1. Offensive Line
John Schlarmann added two Army All-Americans and a Junior College tackle with more than 20 offers. Offensive linemen usually don’t receive much fanfare, but that is not the case with Tate Leavitt, Drake Jackson and Landon Young. Usually offensive lineman get a year to redshirt under Mark Stoops, but all three could see time this fall, with Young and Leavitt likely taking over the tackle positions. Those three are great, but I can’t forget to mention Luke Fortner. Freddie rarely compares a player to his favorite, Jon Toth, but this versatile lineman earns his praise.
Buyer beware: there will be some growing pains with this group, but in the long-term the quarterback will be in much safer hands.
The Cats’ biggest vulnerability when Stoops first arrived has transformed into a strength. Last year’s freshmen defensive backs were fantastic, with Chris Westry earning All-Freshman honors by the SEC, and Derrick Baity finishing the year as a starter. The three redshirts — Kei Beckham, Marcus Walker and Will Jackson — were skilled enough to play, but depth allowed them to take their time to develop,
Insert three of the best athletes in the class, and you have a no fly zone on the horizon.
Davonte Robinson is the most underrated recruit in the class, Freddie’s choice for “Best Athlete.” Jordan Griffin might have been the most important recruit in the class, beating out Auburn (again) for the lengthy cornerback’s services. The hard-hitting Tobias Gilliam plays centerfield of the defense with a rare type of nastiness that is a joy to watch.
It will be interesting to see if any can play right away, but one thing is certain — Stoops is starting to see the depth he needs in order to be successful.
“You need to stack classes on top of classes on top of classes. Then you need to develop them and put them in position by coaching,” Stoops said. “It absolutely starts with having great players.”
Even though Stoops has always considered his defense as “multiple,” he was primarily a 4-3 guy before coming to Kentucky. Personnel forced Stoops and Eliot to shift more to a 3/4, and this year they’re finally recruiting like it.
Jordan Bonner from NEO Junior College will compete for playing time at the “Jack” outside linebacker position. Kash Daniel will be an inside enforcer, finding a way onto the field in some capacity.
The outside linebacker position is arguably the most difficult position to play in the 3/4 defense. You need to be big enough to take on offensive tackles in the run game, but still be able to drop back in pass coverage or rush the quarterback. Jamar “Boogie” Watson, Roland Walder and Jaylin Bannerman all have the athletic ability to fulfill those tasks and become elite SEC outside linebackers, but they need time to add muscle and learn the nuances of the position.