week’s Depth Chart Podcast is the Freddie Fanboy Edition.  Two of his favorite players to ever suit up for UK, linebacker Chris Chenault and quarterback Bill Ransdell join the program to share stories from their time at Kentucky.  Two guys that helped write the Kentucky football record book, they provide incredible perspective about the program.  They discussed a variety of topics like…

 

—  The lesson Freddie learned from Chris Chenault on his first day of practice.

—  How the Wide Tackle Six worked.

—  Their relationship with Jerry Claiborne, along with a few great impressions.

—  Who started the multiple bench-clearing brawls vs. Florida, UK’s last win against the Gators.

—  Their thoughts on UK’s talented linebackers, Benny Snell and Stephen Johnson.

—  What younger fans need to know about Hall of Famer Dermontti Dawson.

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.