Kentucky Football: Athletic, experienced linebacker unit rock solid again

Kentucky Wildcats linebacker Jordan Wright ( Credit: Arden Barnes-USA TODAY Sports)
Kentucky Wildcats linebacker Jordan Wright ( Credit: Arden Barnes-USA TODAY Sports) /

Kentucky football has been sending defensive players to the NFL at a rapid rate in the Mark Stoops era, especially linebackers. That being said, every year the linebacking corps seems to be one of the most consistent units on the field. Wash, rinse, then repeat would almost be a sentiment I’d feel comfortable using as a reference.

Losing Jamin Davis will be tough, the Junior got his first chance at being a starter in 2020 and he didn’t waste the opportunity. Davis led the team in tackles with 102 and was the first Wildcat with 5 or more double-figure tackle games since Danny Trevathan. Davis was also able to pick off three passes, one of which was a huge 85-yard interception return for a touchdown against Tennessee.

Davis’s season came out of nowhere but coach Brad White not surprised.

"“People forget that Jamin was just a first-year starter. He was a guy that stuck to the process. He came in. He worked his tail off. He had to grow within the system. He had to grow with Coach Ed and when his time came, he took advantage of it. I think guys can use that as something to point to and say, ‘When my time comes, whenever it may be, how do I make the most of it?’ It was because of the way Jamin practiced.”"

The effort that Davis put forth in 2020 was good enough to earn a first-team All-SEC selection by pro football focus and has many NFL scouts predicting the linebacker to be taken somewhere in the first round of the upcoming NFL Draft.

Kentucky football has been Linebacker U as usual, reload and repeat.

But the Wildcat cupboard hasn’t been left barren. In fact, it is stocked with a wealth of talent and experience including DeAndre Square who is projected to be one of the best linebackers in the Southeastern Conference this year.

White and linebacker coach Jon Sumrall has to be tickled blue about being able to get another year of Square, the three-year starter has to have noticed how Davis went from an unheard-of, now to potentially a first-round draft pick, Square is poised to have a huge season for Kentucky.

For his UK career, he has played in 36 games that include 22 starts of which 10 were last year and named one of 10 captains. In 2020 he was third on the team in total tackles with 60 and second with four quarterback hits that turned into 2.5 tackles for losses.

The Michigan native gained attention last year when he had a season-high nine tackles against Mississippi State. Then he racked up six tackles and shared a one-yard tackle for loss at Florida while his first career fumble recovery in the second quarter set up a UK touchdown drive.

Sumrall was on WPBK radio in February and gave a simple but perfect description of Square according to Larry Vaught of Vaught’s views.

"“The guy everybody knows is DeAndre Square, a three-year starter who has been Steady Eddie with everything he has done….. We have high expectations for him this coming season to take the next step and become the guy on defense to make big plays at big times. He has always been one of our most reliable and consistent players and a constant force in there for us. Now we need more.”"

Oh but there are more on the roster who saw action last season back as well including Vito Tisdale, Jordan Wright, and J.J. Weaver.

Wright is a 6-foot-5, 233-pound junior from Ft. Lauderdale and played in all 11 games last year and 33 for his career including being named SEC Defensive Player of the Week on October 12.  last year he recorded 45 tackles, with 5.5 for a loss, 3.5 sacks, four pass breakups, two quarterback hits while forcing three fumbles, and recovering two and picked off one pass.

Weaver came in high touted out of Louisville Moore High school and after redshirting his first season played in nine games before tearing his ACL at Florida on November 28. That caused him to miss the final two games but still was named to the All-SEC Freshman Team by the coaches.

At 6-5, 241 pounds he is an imposing force for offenses to handle tallying 33 tackles,  two quarterback hurries, and a pass breakup. His highlight came in the Florida game where he had a career-high-tying six tackles in his first start as a Wildcat but still was named SEC Freshman of the Week despite the injury.

Tisdale came to Lexington from Bowling Green and as a true freshman had 20 tackles in 10 games that included a career-high six tackles in the win over NC State in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl. Mark Stoops has always spoken highly of him.

Casey is another young redshirt freshman from Louisville Ballard and saw time in all 11 games, finishing with 20 tackles whose best game was six tackles against Mississippi State.

Are these guys ready for a breakout season and continue the tradition-rich linebacker success? Sumrall had the answer.

"“I think we have a lot of young guys ready to step in and see what they can do. A year ago nobody was talking about Jamin having a season like he did. How do you replace a guy who a year ago was not even a household name in Kentucky? You do it the same way he did. Show up every day ready to step up, work your tail off and get excited.”"

Then there is the stud and true freshman coming in Trevin Wallace

No doubt there will be competition for this spot and depth will be important but keep an eye on true freshman Trevin Wallace from Georgia who UK coaches swooped in and stole on signing day away from the top SEC programs. He is good enough to see immediate playing time.

He never stepped off the field in high school playing offense, defense, and special teams. White spoke of what a freak of a player he is capable of being to KSR.

"“Everybody sees the athleticism. The thing I think people don’t realize is how much of a football junkie he is. He loves to learn. He’s going to come in and he’s going to want to know everything about those inside backer positions. He gives you some flex in that, they even slid him outside a little bit down there in high school. He’s got the ability to rush a passer, so we’ll see what he can handle and we’ll see how quickly he can adjust.”"

I’ve made the mistake of doubting Stoops and company before, but I won’t do it again. I expect this Kentucky linebacking corps to be just as good if not better in 2021. If White and Sumrall have their way many opposing offensive coordinators will be singing the blues this fall.

Next. Whose ready to step into vacant cornerback roles. dark