A great deal of pressure is placed on linebackers within the 3-4 scheme. Mark Stoops has four proven starters, capable rotational players, and slew of newcomers that can be mixed and matched in several different positions. Thus, projecting the Kentucky two-deep linebacker rotation is virtually impossible prior to spring practice. We’ll do our best to paint a somewhat accurate picture.
Mike Linebacker Courtney Love
- 2017 Wuerffel Trophy Winner
- 2017 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team Member
- Lott IMPACT Trophy Quarterfinalist
- 2017 Capital One Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award Nominee
- Played in 26 games, started 26 games, named team captain on 25 career occasions. Respect.
- Love’s 92 tackles in 2017 ranked second on the team. Registered 76 tackles a year ago.
- Recorded 10 tackles and a fumble recovery in a win over Missouri.
- Respect, again
Will Linebacker Eli Brown (Transfer)
- 2017 statistics: 38 tackles, 2 tackles for loss.
- Had 6 tackles including a tackle for loss vs. Eastern Michigan.
- Also recorded 6 tackles including a tackle for loss in a critical road win at South Carolina. Brown played his guts out that night.
- Started 5 games for injured Jordan Jones.
Jordan Bonner (Chose not to return for a senior season)
- Accounted for 4 tackles in 2017.
Sam Linebacker Josh Allen 6’5, 252 Senior
- Sports Illustrated Mid-Season All American
- AP Mid-Season All-American
- AP All -SEC
- Phil Steele Third Team All-SEC
- Butkus Award Semifinalist
- 2017 statistics: 65 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 7 quarterback sacks, 1 interception, 3 pass breakups, 4 quarterback hurries, and 2 forced fumbles.
- Career: 19.5 tackles for loss and 14.5 quarterback sacks.
- Chose to not enter the NFL Draft. Returned to Kentucky for his senior season.
- Will push to break Oliver Barnett’s career quarterback sack record of 26.
- Future pro. Predicted to be on several Award Watch Lists as well as potentially being listed on preseason All-American teams.
Mike Linebacker Kash Daniel 6’1, 242 Junior
- Has 26 career tackles, mostly on special teams.
- Registered 2 tackles in 2017 win over South Carolina.
- A high school quarterback, Daniel rushed for 6 yards on a fake punt on a crucial 4th down in a win over Missouri.
- Backed up Courtney Love for two consecutive seasons. Played as a true freshman in 2016.
- Excelled on special teams.
- Preferred mentality and strength for a Mike LB.
Will Linebacker Jordan Jones 6’2, 218 Senior
- Bednarik Award Watch List
- Bronko Nagurski Trophy Watch List
- Missed four games due to injury.
- Led the team with 13 tackles in a win over Tennessee. Earned Co-SEC Defensive Player of the Week.
- 2017 statistics: 64 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 2 quarterback sacks, 1 pass breakup, 3 quarterback hurries, and 1 forced fumble.
- 2016 Season:
- One of the top linebackers in the nation. Registered 109 tackles.
- Athlons Sports Preseason First Team All-SEC, Third Team All-American.
- Led the SEC with 5.7 solo tackles per game. First on the team with 9 quarterback hurries. Ranked 6th in the SEC with 15.5 tackles for loss.
Outside Linebacker/Defensive End Denzil Ware 6’2, 240 Senior
- Phil Steele Third Team All-SEC
- Named SEC Co-Defensive Lineman of the Week in a win over Vanderbilt.
- Recorded 9 tackles, 1 quarterback sack, and 2 tackles for loss in a win over Tennessee.
- Named SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week in the season opening victory at Southern Miss: 2 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 quarterback sack, 1 forced fumble, and 2 fumble recoveries.
- 2017 Statistics: 47 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 6.5 quarterback sacks, 1 interception, 2 quarterback hurries, 2 fumble recoveries, 2 forced fumbles, 1 pass breakup.
Outside Linebacker/Defensive End Josh Paschal 6’3, 278 Sophomore
- Athlons Sports Freshman All-SEC.
- Played and did so extremely well as a true freshman in 2017.
- Accounted for 3 tackles and a sack in wins over Vanderbilt and Tennessee.
- Named SEC Special Teams Player of the Week for a blocked punt vs. Eastern Michigan.
- 2017 statistics: 17 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 quarterback sacks, 3 quarterback hurries, 1 blocked punt.
Depth at linebacker is noteworthy and will be tested in 2017 with the unexpected departure of Will LB Eli Brown. This is also the point of this post that becomes somewhat cloudy. The next group of players have yet to solidify within a specific position group. We’ll list the following linebackers into five categories: Push for Starting Positions, Rotational Players, Rookies, Walk-ons, and one Wildcard.
Push for Starting Positions
Jamar “Boogie” Watson 6’3, 234 Sophomore
- 2017 statistics: 7 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 2 quarterback sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 pass breakup.
- Registered a quarterback sack vs. Tennessee and Vanderbilt.
- Can play every position within the linebacker group. Played both inside and on the edge in 2017.
- Exact position will be determined in spring practice and based off need in 2018.
Jamin Davis 6’4, 224 Redshirt Freshman
- 2017 statistics: Redshirted
- Filled in for Jordan Jones in spring game and made the most out of the opportunity. Totaled team-high 8 tackles and a tackle for loss.
- Added 12 lbs. during redshirt season.
- True inside linebacker. Will factor in 2018. To what extent will be determined after spring practice.
Jaylin Bannerman 6’5, 238 Sophomore
- Moved back to defense after spending a portion of 2017 as a tight end.
- 2016: Redshirted.
- Projects as an Outside Linebacker/Defensive End
Alex King 6’3, 236 Redshirt Freshman
- Sleeper of the group. Coaches praised his work on the scout team as a redshirt.
- Was one of the Midwest’s most dynamic pass rushers coming out of William Mason High School.
- Projects to one of the edge positions but could be similar to Boogie Watson and play multiple roles. Potential pass-rush specialist.
Jordan Wright 6’5, 236 Redshirt Freshman
- Will contribute in 2018. Elite athlete.
- Was listed at 270 pounds a year ago. Updated roster shows him weighing 236.
- Edge defender. Coaches were extremely happy with Wright’s effort and development during his redshirt season.
Chris Oats 6’5, 220 Freshman
- Four-star prospect. Division II Defensive Player of the Year and First Team All-Ohio.
- Vince Marrow outdueled Ohio State for his services.
- Was extremely high if not the top player on UK’s big board.
- Played multiple positions in high school. Can play inside and on the edge in college.
- Was not early enrollee. Will not factor in spring practice.
Ashtan Pierre 6’2, 200 Freshman
- Athletic defender. Played multiple positions at Deerfield Beach High School.
- Projects to the edge. Elite athlete.
- Was not an early enrollee. Will not factor in spring practice.
Deandre Square 6’1, 205 Freshman
- Rated as a 4-star player out of national powerhouse Cass Tech High School. Top 20 LB in the Class of 2018.
- Early enrollee, will factor in spring practice. Excited to watch Square’s development.
- Gets a headstart on fellow freshman. Will gauge his ability to immediately contribute during spring practice.
Chris Whittaker 6’3, 227 Freshman
- Listed as a defensive lineman.
- Initial weight was 260 lbs., now 237 on updated roster.
- Could potentially slot at OLB/DE position with those measurables.
- Position will be identified in spring practice. Could be slated as a pass-rush specialist.
Elijah Barnett 6’3, 238 Junior
- Legacy Cat. Son of UK career quarterback sack leader Oliver Barnett.
- From Lexington. Played at Henry Clay High School.
Drew Schlegel 5’11, 218 Sophomore
- Legacy Wildcat. Son of former UK tackle and team captain Mike Schlegel.
- Recorded over 100 tackles as a high school senior.
William Nalty 6’0, 228 Sophomore
- Chose UK over North Carolina.
What does all this mean?
Kash Daniel looks to break into the lineup that is comprised of three All-SEC returning starters and an accomplished former true freshman. Depth and talent are present. Wildcat linebackers should and needs to be the strength of the team in 2018. Kentucky has traditionally been known for developing linebackers. 2018 could be one of the program’s most talented collections with future professionals littering the depth chart.