We’re in the recruiting dead period right now and waiting on the start of the spring semester to get back to business. Meanwhile, the current players are prepping to go through spring practice and an offseason that should be very interesting. A change of offensive and defensive schemes will neutralize the experience some of the upperclassmen have and there should be several fierce position battles between spring practice and fall camp. Here are the top five to follow as I see them now.
Few position battles are ever more interesting and intense than the quarterback and Kentucky has got a big one coming up this offseason. With three sophomores battling out for the spot, the Wildcats will have Jalen Whitlow, Patrick Towles, and Maxwell Smith all trying to stake their claim for the job. The winner of this position will likely come down to who fits the offense of coordinator Neal Browns the best. If Brown uses a spread option attack like what we see at West Virginia or Baylor, then Jalen whitlow has to be the favorite. He’s heading shoulders above Towles and Smith as far as sheer athleticism is concerned and has the type of abilities to make that the spread option offense really flourish. If Brown operates an offense similar to what we saw at Texas Tech,then Towles has to be considered the favorite. His blend of size, arm strength and athleticism make him an ideal fit for this type of scheme. He’s mobile enough to move around in the pocket and has a big enough arm to make the long downfield throws. If Brown decides to use a west coast style spread, Maxwell Smith has to be the favorite. Smith doesn’t have the athleticism of Whitlow or the versatility of Towles but has a very accurate arm and can get some good zip on the ball. If it’s a matter of dissecting the defense then you have to favor Smith. Of all the position battles coming up in the spring and summer camps, quarterback has to be the one that will attract the most attention and rightfully so.
The Wildcats used several corners this season and will probably use several again next year. A lack of depth required many of the young freshman to be forced onto the field and they gained valuable experience despite getting thrown to the fire. Now, the staff will try to figure out what they have. It seems like Eric Dixon has made the switch to safety, which means that the crop of cornerbacks will likely be made up of junior Eric Simmons, sophomores JD Harmon, Fred Tiller, Cody Quinn, and Marcus Caffey, and redshirt freshmen Shawn Blaylock and Jonathan Reed. When you consider that Simmons has not made a big impact just yet in his three years on campus, it looks apparent that the Wildcats will exclusively see freshmen and sophomores atop their depth chart at corner. There is a lot of young talent at this position, so watching these guys duke it out this offseason should be fun.
The differences between the outside linebackers in a 3-4 and 4-3 defense are like night and day. The 3-4 OLBs are usually undersized defensive ends that hang their hat on the pass rush. In the 4-3, the weak side linebacker has many more responsibilities and needs to be one if the most well-rounded and athletic players on the defense. A good “Will” can be the difference in an average or great defense and almost every notable 4-3 team had an outstanding player at the position. With the Kentucky defense moving from 4 linebacker positions to 3, there are a lot of players to fight for the top spots on the depth chart, and many of them will be attempting to win the Will job. Sophomores Khalid Henderson, Demarius Rancifer, Josh Forrest, and Pancho Thomas will all have their chance to win the job and could see competition from juniors Malcolm McDuffen, Miles Simpson and Kory Brown. If Daron Blaylock and/or Josh Harris are converted from safety, they’ll be thrown in the mix too. Basically, there’s a surplus of competition and a limited amount of playing time available.