Hopes are high for Kentucky football fans as we round the corner towards the 2014 season. Two consecutive 2-10 campaigns have left the program in a “nowhere to go but up” type of position and two consecutively strong recruiting classes have allowed the new staff to retool the roster. While the addition of some of the most highly rated and regarded players to ever sign with Kentucky is a breath of fresh air, it’s important to remember that the first class Stoops and company brought to Lexington will be heading into their sophomore season this fall.
The point? Kentucky is really young.
How young is actually scary. The team may be better off changing names to the “Wildcubs” next season in all honesty. After losing only 6 senior starters to graduation, one would assume that the team would be more veteran this season, and that would be incorrect. If current projected starters Darrian Miller (LT) and Bud Dupree (DE) hold on to their spots (very likely), they will be the only two senior starters that came to UK as freshmen. That’s right, just two players. Steven Borden (TE), Javess Blue (WR), and Za’Darius Smith (DE) are probable senior starters as well, but they were all three junior college transfers who played their first snaps of division 1 football last year. Ashely Lowery (S) and Travaughn Paschal (LB/DE) have started some games, but neither could be considered a lock to win their position this fall. Guys like Mike Douglas (DT) could win a starting gig as well, but he is likely to be a rotational player at best due to his position. The harsh, cold, and somewhat bitter reality is that there is just that little talent in the senior class for Kentucky. Out of 17 scholarship seniors, three are junior college transfers and three more are incumbent starters. That’s really not the type of numbers you want to see at all.
On offense, Kentucky’s returning full-time starters that are projected to start again this season includes Miller and Swindle at the tackle positions and Toth at Center. The rotation of Montgomery, Timmons, Blue, Badet, and Robinson at receiver will all return although I don’t know if any receiver will received enough snaps in this offense to be labeled as a traditional starter last season. Defensively, Kentucky only lost Donte Rumph, Mister Cobble, and Avery Williamson from the starting lineup, but basically every job except for the two defensive end spots seems to be up for grabs at this point.
This really means two things.
One: While Kentucky is extremely young, the youth is relatively experienced. A lack of talented upperclassmen and/or bodies at certain positions forced many guys to take on bigger roles than most coaches would like to ask of their young players last season. Montgomery, Timmons, Badet, and Kemp all played extensively as true freshmen, so the tag of sophomore is slightly deceiving. Very few true freshmen get the kind of reps that these guys received and defensive players like Hatcher, McClain, Hytchye, and McWilson saw plenty of playing time as well. These players are all TRUE SOPHOMORES this year and are expected to play huge parts in the game plans on both sides of the field. With several other redshirt freshmen, true freshmen, and sophomores returning with playing experience or enrolling early in the case of the freshmen, the young players won’t really be as young as their class designation appears.
Two: The future is brighter than we probably realize, but there are likely to be growing pains again this fall. Let’s say that either Shields or Borden step up at tight end and West wins the left guard job. In the event that this happens, Kentucky will lose TWO projected starters off of the offense (the tight end and Javess Blue) to graduation at the conclusion of this season, returning 9 starters and very possibly two rotational starters (considering tight ends and receivers sub so much in this offense) for the 2015 season. On defense, We’ll call Lowery and Miles Simpson starters for now. Those two, along with Dupree and Z. Smith will depart, making it likely that UK will return 8 incumbents on that side of the ball. Take into consideration the real possibility that Smith and Dupree will give some reps to Hatcher and Ware this fall and that Simpson and Lowery may be passed up, and the Wildcats could very possibly return 18 of 22 starters in 2015 with four additional players that saw extensive playing time as rotational backups.
That’s the thing about youth…It always turns into experience sooner or later. So while Kentucky will probably have their growing pains again this fall, the roster is stacked for a breakout season in 2015.