Our defensive previews roll on after checking in on Derrick LeBlanc’s defensive line and now it’s time to check on defensive coordinator Brad White’s position group. A year after producing the best defensive player in college football and the program’s all-time leading sack leader, UK is looking for some answers on the edge.
The Wildcats have recruited this position very well recently and have an upperclassmen who seems poised for a big season. The play of this position really improved under the tutelage of White last year and that coaching will need to be sharp this season to help replace the monster hole left behind by Josh Allen.
When Mark Stoops arrived, he inherited a very nice piece from the Joker Phillips administration. Bud Dupree was a mid three-star recruit in the class of 2011 who many projected to play tight end in college. However, the staff moved him to defense and he quickly became an impact performer. In two years under Stoops, Dupree recorded 14 sacks, 21.5 tackles for loss, and four forced fumbles. He developed into a first round pick and first-team All-SEC selection during his senior season.
Right off the bat, this staff proved they could develop edges into pros but they have also recruited the position really well. In their first seven classes, UK has pulled in six composite blue-chip recruits to play the position (Jason Hatcher, Denzil Ware, Joshua Paschal, Jared Casey, J.J. Weaver, Xavier Peters) to go with some impressive development.
Both Josh Allen and Boogie Watson, who picked Kentucky over a few Group of Five and FCS programs, came into the program with not many outside expectations. We all know Josh Allen’s story and now Watson appears to be a candidate for a breakout season in 2019.
They’ve done it with blue-chips and unheralded recruits. Two players have been drafted in the first round and UK has consistently received good play from their outside backers. You could make the argument that this has been the best overall position during the Mark Stoops tenure.
The Edge Room
Brad White is back for his second season coaching the outside linebackers and this year the Wildcats have answers to find at the Jack linebacker spot. This hybrid defensive end/linebacker position was manned by Josh Allen last season and the now Jacksonville Jaguar was as dominant as a college football player could be. Kentucky must replace his 88 tackles, 24 run stuffs, 21.5 tackles for loss, 17 sacks, and five forced fumbles. He was an All-American for a reason.
To help fill this void, UK has moved redshirt sophomore Joshua Paschal out to the edge for some help. The DMV native successfully defeated cancer and will look to build off a successful true freshman season after redshirting last season. At 284 pounds, he will be quite the force in run support. In 2017, Kentucky used Paschal as an interior pass rusher in nickel and dime situations. That’s something to keep an eye on this season.
Next in line will be redshirt sophomore Jordan Wright who picked Kentucky over a handful of prominent programs. The Fort Lauderdale native notched 25 sacks as a senior in high school and the former basketball player might have the best pass rushing tools on the roster. Wright has been a bit of an enigma to this point, but balled out in the spring game when the lights came on. Kentucky needs productive snaps from him.
The wildcard at this spot is Florida State transfer Xavier Peters. The Cincinnati area native and former top-200 recruit is still currently awaiting word on his eligibility from the NCAA. That will hopefully come any day. On the field, Peters may have the most NFL ready body on the roster and will certainly be in the rotation if cleared.
Over at Sam, Boogie Watson is back for his redshirt junior season and is the dean of the group. The DMV native has played in 25 games the past two seasons with seven starts and seven sacks. After recording 24 tackles last season, UK needs a big step forward from their Sam linebacker. Watson ranked sixth on the team in run stuffs last year and was active in pass coverage (three pass break-ups). Only five returning SEC players had more sacks than him last season.
Running with the twos at Sam right now appears to be newcomer Jared Casey. The Louisville native was the highest ranked recruit in the class of 2019 and seems positioned to play right away. The young player bursted onto the recruiting scene in the summer camp circuit and Vince Marrow was able to score a major recruiting win by flipping Casey from Oregon. Expect him to be a big factor on special teams.
In the class of 2019, UK brought in K.D. McDaniel and J.J. Weaver to play Jack, but they are both likely headed for redshirt seasons. Junior college transfer Marquez Bembry has three years of eligibility remaining, but we’ve heard nothing about him during fall camp. He projects to the Sam spot. Alex King enters his redshirt sophomore season and looks to crack the rotation after contributing on special teams in nine games last year.
The shadow of Josh Allen looms large for Kentucky entering 2o19 and every day the players see his large draft poster hanging on the outside of Kroger Field right across from the football facility.
That banner everyone was talking about in Nashville has moved to Gate 12. @JoshAllen41_ might be off to stardom with the @Jaguars, but he’s always a Wildcat. #WeAreUK #BringIt pic.twitter.com/BJnrJxiB9P
— Kentucky Athletics (@UKAthletics) June 3, 2019
Even with the loss, there are some very promising things about Brad White’s position group. Boogie Watson is now an upperclassmen who appears ready for a breakout and should emerge into one of the SEC’s best pass rushers. At Jack, there is a ton of potential and this is a position that will be extremely deep if Xavier Peters is granted a waiver by the NCAA.
At the same time, there are some questions that must be answered.
At Jack, a position that must provide havoc plays (sacks, tackles for loss, forced fumbles, etc.), Kentucky is talented but very green. Joshua Paschal is more of a run stuffer than pass rusher. If no Peters, can Jordan Wright give UK a consistent pass rush at this spot? At Sam, Kentucky is just one injury away from being really young. Can they get Jared Casey enough reps early in the season?
There’s no question that there is a ton of talent at this spot. In addition to the four blue-chippers, there are three high three-stars (Jordan Wright, Alex King, K.D. McDaniel). That’s not even counting Boogie Watson. The Wildcats have all the pieces to succeed on the edge this fall, but they need their young guys to grow up fast.