Since Kentucky considers Josh Allen and Denzil Ware as OLB/DE’s, they will be considered linebackers for this post. The D-Line portion will be dedicated exclusively to the three players who always have their hand in the turf.
2016 Production and Accolades
Nobody knew who was going to lead Kentucky’s linebackers in 2016. Filled with uncertainty, they proved to have everything the defense needed.
Courtney Love hadn’t played a down for Kentucky, but the transfer from Nebraska was placed on the podium at SEC Media Days as Kentucky’s defensive leader. The middle linebacker was never bad, but never great. He continued to improve throughout the season, finishing as the team’s third-leading tackler with 76.
Kentucky’s leader on the field was Jordan Jones. Before the first game, I asked someone close to the program, “Who’s going to lead the team in tackles?” Without a moment’s hesitation, “Jordan Jones. That guy is ****ing psycho.”
Both statements proved to be true. Jones had 109 tackles (3rd in the SEC), 74 solo (1st in the SEC), 15.5 tackles for loss (6th in the SEC), 4 sacks, 9 QB hurries, 4 pass deflections and a forced fumble. The last Wildcat with more solo tackles are TFLs was Super Bowl Champ Danny Trevathan. His production led the defense, but his infectious, relentless energy was the defense’s most valuable asset.
Enjoy these highlights of Jones from our friends at CN2. Nose for the ball, instincts, quick-twitch, whatever you want to call it, Jones has it.
On the edge, Denzil Ware and Josh Allen had breakout sophomore seasons. If you thought Bud and Za’Darius were good during their senior years, Allen and Ware were better. The NFL defensive ends combined for 12 sacks in 2014; Allen and Ware combined for 12.5 in 2016. They showed discipline on the edge and created turnovers. Allen’s four forced fumbles were the most in the SEC and tied for ninth nationally.
The most startling statistic about this group: Kentucky’s linebackers accounted for 17.5 sacks after only recording 8.5 a year ago.
- Jordan Jones was named Second Team All-SEC by the league’s coaches and Phil Steele. He was a Third Team selection by Athlon.
- Denzil Ware was named SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week following a 5-tackle, 2-sack performance against South Carolina.
They aren’t who we thought they were. The linebackers were my greatest concern entering the season. When the season ended they were exceptional playmakers, especially in the pass rush.
The run defense had its woes up the middle, there were mishaps in the pass defense on the outside, and Courtney Love struggled to put everything together, until he absolutely needed to down the stretch (ignore Ed Cunningham, just pay attention to who fell on the ball).
There are no departures. Everybody returns in 2017.
- Jamar “Boogie” Watson: No relation to DeMarcus Cousins, Watson redshirted last season.
- Roland Walder: Larger than his DMV counterpart, the redshirt freshman from Trotwood-Madison was one of the best defensive players in the state of Ohio a year ago.
- Jamin Davis: The early enrollee has fluid hips, great instincts and the respect of Freddie Maggard.
- Josh Paschal, Jordan Wright and Alex King: Elite edge rushers, they are destined to follow in the footsteps of Allen and Ware down the road.
When you aren’t losing anybody from an above-average unit, the outlook is going to be good, but there are still a few concerns.
This offseason must be dedicated to depth and strength. Eli Brown and Jordan Bonner must have significant roles in the defense next year to provide a few snaps off for Jordan Jones and Josh Allen. Brown needs to add weight, Allen and Ware need help behind them and Kash Daniel must continue to develop. Kentucky was lucky the injury bug rarely bit the linebackers in 2016, but that luck will inevitably run out.