We’re in the midst of the summer off-season there’s a lot of opportunity for young players to make a big move up the depth charts at Kentucky. Several players of either graduated or left the program in some capacity and Kentucky’s 2013 team is expected to be one of the youngest it’s fielded in a long time. Maybe more than ever, this incoming freshman class and junior-college transfers will have a fantastic opportunity to not only win playing time, but in some cases starting jobs. Based on the players talent, potential, circumstances, and position, I’ve compiled a list of the guys I think are most likely to break out and this coming year. We will be updating this list frequently throughout the off-season as news about the players comes out and camp progresses.
1. Avery Williamson – linebacker
Kentucky fans know Williamson well. He’s played extensively since true freshman season, and will be heading in to yet another year is projected starter. Was so much uncertainty surrounding the linebacker positions, Williamson’s leadership and athletic ability will make him a key cog in the Kentucky defense. While any level of success Williamson experiences is unlikely to surprise Kentucky fans, he may have the opportunity to break out on a national level this year, similar to what did he Trevethan did his senior year. With prototypical NFL size from middle linebacker, William said to really work his way updraft towards the solid season this year.
2. Maxwell Smith – quarterback
Many fans have concluded that Jalen Whitlow is the likely starting quarterback. I would urge those fans to put the brakes on just a little bit and let the competition continue to play out. People don’t realize how talented Maxwell Smith truly is because of his injuries, and the fact that he’s never been able to complete the season. Smith looks very good early in the 2012 campaign and finished his freshman season strong in 2011. His freshman numbers actually were not all that different from Teddy Bridgewater in 2011. With accuracy being so important in the air raid offense, Max Smith will have a great opportunity to make a big statement during the summer.
3. Fred Tiller – cornerback
The departures of three scholarship cornerbacks this off-season have left Kentucky dangerously thin at the position once again. I mentioned the lack of depth at cornerback so many times this year I can’t keep count, but the issues still remain. Tiller joins fellow sophomore Cody Quinn, and redshirt junior Eric Simmons as the only returning scholarship cornerbacks on Kentucky’s football roster. In other words, the Wildcats do not have enough cornerbacks to play in the dime defense. I would expect incoming freshmen Jaleel Hytche and Blake McLain to push Tiller and Quinn for starting positions, and Nate Willis is a wildcard who could come in and claim a job from day one. All that considered, Fred Tiller is a natural athlete. If he wasn’t from such a small town in South Central Georgia, he would’ve had significantly more press coming out of high school. He has excellent size, great speed, and ideal ball skills for a defensive back. In fact, the only thing he was really missing was experience, which he got last year. Tiller will never have a better opportunity to stand out about this competition that he will this season.
4. AJ Legree – wide receiver
The situation at wide receiver is dire. Kentucky returns only four scholarship players of the position, and while adding the signees from the 2013 class will certainly help, there are still not enough bodies. With so many small and speedy guys either on the roster or coming in, players with size and speed the command the perimeter receiver positions are at a premium in Lexington. Legree has great athleticism it could be a contender to win a starting job with little competition this fall. If you can adapt to the new offenses scheme quickly, it is entirely possible that AJ Legree could be Kentucky’s leading receiver in 2014.
5. Zack Myers – center
Kentucky fans have probably taken the center position for granted. Matt Smith’s graduation left a glaring hole at the center position and it is not entirely clear who will fill it. Sophomore Zach West was a standout on the offense of line last year at left guard but there has been some discussion of moving him to center for the upcoming season. This would be hard to fathom, as the options is a guard or not anymore proven as the option center are. What is more likely, it’s at the staff keeps Darrian Miller and Zack West together on the left side of the offense of line and allows redshirt freshman Zack Myers and Jon Toth to battle it out during summercamp for the starting center position. Myers was in contention for the back at center job last season, but injuries prevented him from playing he was forced to redshirt. A year and the strength and conditioning program has done wonders for Myers physically, and he now looks the part of an SEC lineman. With abnormal strength and a ridiculously high football IQ, Myers is going to be tough for anyone to beat out for the starting center job.
Keep checking back this summer for other potential breakout players on Kentucky’s football team.