No. I could end this post with a one-word sentence but Tyler Thompson prefers that I expand on my opinions and such. ESPN generally devalues Kentucky Football in polls, power rankings, predictions, and most other measurable categories. The Network recently ranked the Wildcat linebacker as the 3rd best in the Southeastern Conference. Think about that for a moment. Lindy’s preseason publication has the group rated as the 6th best in the nation. So, the answer remains; recent linebacker departures are not a cause for concern.
My reaction to specific player exits vary and at times differ from most. For example, contrary to popular opinion, Alvonte Bell’s dismissal will hurt the Cat’s capacity to influence opposing quarterbacks. For the defensive end position as a whole, the Bell situation will be difficult to absorb in relation to personnel and experience. Unproven defenders will be called upon to demonstrate vast improvement and development in order to counter his leaving.
Jeff Badet’s surprise transfer to Oklahoma is somewhat different. Eddie Gran will have to identify a deep-threat receiver to replace Badet’s 21-yards per catch average. For complete analysis purposes, his drops also factored into the overall equation. After reviewing an extensive amount of film, I came to the conclusion that opportunity played a minor factor in Badet’s success. This take is in no way intended to downplay his influence on Kentucky’s 7-win season; however, the quarterback’s throw, formation, timing, defensive alignment, and play call must be taken into consideration when discussing multiple post-route completions.
Hear me out. Garrett Johnson’s performance against Louisville highlights this assumption. It was Johnson who was lined up at the right place at the right time against a vulnerable defense with the right plays called to catch perfectly thrown post-routes from Stephen Johnson. UK’s receiver corps can somewhat compensate for Badet’s exodus, but his absence will sting. This will especially apply in the season’s early games.
Now back to the linebackers. Losing four roster players won’t immediately alter UK’s two-deep depth chart nor devalue the position group. However, special teams may take a hit. To what extent is yet to be seen as linebackers play a major role in the third phase.
Let’s take a look at the departed foursome’s 2016 contribution:
Nico Firios recorded five tackles in 2016 and was credited with a blocked punt vs. Georgia Tech. Frequent injuries slowed development.
D’Niro Laster played in 5 games, registered 14 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 QB sack, and recovered a fumble. Of the four, Laster will be missed the most.
Roland Walder redshirted, did not participate in game action.
Kobie Walker was a safety converted to linebacker that had a great deal of talent. He played in just three games, started two, totaled 10 tackles and .5 TFL. Injuries and off the field difficulties prevented Walker into developing into a dependable defender.
What does all this mean?
Even after the most recent attrition, Kentucky’s linebacker corps is still talented and deep (See above ESPN and Lindy’s ranking). Resourceful recruiting and detailed development have given Matt House and Dean Hood meeting rooms full of SEC-ready athletes.
Pre-Camp Linebacker Depth Chart
— OLB/DE Junior* Denzil Ware, Redshirt freshman Jamar Watson
— MLB Senior* Courtney Love, Sophomore Kash Daniel
— WLB Junior* Jordan Jones, Sophomore Eli Brown
— SLB Junior* Josh Allen, Junior Jordan Bonner
All American candidate Jordan Jones is the SEC’s top returning tackler. Josh Allen led the conference in forced fumbles and led the team in QB sacks. Allen is listed as all conference in various preseason outlets. Denzil Ware is the group’s designated pass rusher and listed as a Top 5 outside linebacker/defensive end in the Southeastern Conference. Courtney Love is the team’s captain and showed progress in last season’s final weeks. Jones, Allen, and Ware are on NFL Draft lists. Depth is sufficient with seasoned veterans with several talented rookies at the ready (see below).
— Jaylin Bannerman, 6’5 240-pound redshirt freshman is ready to contribute at linebacker and on special teams. Bannerman is regarded as one of the better overall athletes on the team.
— Jamin Davis was one of the stars of the spring game. Could see playing time as a true freshman. As predicted on National Signing Day, Stoops and company found a gem in Davis.
— Alex King was regarded as one of the most disruptive high school pass rusher in the Midwest. Think a more polished Josh Allen at this stage in his career.
— Josh Paschal, Class of 2017 prize signee. Will compete for immediate playing time and could enhance the Wildcat’s pass rush.
— Jamar Watson was the spring game’s Most Valuable Player after registering 4 QB sacks and 4 TFL’s. The redshirt freshman is a star in the making.
— Jordan Wright is a freakish athlete that has the build and skill to play either defensive end or linebacker. His best football lies ahead.
It’s never pleasant to lose football players to transfer or dismissal. As of now, Kentucky’s linebacker situation is stabilized and poised to star. But, it cannot afford more attrition prior to traveling to Hattiesburg.