Certain 2016 positions are in need of an immediate upgrade and increased depth. Currently committed prospects, redshirts, transfers, and potential late signing junior college players could have the opportunity to make an instant impact at the following positions:
Matt Elam’s development is ongoing and necessary. At times Elam was able to clog up the middle of the line of scrimmage. The jury is still out if he can develop into the dynamic playmaker that was marketed during his highly publicized recruiting process, or simply a situational run stopper. A junior college addition, internal roster moves from defensive tackle to permanent NT, or incoming true freshmen will be given the opportunity to compete. Adding depth and athletes with the capability of line of scrimmage penetration is paramount.
CJ Johnson’s departure hinders the position’s big play ability. Johnson was the only defensive tackle that could consistently pressure the quarterback and provide a tackle for loss threat. The 3-technique DT is the most likely position in which true freshmen can see immediate game action. 2016 commits Ja’Quize Cross, Kobe Smith, and Kordell Looney are raw, yet highly athletic and capable. A late junior college signee could also influence the situation. Regie Meant, Tymere Dubose, and Adrian Middleton’s offseason progression would ease the sense of urgency at both defensive tackle and nose tackle. Regardless of which players surface in the rotation, a pass rush specialist must be identified.
Kentucky loses the consistent and technically sound Farrington Huguennin to graduation. Courtney Miggins provided depth, but his late August arrival to campus limited seasonal development. Pass rush from the line of scrimmage, in particular from the defensive end position, is the number one concern going into 2016. Jordan Bonner, Alvonte Bell, Jaylin Bannerman, and Kengera Daniel are hybrid OLB/DE’s that could make the permanent move to defensive end. 2015 defensive ends produced all of 1.5 quarterback sacks. That number has to increase.
Going into 2016, Josh Krok and Nick Richardson were supposed to be implanted at this position. Both left the program and left a noticeable personnel void. Left tackle Tate Leavitt’s signature was imperative, but right tackle remains a position of concern. The best case scenario is for George Asafo-Adjei to move inside to guard. RT is yet another position that could possibly be filled by a true freshman as Landon Young will have an opportunity to compete for playing time. As a spring practice competition materializes, Kyle Meadows, Mason Wolfe and Logan Stenberg’s improvement will be scrutinized.
2016 commit Grant McKinniss is a heralded high school kicker/punter. A walk-on addition may also provide depth and competition. If 2015 taught us anything, kickers and punters play a vital role in the field position game.
Josh Forrest, Khalid Henderson, Jabari Johnson, and Ryan Flannigan are no more. With two starting vacancies on the inside, returning outside linebackers will also be pushed by athletic newcomers. Returning starter Jason Hatcher has one season to prove to NFL scouts that he is Sunday-worthy. Hatcher’s OLB mate Denzil Ware has to improve his ability to play in space. Inside, Courtney Love is expected to take over for Forrest. But who will be joining in between the tackles?
Three true freshman will get a shot as will Jordan Jones, Eli Brown and Nico Firios. OLB talent will be noticeably better. Kobie Walker makes his return along with Josh Allen and Alvonte Bell. Minnesota transfer Di’Niro Laster and Jordan Bonner could potentially work themselves into the starting lineup. Spring and fall practice position competitions will be heated as all four positions are up for grabs.
I try to be objective and honest in evaluation but I can’t help but to be excited to see the new linebacker corps in action. Potentially the most improved position on the team.