Media hacks often differ in opinion and perspective. But one topic unifies the laptop toting gang; “Fill in the blank number of questions” articles going into fall camp. I can’t be left out of the fun, so here goes mine:
How will defensive coordinator Matt House utilize Denzil Ware? Ware plays the “money” position in terms of the NFL Draft. The hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end spot is an invaluable position that requires two distinct skill sets. He is called upon to play in space to defend the pass and be the defense’s designated pass rusher.
House will deploy a “multiple” defense in 2017. The term “multiple” simply means that his defense can operate with a three (3-4) or four-man defensive front (4-3) as well as strategically utilizing a Nickel or Dime packages in certain passing situations. Nickel simply means five defensive backs, dime calls for six.
Ware is listed as an outside linebacker but was voted 2nd Team All SEC defensive end by Media Days voters. As the conference’s third returning leader in TFL’s with twelve, Ware will also be called upon to increase his QB sack total from 5.5 to 8 plus in order for the Cats to escalate it’s beyond the line-of-scrimmage influence.
So, pay attention to Ware’s pre-snap stance when Kentucky opens its season in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. If he’s standing (two-point stance) or with his hand in the dirt (three-point stance) will be an indication of which defensive scheme the Wildcats will implement. I’d expect more 4-3 than in previous seasons but the 3-4 will be its primary defense of choice.
Will John Schlarman operate a nine or ten-man offensive line rotation?
My go-to SEC Network analyst Cole Cubelic ranked Kentucky’s offensive line as the league’s top unit in 2016. One of the reasons for its lofty listing dealt with depth as Schlarman rotated nine offensive linemen on a regular basis. Will he do the same in 2017?
Let’s take a look:
LT-Cole Mosier/Landon Young
LG-Logan Stenberg/Luke Fortner
C-Bunchy Stalling/Drake Jackson
RG-Nick Haynes/Mason Wolfe
RT-Kyle Meadows-or-George Asafo-Adjei
Why not ten in 2016? Center Jon Toth was a mainstay and stayed constant with all other positions rotating on a regular basis. Redshirt freshman Drake Jackson and Nick Haynes were provided reps at center during spring practice. There will be competition at each spot, but I’d say that the Wildcats will eventually go with a ten-man rotation this fall which means that two centers could be used. This depth advantage will pay huge dividends come September 2nd during the 4:00pm kickoff against Southern Miss when it’s likely to be 157 degrees in the shade.
Who will be Mike Edwards’ safety mate?
Darius West and Mike Edwards promised to be daunting safety duo when both inked with Vince Marrow. Edwards has flourished into an All SEC performer while West battled injuries. A healthy West should get the early nod to start at safety with Davonte Robinson, Tobias Gilliam, Marcus Walker, and possibly Lonnie Johnson fighting for playing time. Regardless, the safety position as a whole is extremely skilled. But, the Cats will miss Marcus McWilson who is now with the Oakland Raiders.
Which position competitions will most impact UK’s Win/Loss total?
Theoretically Stephen Johnson, Drew Barker, and Gunnar Hoak will slug it out at quarterback. It’s hard to imagine that the incumbent won’t be the starter against Southern Miss. Veteran cornerback Chris Westry will have to hold off the super-talented sophomore Jordan Griffin.
However, the position that I will pay the most attention to is defensive end. TJ Carter is penciled in as the pre-camp starter. He played as a true freshman and did so at a high level towards the end of 2016. He’ll need to fight off Kengera Daniel and Calvin Taylor Jr. Most likely, the DE spot will be a collective effort. Nose tackle Naquez Pringle and the combination of defensive tackles Adrian Middleton and Kordell Looney construct a veteran DL base that are said to be improved and more unyielding than most are projecting. But defensive end is the true concern within a unit that is surrounded by question marks.
Carter played as a true freshman due to necessity. A redshirt season would have been beneficial. Kengera Daniel signed with Kentucky with a boat load of potential and a body that screams NFL prospect. But, production and participation have been sporadic. Calvin Taylor Jr. is huge; 6’9, 305-pounds. Taylor surprisingly impressed in the spring game and could be situationally effective during 3rd and long scenarios. DE will be a focal point on Media Day and a central point of discussion throughout fall camp.
What will be the most commonly asked question on Media Day?
According to recruiting services, 2014 was the supposed best recruiting class in program history. Fast forward to 2017 and there are still questions surrounding a select group of seniors. Nose tackle Matt Elam was flamed by the SEC Network’s Greg McElroy. Elam inquiries are assuredly going to be a common topic of discussion. Teammates will protectively circle the wagons; coaches will use defamatory comments as a challenge to motivate the 6’7 340-pound senior.
WR Dorian Baker enjoyed success early in his tenure as a Cat. But, an injury riddled junior season and occasional dropped passes caused rumbles about his development a year ago. I feel Baker is due to have an improved season as he closed out 2017 with two key TD grabs against Louisville and Georgia Tech. Receiver’s coach Lamar Thomas has gone in great detail describing Baker’s amplified maturity and high ceiling. In total non-objective media fashion, I’m really pulling for both to have successful senior campaigns.
However, the two most commonly themed questions will surround true freshman athlete Lynn Bowden and the defensive line. How will Eddie Gran employ Bowden in the best manner to showcase his diverse and explosive skill set? Is he in good enough physical shape to sustain camp after missing the majority of summer workouts? Is he a running back or receiver? Will he return punts and kicks? Media types are allowed speak to freshman on Media Day. Bowden will be a popular interview on Sunday.
The second most queries will involve the defensive line. Heck, it’s been that way since the Taxslayer Bowl. Alvonte Bell’s dismissal was unfortunate, untimely, and automatically decreased Kentucky’s ability to rush the passer. New defensive line coach Derrick LeBlanc will be in high demand. Which defensive linemen has shown the most physical developments over the offseason? What’s the health status with JUCO transfer Phil Hoskins? Which newcomer could earn early playing time? On and on it will go as Kentucky’s defensive line is a blaring question mark within a unit that features upper-level linebackers and secondary.
What does all this mean?
Kentucky Sports Radio is throwing the proverbial house at UK Media Day. The entire staff will be on site and will provide you with an abundance of posts in all imaginable forms. It’s here; it’s time. Football season has finally started.