Many of the recruits Kentucky has pursued have a great chance of making an early impact on the field. Of all the talented athletes coming in, few will have a better opportunity to contribute early than the trio of junior college players Stoops and company have acquired. Here’s why…
The change from Rick Minter’s 3-4 defense to Stoops’ preferred 4-3 alignment has left a void of quality defensive ends. By nature, the position is required to take up space and occupy blockers in the 3-4, allowing the 4 linebackers to roam freely and make plays. Now the switch to the 4-3 defense will require the ends to get penetration into the backfield and rush the passer, which requires a more nimble player. Speed will be more important and that’s exactly where Smith comes in. Most of Kentucky’s defensive ends are closer to defensive tackles in the new scheme and Smith can give the team some immediate assistance up front while the coaches adjust the roster. He has prototypical height (6’6) and should play at around 260-270 pounds. If Smith is not starting at the conclusion of spring practice, I would be shocked.
There may not have been a position more mismanaged by the previous staff than tight end. The program has struggled to find a player that could replace the production of Jacob Tamme and the recruiting here has been just dreadful. The end result is a roster that features FOUR seniors at the position, none of which have stood out in their combined 19 seasons in Lexington. Ronnie Shields, is a junior, and there are no scholarship players at the position in the sophomore or freshman classes in addition to no committed prospects either. Borden is a pass catching option that can come in and flourish early in Neal Brown’s offense. With wide receiver speed and adequate size, Borden’s ability to create mismatches for opposing defenses can give the Kentucky offense a real threat at the position for the first time since the 2007 season.
The Wildcats graduated four receivers this past season and return only six scholarship players at the position in 2013. Demarco Robinson has shown flashes of his ability, but outside of a phenomenal spring game last year has failed to live up to his potential on the field. A trio of upcoming sophomores will return and all looked promising last season, but Daryl Collins, Demarcus Sweat, and A.J. Legree all were limited in their contributions as well. Rashaad Cunningham and Bookie Cobbins have potential as well, but neither caught a single pass last season. Blue has the size to play on the outside and the speed to stretch the field. He could realistically expect 60+ catches in this offense and will give the Wildcats some time to develop all the young players at the position.
The cornerback position has been an Achilles heel for Kentucky since Trevard Lindley lined up in 2009. A series of underperforming players have cycled through the depth chart and now the team will be replacing two seniors at the position for the second year in a row. The unprecedented amount of attrition the team has seen at corner has also attributed to the woes, as Joker Phillips’ staff saw several players leave the program early. The dismissal offer is Caffey and Jonathan Reed now leaves the team with only five returning scholarship players at the position. Of the five, three were members of the 2012 signing class, and two saw extremely limited action last season despite depth problems at the position. There is little doubt that Willis will claim one of the two starting jobs this year, and his presence should allow the team to bring along some of the underclassmen more slowly.
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