The time it takes for incoming players to develop into contributors greatly varies. Factors that drive impact are influenced by opportunity, talent, depth chart mobility, willingness to work, and more. In this post we’ll discuss Kentucky’s defensive players that are in differing development stages for the 2017 season. Defenders will be divided amongst five categories that are named: It’s Time, National Honors, Conference Honors, First to Second Year, and Red to Blue Shirts.
Let’s get started:
The name of this developmental stage is self-explanatory. The following players entered the program with a high probability to succeed and have been on the team for an adequate amount of time to start playing at a high level. Expectation has exceeded output; it’s time to step up their game or get stepped over on the depth chart.
Nose Tackle Matt Elam
Elam’s expectation was unrealistically high. This miscalculation has skewed developmental analysis. However, over the course of three years it’s fair to say that his on-field result has not lived up to the buildup. New DL coach Derrick LeBlanc will challenge him both on and off the field. Naquez Pringle overtook the starting NT position by mid-season and never relinquished. Elam’s absence against Louisville and Georgia Tech perplexed.
Now a rising senior, the clock is quickly winding down. If Matt Elam’s senior season doesn’t prove to be his best, the E’town native may struggle to see significant playing time. I’m personally pulling for the young man to achieve.
2016: 9 total tackles
Defensive Tackle Tymere Dubose
I’ll be the first to admit that National Signing Day projections are mere guesses. We ranked Dubose high due to elite size, quick feet, arm length, potential, and athletic ability. Off-the-field issues plagued the rising junior early in his career. An injury slowed him last summer which bled over to the early stages of the 2016 season. But, he did show improvement and a production uptick in October and November. Just a junior, there’s hope for Dubose to develop into a consistent contributor. If he ever gets “it” right; the Youngstown native has a chance to be excel.
2016: 6 total tackles
These Wildcats are accomplished to the point of collecting national level honors. If projected improvement continues on current, established pace; the duo could compete for All American honors. It also must be noted that both possess a fierce work ethic and a high-level passion for the game of football.
Safety Mike Edwards
Mike Edwards is a tackling machine that arguably played the safety position better than any other SEC defensive back in 2016. He was named to several All SEC teams and is the conference’s 2nd leading returning tackler. This upcoming season could be his last in Lexington.
2016: 100 total tackles, 5.5 Tackles for Loss (TFL), 3 interceptions, 8 pass breakups, 11 passes defended.
Linebacker Jordan Jones
Kentucky has traditionally produced physical, influential linebackers. Jordan Jones’ 2016 production ranks high on UK’s all-time list in substance and impact. He was named to several All SEC teams. Recently Saturday Down South rated Jones as the Southeastern Conference’s #1 ranked LB for 2017.
2016: 109 total tackles, 15.5 TFL, 4 QB sacks, 4 pass breakups, 9 QB hurries, 1 forced fumble. Jones is the SEC’s top leading returning tackler for 2017.
These juniors could find themselves on All SEC Teams at the end of next season. This projection is based off prior production and also considers work ethic, maturity, talent level, and developmental ceiling.
Outside Linebacker Josh Allen
Saturday Down South rated Allen as the SEC’s 5th best LB for 2017. He led the Southeastern Conference with 4 forced fumbles in 2016 and was the Wildcat’s QB sack leader with 7.
2016: 62 total tackles, 7 QB sacks, 8.5 TFL, 3 QB hurries, 4 forced fumbles.
Cornerback Derrick Baity
Matt House’s field corner; Baity has proven to be UK’s top pass defender.
2016: 42 total tackles, 2 TFL, 3 interceptions, 7 pass breakups, 1 QB hurry.
Outside Linebacker Denzel Ware
The “Jack” LB has proven to be an effective pass rusher and is improving in pass defense. Jones-Ware-Allen construct ¾ of Kentucky’s LB corps which has the potential to be one of the better groups in the SEC.
2016: 70 total tackles, 12 TFL, 5.5 QB sacks, 5 QB hurries.
First to Second Year
The most populated category which is a positive. This collection of prior true-redshirt freshmen and JUCO transfers that established early playing time in 2016. Their jump from rookie to veteran status could prominently influence UK’s win/loss column.
Defensive End Alvonte Bell
Scheduled to miss spring practice due to an offseason surgery. Came on strong in the latter stages of 2016 before being injured in the Taxslayer Bowl. Could win the starting defensive end job in fall camp.
2016: 27 total tackles, .5 QB sack, 1 TFL, 2 pass breakups, 1 QB hurry.
Outside Linebacker Jordan Bonner
Bonner contributed on special teams and showed flashes of being a pass rusher. An offseason to increase strength and weight gain will bolster a deep and talented group of OLB’s.
2016: 10 total tackles, 1 TFL.
Linebacker Eli Brown
See above; another offseason to add weight and strength should assist Brown into becoming a viable backup to Jordan Jones.
2016: 24 total tackles, .5 TFL, 1 fumble recovery.
Defensive End TJ Carter
PFF graded the true freshman the highest of all UK defenders in the Taxslayer Bowl. Like Alvonte Bell, will compete for the starting DE job.
2016: 11 total tackles.
Linebacker Kash Daniel
Daniel could push senior Courtney Love for a starting role. An extremely hard worker, Daniel is quickly becoming a team leader.
2016: 19 total tackles, was the Cat’s top dog on special teams.
Cornerback Jordan Griffin
Young, talented cornerback with an extremely high ceiling. Will push Baity and Westry. Year two will show massive technical strides.
2016: 6 total tackles. Will push for a starting job.
Linebacker De’Niro Laster
Versatile, played both inside and outside linebacker in his first season before injury. Could quietly become significant factor for Matt House.
2016: 14 total tackles, 2 TFL, 1 QB sack.
Nose Tackle Naquez Pringle
A pleasant surprise for Mark Stoops, Pringle worked his way into the starting nose tackle position midway through 2016. Recently saw the rising senior outside the Training Center, the defensive lineman has transformed his body and is dialed in for a breakout 2017.
2016: 39 total tackles, 2 TFL, 1 QB sack
Red to Blue Shirts
The following three players redshirted and are expected to compete for playing time in 2017.
Defensive Linemen Ja’Quize Cross and Kordell Looney
Defensive line is a unit in desperate need of depth and playmakers. Looney and Cross will get an opportunity to impress in spring practice. The Cats need at least one of these two to predominantly factor in 2017.
Linebackers Roland Walder and Jamar Watson
Not expecting the pair to crack the starting lineup; best case scenario is to play special teams while gaining valuable experience.
Cornerback DaVonte Robinson
The speedster from Lexington will add depth to an already highly talented cornerback position group. Robinson could also contribute on special teams as a kick/punt returner.
Safety Tobias Gilliam
The loss of Blake McClain and Marcus McWilson opens a spot at safety. This position competition will be heated; Gilliam should be in the mix.
Player development is the absolute backbone of a program like Kentucky. Five-star prospects aren’t overpopulating its locker room. Mark Stoops and staff rely on early evaluation and good ole fashion hard work to better his team on an annual basis. Spring practice starts soon.