Scout.com/Jeff Drummond

Junior linebacker Jason Hatcher back from two-game suspension as Kentucky Wildcats face Florida Gators

Kentucky gets a potential big lift for its defense this week as junior outside linebacker Jason Hatcher returns from a two-game suspension to start the season.

The 6-foot-3, 252-pound Hatcher sat out the Wildcats' opening wins against UL-Lafayette and South Carolina due to an unspecified violation of team rules that occurred earlier this summer. He was projected to be a starter at strongside linebacker entering the season, but is listed as No. 2 on the depth chart behind senior Jabari Johnson for this week's game against Florida.

"I think Jason needs to show some humility, which he has," Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops said during his Monday press luncheon. "He realizes that he made some decisions that hurt himself and the team. I think he's paid the consequences. He needs to earn his way back on the team, to some extent, but we'll welcome him back. Everybody has been very supportive. He's been doing everything he can to help us win without being on the field.

"I have no problem with bringing Jason back. He's taken his penalties like a man, and he's going to move forward and grow from it."

As a part-time starter last season, Hatcher had 28 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks playing behind eventual NFL Draft picks Bud Dupree and Za'Darius Smith. One of his better games came against this week's opponent, recording two tackles and a key sack against the Gators in UK's 36-30 overtime loss at "The Swamp."

Stoops said Hatcher gives the Cats some experience, depth and some much-needed pass-rushing ability from that position. Johnson currently ranks fifth on the team with 10 tackles through two games, but does not have a sack or a tackle for loss. Kentucky has also been playing without another expected starter, weakside backer Ryan Flannigan, who remains sidelined by a shoulder injury.

A native of Louisville, Hatcher was one of Stoops' highest-rated recruits in his first signing class. The former Trinity star and U.S. Army All-American originally committed to Southern Cal, but was a major recruiting victory for the Cats down the stretch before national signing day. He also had scholarship offers from programs like Alabama, Oklahoma, Louisville, Penn State, Tennessee and South Carolina.


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