(Photo courtesy of armchairallamericans.com)
With the hire of Brad White, the coaching duties of the linebacking corps has shifted. Defensive coordinator Matt House will continue to coach inside linebackers, but special teams coordinator Dean Hood will move from coaching outside linebackers to helping Coach Clinksale with the secondary. Brad White will take over outside linebacker coaching. White has spent the last six years coaching in the NFL, with the Indianapolis Colts. The linebacking corps, much like the defensive line, has the benefit of returning several starters. Courtney Love is the only starting linebacker who does not return to this talented group.
(Photo courtesy of Lexington Herald-Leader)
The first linebacker position that has a returning starter is the “Sam” outside linebacker. All-SEC linebacker Josh Allen (6’5”, 224) turned down the allure of the NFL and decided to return to the University of Kentucky to complete what he called “unfinished business”. Allen led the team in sacks with 7.0 and had 65 total tackles, including 9.5 tackles for loss. Allen will likely be backed up by Jamar “Boogie” Watson (6’3”, 240). Watson will provide quality depth and playmaking ability, in addition to versatility. Behind “Boogie” Watson, another option to back up Allen could be incoming freshman Ashton Pierre (6’2″, 210). Pierre will need to add weight, but has great ability and could contribute. This is a talented and deep group. Any of the three listed here could contribute in a major way in 2018.
(Photo courtesy of Zimbio)
The next linebacker position, the “Will” inside linebacker, is another position with a returning starter. Jordan Jones (6’2”, 221) is also returning for his senior season. Last year, Jones had 64 total tackles, including 2.0 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. Jones is a phenomenal athlete, whose only issue is the occasional lack of discipline. Behind Jones, the backup position is wide open. The unexpected transfer of Eli Brown has left this backup position in flux. Jordan Wright is a likely candidate to contribute to the “Will” position behind Jones. Wright redshirted in 2017 and will come in with a year of experience and an entire season to have gotten stronger. Behind Wright will be incoming two incoming freshman: Christopher Oats and Deandre Square. Christopher Oats (6’4”, 220) is a four star commitment, who can make an immediate impact at the “Will” position. DeAndre Square is a stud from Cass Tech High School, which is a producer of many talented D-I prospects. Square could play safety immediately, due to his current size and ability, but has been told he will be given the opportunity to bulk up and play at the “Will” spot. A redshirt season may be in store for Square, if he isn’t up to the weight he needs to be by the beginning of the season.
(Photo courtesy of Alamy)
The middle linebacker spot is the only one that does not have a returning starter. Courtney Love manned this spot for the last two years and did a fantastic job while here. The likely replacement for Love is Kash Daniel (6’1”, 235). Daniel has been a force on special teams and in a reserve role behind Love. His hard hitting style will help him to fill Love’s shoes. Behind Daniel, the picture is less clear. Jamin Davis (6’4”, 220). Davis has continued to add muscle and will likely enter 2018 closer to 230 pounds than the 220 pounds listed on UK’s roster. He is one option to back up Daniel. Christopher Oats (6’4”, 220) is also another option to back up Daniel. Oats is seen as an immediate impact freshman, who is already at 220 pounds and may play immediately at the “Will”, but could contribute here, if needed. Consistency at this position will be critical for the Kentucky defense to move forward in 2018.
(Photo courtesy of 247Sports)
The last linebacker position may be the one that has the most impact on Kentucky’s defensive improvement. The “Jack” position was discussed in the defensive line preview, but needs to be discussed here, as well. Denzil Ware (6’2”, 250) was a dominant player for the Wildcats in 2017. Ware had 47 total tackles, 6.5 sacks, 9.0 tackles for loss, one interception, 2 forced fumbles and 2 fumbles recovered. Ware will be backed up by Joshua Paschal (6’3”, 270). Paschal was an outstanding freshman, making an immediate impact with 17 total tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, as well as a blocked kick. Paschal is talented enough to start for UK, but due to Ware’s return, he will be called upon to contribute as a reserve, particularly to the pass rush threat. This group is exceptionally talented and will have a huge impact on the defenses’ ability to control the opponents’ offense in both the running game, as well as the passing game.
The entire linebacker corps has a great collection of talent, experience and depth. The returning starters are each all-SEC caliber performers. Two of the backups have experience starting, which will help if there are any issues such as injuries or suspensions. The two impact freshman are also very intriguing, as they are both four star caliber recruits. Based on all of this information, I believe the depth chart will look like this to open 2018:
SLB: Josh Allen; Jamar “Boogie” Watson; Ashton Pierre
MLB: Kash Daniel; Jamin Davis; Christopher Oats
WLB: Jordan Jones; Jordan Wright; Christopher Oats/DeAndre Square
OLB(Jack): Denzil Ware; Josh Paschal
That is a great collection of talent and depth, which has not been at Kentucky in quite some time. Each level on the depth chart has a talented player, with experience at many levels. They should be integral in Kentucky’s defense making a huge leap forward.