After touching on the defensive front it’s now time to round out the front seven. The Wildcats have a new inside linebackers coach this season and the former Kentucky alum inherits a senior and team captain plus two sophomores who shined as true freshman last season. This group has a chance to be very, very good.
Since 2011, UK has produced three inside linebackers who went on to be drafted in the NFL. Both Danny Trevathan and Avery Williamson received big contracts in free agency and are now on different teams than the ones that drafted them. Josh Forrest was picked in the sixth round a couple years ago. This is not even mentioning Wesley Woodyard who has played 12 seasons in the National Football League after going undrafted. This program has produced some pros.
On the college playing field, Kentucky has had a lot of success with this position. Marty Moore, Jeff Snedegar, Wesley Woodyard (twice), Micah Johnson, and Danny Trevathan (twice) have all been named first-team All-SEC. For a solid 20-plus years running, the Wildcats have consistently gotten very solid linebacker play.
The Inside Linebacker Room
When you’re talking about this position you must start with the quarterback of the defense. No matter what scheme, you need to get very good play from your Mike linebacker (called middle by some) to have a chance at being good. Since the loss of Avery Williamson following 2o13, this position has been through a lot of ups and downs but this year Kentucky has someone who could become a star.
In his first year starting last season, Kash Daniel recorded 84 tackles and 9.5 run stuffs. The Paintsville native started 12 games (missed one due to a targeting suspension) and slowly became an integral part of the defense. The senior has slimmed down in hopes of playing much faster this season. He’s already an excellent gap shooter in run defense, but his pass coverage must improve so he can stay on the field for all three downs. At this point, there’s no denying that UK has a very good player at Mike.
Sliding into the Will spot (weakside linebacker) that was manned by Jordan Jones the last three seasons will be sophomore DeAndre Square. The Detroit native was a high three-star recruit in the class of 2018 and quickly broke into the rotation last season. The 6-foot-1 and 204-pound slashing linebacker played in all 13 games last season and drew a starting assignment in the Citrus Bowl victory over Penn State. Square recorded 35 tackles and has a chance to be a real force in pass coverage. UK seems ready to make a smooth transition at Will.
Backing up both Kash Daniel and DeAndre Square will be sophomore Chris Oats. The Cincinnati native was a huge recruiting win in the class of 2018 with Vince Marrow convincing the blue-chipper to turn down Ohio State and head down I-75 South. Last season, Oats made an immediate impact.
The rangy linebacker (6-foot-3, 227 pounds) was Kash Daniel’s primary backup at Mike and recorded 27 tackles, 4.5 run stuffs, two sacks, and a forced fumble. He got the start at Mike on the road against Texas A&M and played very well. He’ll serve as a backup this season, but Mark Stoops has already admitted that he’s pretty much a third starter and will play both inside spots. Expect Oats to be on the field a ton and there’s no doubt that he has the potential to become the position’s next All-SEC player and draft pick.
On the bench, Jamin Davis enters his redshirt sophomore season after playing primarily on special teams last year. The Georgia native has great size (6-foot-4, 224 pounds) and recorded an interception in the Murray State win. He can play both Mike and Will and will be an excellent piece off the bench.
In the latest recruiting class, Kentucky pulled in a pair of inside linebackers in Shawn’Kel Knight-Goff and Tra Wilkins. Both are projected to play the Will spot and it’s highly likely that each is headed towards a redshirt season. Back on signing day, Vince Marrow sang the praises of Knight-Goff and the staff thinks they got a steal out of Louisville with the Doss alum.
Jon Sumrall takes over for Matt House and the new Kansas City Chiefs assistant left behind plenty of talent. Kash Daniel is rock solid at middle linebacker while both Chris Oats and DeAndre Square are two youngsters with a ton of potential. Jamin Davis is in his third year in the program and has a chance to be one of the better reserves in the Southeastern Conference. UK should have the cushion to redshirt both Shawn’Kel Knight-Goff and Tra Wilkins.
With the secondary needing to answer a bunch of questions this season, it is imperative that Kentucky be very strong up the middle. They feel good about the defensive line, but you still need your inside linebackers to do a lot of cleaning up. The Wildcats will need their guys to play sharp and fast each Saturday for this defense to reach its potential. This position group has to be one of the strengths of the team this fall.