There is always a need for great athletes when you compete in the SEC. Kentucky has always struggled to get the kind o f athlete needed to win at this level. But since Rich Brooks took over at Kentucky, the Wildcats have gradually increased team speed and athleticism with each recruiting class. Still no matter how many great receivers or linebackers or even defensive backs you have, it all comes down to line play.
Kentucky has done a solid job developing less heralded players into SEC offensive linemen. On the defensive line it's been a mixed bag. There have been players like Jeremy Jarmon, Ventrell Jenkins and even as far back as Vincent Burns who were under the radar, but wound up being quality prospects for Kentucky.
But to win, you have to be able to stop the run. That starts in the middle of the defense, where Kentucky has struggled to recruit SEC level defensive tackles. Last year's class saw the Wildcats land Brice Laughlin who is as talented as anybody on the roster, but he's a freshman and looks like a redshirt candidate at this point. Donte Rumph also finally made it to campus and has done a great job. Former LSU signee Elliott Porter is also in the fold and can help out at defensive tackle down the line.
But each of these players is a true freshman. It bodes well for the future, but the competition doesn't stop when they graduate and the three man rotation isn't quite enough for an SEC schedule.
Kentucky had Clint Tucker committed until recently. Tucker is rated as the number 52 defensive tackle in the country. The 6-foot-2, 285-pound prospect picked the Wildcats back in May, but has since chosen to commit to home-state Illinois. With the loss of Tucker, Kentucky will have to turn its focus elsewhere for help on the line. Tucker will still be recruited by Kentucky, but they won't count on him landing in Lexington.
One player who fits the mold of a defensive tackle is Lovejoy's (Ga.) David Washington. Washington is a 6-foot-2, 270-pound prospect who many speculated nearly committed to Kentucky this summer while at camp. Washington is also considering offers from Virginia, South Carolina and Mississippi State. Kentucky is one of the favorites, but there's no guarantee that the Cats will land him.
Jakari Kinnie is a former teammate of Kentucky freshman corner Dale Trimble. Kinnie is a load in the middle of the line at 6-foot-2, 320-pounds and has the interest of several schools such as Memphis, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Southen Miss and Jacksonville State. Kentucky is on Kinnie's radar and with a visit to Lexington, he could be one of the Wildcats' top targets.
Ryan Bryson is another prospect that Wildcat fans may not have heard of. Bryson is a tall lean defensive tackle in the mold of Ricky Lumpkin. While his offers are limited, the Kentucky staff likes his potential and joins Memphis, Troy and Western Kentucky as schools to offer the 6-foot-4, 260-pounder.
While he's committed to Louisville, Kentucky is still recruiting Jamon Brown heavily. The Fern Creek product would be an outstanding "get" for the Kentucky staff in many ways, including because he's currently a Louisville commit. Flipping Brown won't be easy and it could take a monumental slide by the Louisville program.
It's also clear that Kentucky's linebackers, while fairly young and talented, don't have much depth. Young players like Avery Williamson, Malcolm McDuffen, Qua Huzzie and Ridge Wilson are getting their feet wet at the college level; they will all need added experience. They will also need depth behind them. McDuffen is going to redshirt this year and the Wildcats should add Jabari Johnson to the fold in January as a greyshirt if he can get his grades up. Miles Simpson could see himself being moved to linebacker from running back. Tim Patterson, who had been envisioned mostly as a defensive end could also be a linebacker.
But there's still a need for additional talent. There are several players still on the radar but Kentucky isn't necessarily in the lead for any of them.
Lamar Dawson is the most obvious player to help out the Wildcats at linebacker. The Danville, Kentucky native lives less than an hour from Kentucky's campus and is one of the top linebacker prospects in the country. Dawson is very high on the Wildcats and the Wildcats can use him at strongside linebacker or middle linebacker. Unfortunately Kentucky will have to fight off national powers like Florida, Michigan and Oregon for his services.
Kentucky has spent quite a bit of time trying to build some consistency recruiting in Cincinnati. Antonio Poole is one Cincinnati prospect that Kentucky has a pretty good shot at landing. Poole is an outside linebacker who's explosive to the ball carrier but also has the athleticism to cover and the strength to shed blockers. Kentucky and Cincinnati are the leaders in the race for Poole's services. The Bearcats may have the edge due to proximity and because they hired one of his old coaches from Winton-Woods.
Desmond Wills is built in the mold of a pure middle linebacker. He's wide, has good lateral quickness and does a good job reading blockers to make plays. Wills is very high on the Wildcats and the 6-foot, 235-pound prospect holds offers from both Kentucky and Clemson. At this point, it's unknown when Wills will make his decision, but if it's anytime soon, he likely won't be a Wildcat.
Cousin of Antonio Poole, Steven Daniels is another top linebacker prospect that Kentucky is involved with. Also another Cincinnati kid, he's another way to get a foot-hold in the Queen City. Daniels is a big strong prospect who fits in well at strongside linebacker, but really looks like a quality middle linebacker. He could be another prospect being held off for Dawson's decision, but Daniels won't wait forever.
Troy Gray is an athletic freak from Atlanta. Kentucky has recruited his area very well and the Wildcats are high on Gray is a lean towards Georgia Tech, but is also hearing from Illinois, Ole Miss and Virginia. They have all offered except for Georgia Tech. Gray has always been interested in Kentucky, but never have the Wildcats been option number one. When he takes his visits, Kentucky may become a better option, but until then, the Wildcats are on the outside looking in.
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