Mark Stoops’ post-scrimmage news conference following the 2019 Kentucky football spring game.
Jon Hale, Louisville Courier Journal
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Kentucky’s football spring practice is finished, so it’s time to take a look ahead with a position-by-position breakdown of where things stand entering summer workouts. We looked at the offense yesterday. In part two, we’ll look at the defense.
Projected starters: T.J. Carter (6-foot-4, 289 pounds, Sr.), Quinton Bohanna (6-foot-4, 361 pounds, Jr.), Calvin Taylor Jr. (6-foot-9, 310 pounds, Sr.)
Backups to watch: Phil Hoskins (6-foot-5, 306 pounds, Sr.), Marquan McCall (6-foot-3, 376 pounds, So.), Josh Paschal (6-foot-3, 284 pounds, Soph.), Kordell Looney (6-foot-3, 297 pounds, Jr.)
Breakdown: With heavy turnover at the second and third levels of Kentucky’s defense, the defensive line will be counted on to carry much of the load early thanks to its relative continuity with just one rotation player lost. New defensive coordinator Brad White showered praise on the group this spring for providing the most consistent pass rush of any position. Depth is a strength with as many as eight players in the rotation, which should help Paschal ease into action after missing most of 2018 while undergoing cancer treatments for a malignant melanoma on his foot.
Coach says: “I don’t know if there’s any pressure. I think the expectations are clear. We have a mature group, a lot of returning guys with lots of experience. I think the pressure is going to be minimal, but I think they know what we’re expecting of those guys.” — defensive line coach Derrick LeBlanc
Projected starters: SLB Jamar “Boogie” Watson (6-foot-3, 242 pounds, Jr.), JLB Jordan Wright (6-foot-5, 242 pounds, Soph.)
Backups to watch: Jared Casey (6-foot-1, 232 pounds, Fr.), Alex King (6-foot-3, 249 pounds, Soph.), Marquez Bembry (6-foot-3, 217 pounds, Soph.)
Breakdown: Replacing Josh Allen, the 2018 National Defensive Player of the Year and a likely top-five NFL draft pick later this month, was never going to be easy. But spring practice offered more reason for concern with White, the coach credited for developing Allen, sending a clear message that the replacement candidates were not meeting his standards. Some of that pessimism was likely because Watson, a returning starter, was limited for part of spring practice, but even after Wright totaled four tackles, an interception and pass breakup in the spring game, White was unwilling to step back from his previous comments. It would be little surprise to see Casey, a mid-year enrollee, or fellow four-star Louisville native J.J. Weaver starting at “Jack” linebacker at some point in 2019.
Coach says: “There was progress (at ‘Jack’ linebacker). It’s not to where I want it to be, and there’s still plenty of work to be done there, plenty of finding out who’s going to be that guy. I don’t know if we’re done yet in terms of finding out who that guy is going to be. I’ll say this — when we step out on the field in August, we’re going to have the best 11 guys, the 11 guys that can help us win. Whether they’re at that position now, whether we have to reevaluate some things, we’ll do that through summer, we’ll do that through fall. We’ll see when we bring in the freshmen who elevates. Right now, nothing is settled.” – defensive coordinator Brad White
Projected starters: MLB Kash Daniel (6-foot-1, 221 pounds, Sr.), WLB Chris Oats (6-foot-3, 227 pounds, Soph.)
Backups to watch: Jamin Davis (6-foot-4, 224 pounds, Soph.), DeAndre Square (6-foot-1, 204 pounds, Soph.), Tra Wilkins (6-foot-0, 215 pounds, Fr.)
Breakdown: Three-year starter Jordan Jones is gone, but new inside linebacker coach Jon Sumrall still inherits an experienced group built around Daniel, the team’s captain and top returning tackler. Oats is the early favorite for 2019’s breakout star. The question becomes whether the uncertainty at outside linebacker will force the staff to find ways to get Daniel, Oats and Square – another key 2018 contributor – on the field at the same time. White left the door open to that option after the spring game, but he and Mark Stoops have cautioned against creating a depth concern at inside linebacker to fix one at another position.
Coach says: “Obviously everybody talks about Kash. He’s what you’re hunting. He’s Kentucky through and through. Loves football. He’s fun to coach. I’m already excited about having my hands on him and be able to work with him on a daily basis. You’ve got Oats who’s coming on. He’s got a great looking frame. He’s learning the game. He’s got a lot of things you’re looking for from a measurable standpoint. … There’s a lot of guys in the fold getting reps that I’m excited to see their development and growth.” – inside linebacker coach Jon Sumrall
Here’s what you should watch for during Kentucky’s spring football game Friday and throughout fall camp
Dominique Yates, Louisville Courier Journal
Projected starters: Davonte Robinson (6-foot-2, 197 pounds, Jr.), Jordan Griffin (6-foot-0, 194 pounds, Jr.)
Backups to watch: Tyrell Ajian (6-foot-0, 194 pounds, Soph.), Yusuf Corker (6-foot-0, 192 pounds, Soph.), Moses Douglass (6-foot-2, 204 pounds, Fr.)
Breakdown: Kentucky lost all four starting defensive backs from the Citrus Bowl squad, but thankfully returns several key backups at safety to take on two of those roles. Robinson was a consistent target of praise from UK coaches throughout the fall and spring, and will need to take over the Mike Edwards role as a hybrid safety/nickel. Griffin’s 2018 did not match the hype earlier in this Kentucky career, but he has the tools to thrive as a starter. Ajian and Corker showed flashes last fall, and Douglass could be a future star after enrolling early for spring practice.
Coach says: “Davonte Robinson, Jordan Griffin and Yusuf Corker have all kind of stood out. Ty Ajian has shown up and made some big plays at times as well in that safety group. I think those guys are the core of it, because most of those guys played last year.” – defensive backs coach Steve Clinkscale
Projected starters: Brandin Echols (6-foot-0, 174 pounds, Jr.), Cedrick Dort (5-foot-11, 181 pounds, Soph.)
Backups to watch: Jamari Brown (6-foot-1, 195 pounds, RFr.), Stanley Garner (6-foot-2, 186 pounds, RFr.), Quandre Mosley (6-foot-2, 185 pounds, Jr.), Taj Dodson (6-foot-2, 190 pounds, Fr.)
Breakdown: Spring practice offered at least a little more clarity on the position with the most turnover from 2018 as Echols, a junior college transfer, appears to have separated from the pack slightly and Dort (whose three games at cornerback in 2017 represent the most returning experience at the position) started opposite him in the spring game. There’s still no shortage of uncertainty about the rotation though. As a junior college transfer, Mosely will be counted on to contribute early. Brown and Garner have at least played before thanks to the NCAA’s new redshirt rule that allowed them to make one-game cameos in 2018. Dodson has a head start on the other 2019 signees after enrolling for spring practice, but fellow freshmen M.J. Devonshire and Jalen Geiger will be given every opportunity to earn snaps as well after arriving this summer.
Coach says: “Cedrick Dort is showing flashes of improvement and being more consistent and being a leader, trying to get the group together, which is helping him be a better player. Then the guys like Jamari Brown, Quandre Mosley, Brandin Echols — those guys have really made up-and-down strides at times. Brandin has mainly made a big stride to show his ability. He’s got a lot of speed, a lot of athleticism. He stands out quite a bit.” — defensive backs coach Steve Clinkscale