When Jason Hatcher came to Kentucky, the Trinity product was destined for greatness, touted as an example of Stoops’ early recruiting success. Hatcher leaves Kentucky under much different circumstances, but ones that were not entirely unexpected.
Through Hatcher’s three years in a Kentucky uniform, he went through just as many off the field incidents. In May of 2014, he received a marijuana citation with fellow Trinity alum and UofL wide receiver, James Quick. After an exceptional 2014 campaign as a backup for Bud Dupree and Za’Darius, he was expected to have a breakout Junior season. Instead, he missed the first two games for a “violation of team rules.” He would only start five games, with a mysterious ankle injury (possibly another way to say ‘violation of team rules”) preventing him from providing any substantial production.
Many hoped his Senior year would be a time to turn things around. Thin at the outside linebacker position, they were leaning on Hatcher to build off of a late-season surge to improve UK’s piss-poor pass rushing stats (#109 in sacks, #122 in TFL).
The Cats can, and will, move forward without a Senior on the outside.
The first person to look to is Minnesota transfer De’Niro Laster. Primarily an outside linebacker, he was expected to move insider to play the Will linebacker. Hatcher’s dismissal changes things. Laster has the ability to move inside, but Jordan Jones, Kash Daniel and Nico Firios cannot move outside. One of those three, although inexperienced, will have to start alongside Courtney Love.
In hindsight, nothing was more important for immediate success than signing Jordan Bonner on the first Wednesday of February. The NEO Junior College DE/OLB transfer won’t arrive to school until the Summer, making it difficult to discern how long it will take before he’s game ready (at least 2-3 games). Fortunately, he has three years of eligibility and he can buy some time learning behind RS Sophomore Denzil Ware. Ware steadily improved throughout his RS Freshman season, finishing with 39 tackles, the same total as Hatcher. Josh Allen should also be in the mix, getting 1.5 TFL’s and a pass breakup in a limited role as a true freshman.
Which side of the defense they will play on is uncertain, but it’s certain that the void left by Hatcher will be filled by a combination of Laster, Ware and Bonner.
I’m confident the Cats can survive on the outside without Hatcher. He had an off-and-on-again relationship with the field last year, only making 11 more tackles in ’15 than he did in ’14. In fact, his numbers in ’14 were all about the same in ’15. The most striking difference? He played in two more games and started in one more game as a Sophomore.
It’s unfortunate to see Hatcher’s demise, but his fate was in his own hands. Instead of taking advantage of the opportunities given to him, he digressed and never escaped the vicious cycle. Hatcher now faces a long road to redemption. For the UK defense, it’s the next man up.