As players prepare for the 2018 edition of Kentucky football training camp, a few are poised to become household names across the Commonwealth.
This year’s Kentucky team already has star power with Benny Snell, C.J. Conrad, Mike Edwards and Josh Allen on the roster. There is a group right behind them that should make moves in August. Some have done enough to earn preseason praise from coaches, while others have raised eyebrows by going the extra mile this offseason.
Phil Hoskins — If you ask a coach to name an “under the radar” player who will become a playmaker this fall, Hoskins is always their guy. Shoulder problems once sidelined the JUCO prospect, but this fall Stoops expects him to consistently terrorize opposing offenses behind the line of scrimmage.
Quinton Bohanna — Bohanna will become the best nose guard to play for Mark Stoops. He only got a taste of the action as a true freshman, but he acts like an experienced veteran. One can only hope his success is infectious. Bohanna’s potential back-up is Marquan McCall, a true freshman who was the highest-ranked player in UK’s 2018 recruiting class.
Josh Paschal — It’s really disappointing that Paschal probably won’t hit the field until the regular season begins, because if I had a nickel for every time I heard somebody say, “Watch out,” I’d have at least a dollar. The dude is going to be a stud, but it might take a little longer for Paschal to reach his full potential as a defensive end.
Paschal’s stuff at Southern Miss was the best hit of the 2017 season (and it should’ve been a safety).
DeAndre Square — The early enrollee was immediately thrown into the fire this spring when Jordan Jones and Jamin Davis suffered injuries. In their place he out-performed his age. Square has grown into his body and will compete to enter the inside linebacker rotation.
Chris Oats — Kentucky beat out Ohio State for the four-star prospect from Cincinnati. A versatile athlete, the one knock on Oats was his size. As soon as he got onto campus that problem was addressed. There’s still plenty of room to grow, but he’s big enough to be an SEC inside linebacker. Now he must compete with Square, Jamin Davis and Alex King for the right to be the first linebacker off the bench.
Derrick Baity — The secondary’s DB has been a star for years, but I’ve been told to expect a different version of Baity this fall. A player who has never accepted excuses, whether it be after a poor individual performance or a disappointing loss, he has set a standard for personal accountability. Now he’s putting that same standard on his teammates. You probably can’t quantify his emergence as a leader, but it should lead to significant improvements throughout the secondary.
Yusuf Corker — The redshirt freshman is a weight room warrior. “You won’t believe he’s a cornerback,” is how I’d paraphrase most conversations with people close to the program. Corker got so yoked this offseason, he’s now listed in the media guide as a safety. Even if he can’t crack into the rotation, he’s going to be a head-buster on special teams.
Cedrick Dort — Unlike most of the upperclassmen, Dort isn’t defined by a big frame. A 5’11” former early enrollee, Dort’s fearlessness and and tenacity struck a cord with Stoops and the defensive staff during spring practice.
In 2016 the Kentucky offensive line was a machine. The Cats rotated nine guys, leaving center Jon Toth as the only constant. Kentucky’s rotation created historic rushing production.
That kind of rotation is not the norm. Usually they are limited to around seven, maybe eight players. In an ideal world, there’s a third guard and a third tackle who can sub in on either side of the line. For this year’s interior reserve spot, Mason Wolfe and Luke Fortner will battle. On the outside, Kentucky has two talented tackles that would start for most SEC programs.
Naasir Watkins almost played left tackle as a true freshman in 2017, something few have done in the Mark Stoops era. A lengthy high school teammate of Paschal at Good Counsel High School, Watkins’ bright future can only be stunted by E.J. Price. The USC transfer and former five-star prospect is fighting Watkins for playing time. With those two, George Asafo-Adjei and Landon Young, Kentucky has a good problem at tackle.
Kentucky needs a deep threat at wide receiver, plain and simple. When Kentucky lost Jeff Badet, Eddie Gran’s offense lost its explosiveness. Kentucky has four reliable pass-catchers returning, but none of them are truly burners on the outside.
Isaiah Epps, Josh Ali and true freshman B.J. Alexander have the speed to blow the top off the defense. Of these three, Epps is the player who is most likely to fill the offense’s massive void, but a lot can change in 29 practices.
Folks, the Terry Touchdown hype is real. Prepare accordingly.