As the 2013 season wrapped up, the BBN was left with several defensive questions: how would the linebacker group look after the departure of the middle linebacker star, Avery Williamson? And what about the secondary? Were they going to always look almost hopelessly thin? Or did DJ Eliot and Mark Stoops put their defensive brains together to come up with a plan to reload?
From the looks of the incoming freshman and some old talent with new skills, it looks like the latter may be taking place. Khalid Henderson and Kobie Walker are two pieces to the SEC defensive puzzle being put together in Lexington.
Khalid Henderson #22
Henderson is one of the few Joker Phillips recruits still left on the roster. Coming out of high school he was rated as the #19 OLB in the nation and the #17 player in Georgia by ESPN. Scout listed him as the #51 OLB nationally and 247 named him a top-60 prospect in Georgia. He had great size and athleticism and ran track competing in the 100-meter, 200-meter, 110 and 300 hurdles, long jump and triple jump.
As a freshman at Kentucky he played all 12 games and had 26 tackles; his career high coming against Vanderbilt with 5. Also as a freshman he recorded a fumble recovery and a pass break up. His sophomore season proved to be a bit of a breakout season. He again, played in all 12 games and started seven. He finished the 2013 season with 51 tackles (3TFL), one sack, one INT, one pass break up and two forced fumbles. It seems he plays well when needed because two of his biggest games came when the team itself wasn’t doing so well. He had a career-best 10 tackles against WKU and his first INT at Georgia along with 5 tackles.
The spring seemed to help solidify Henderson’s starting spot. He hasn’t missed a game since his time at UK, which gives him an edge. He consistently plays well and I see him have a very productive and successful junior season. The only certains I see at the LB position are Henderson, TraVaughn Paschal, and Josh Forrest. Miles Simpson and Tre Dunn could be wild cards and with the multiple defense they could be factors depending on if they want to run a 4-3 or 3-4. Last season they experimented with the nickel slot as well, primarily using Blake McClain. They could always shuffle some people around in the DB spot and change things up there too. Of course, there is also Robby Irgang, Tyler Brause, and Grant Aumiller and the wildcard freshman Dorian Hendrix that could come in and make an impact or play as solid backups, but I believe Henderson has his spot locked barring camp goes well.
Kobie Walker #8
ESPN, 247and Rivals all list walker as a three-star. While UK was his only SEC offer, he did score offers from Miami, Wisconsin, Oklahoma State and many others. Rivals has Walker as the #17 prospect in his state and the 35th safety nationally. While he isn’t necessarily the fastest, his size and athleticism landed him on Mark Stoops’ radar and eventually practice field.
Rivals has him as an OLB, but ESPN and 247 each list him as a safety. In an interview with Washington Post soon after his commitment, he said Kentucky plans to use him at OLB, saying “I’m a lot more athletic than most linebackers and I also played strong safety last year, so I know how to defend in man coverage with slot receivers,” Walker said. “While most big, slow linebackers can’t guard the slot, I can do that. I can also come up and blitz and make the big play.” This interview came in May of 2013, however so things could have easily changed since then.
Judging by his high school highlights and stats, it seems he played primarily safety in high school and I would predict him to do that at Kentucky as well. Both positions will prove tough competition for Walker and I think a lot of where he plays will be left in the hands of Erik Korem and the strength and conditioning program. If he becomes quicker and leaner, the safety spot seems a no-brainer to me. But as Walker himself said, he has the ability to play LB as well and the height- if he puts on a bulk of muscle-weight in a few years he could easily have an NFL-linebacker body. There is always a nickel-type position option or the ability to switch positions in his time at Kentucky as well, but for now I’m putting him at safety.
Regardless of which position they decide to stick Walker at, he’s in for some competition- fortunately for him at the safety spot, most of his competition is like him- young and new. Both of these spots (LB and S) look to be pretty competitive this year and it will be interesting to see who emerges as our starting guys. I think both these players, and positions, hold lots of promise for the future.
Tags: 2014 Sec Preview 2014 Uk Football Preview Defense DJ Eliot Dorian Hendrix Grant Aumiller Ilb Josh Forrest Kentucky Wildcats Football Khalid Henderson Kobie Walker Lb Linebacker Mark Stoops Miles Simpson MLB Olb Robby Irgang Safety SEC Football Travaughn Paschal Tre Dunn University Of Kentucky Football