Kentucky football linebackers preview: Return of trio of seniors big boost for 2018

SEC Country is taking an early position-by-position look at Kentucky’s roster for 2018. A new position preview will publish every Sunday leading up to the start of spring football. Up next: Linebackers. 

Linebacker overview

  • Newcomers: 4-star Chris Oats, 3-star Ashtan Pierre, 3-star DeAndre Square
  • Departures: Courtney Love, Eli Brown (transfer)

The best recruiting job Mark Stoops did this offseason was getting linebackers Josh Allen, Denzil Ware and Jordan Jones to return for their senior seasons. Stoops said he didn’t see it as recruiting, but rather getting them the best information to make an informed decision.

“I really thought some guys made some mature decisions,” Stoops said. “I talked to them about who in the world wouldn’t want to go and make money and play in the NFL or the NBA, any other sport? Who wouldn’t want to do that? But they have to make sure they get the accurate information on when to go.”

Of the three, Allen’s NFL draft stock would’ve been the highest. He led Kentucky with 9.5 tackles for loss and 7 sacks last season.

RELATED: Birth of son made Josh Allen’s decision to return for senior season

Allen projects to be one of the top outside linebackers in the SEC. The 6-foot-5 senior was listed at 230 pounds last season and is now listed at 252. He’ll line up alongside two teammates he’s been around a while: fellow outside linebacker Ware and inside linebacker Jones.

Jones was fifth on the team with 64 tackles despite missing four games with a shoulder injury. He led the team with 109 tackles in 2016.

Ware, a fellow “Blitz Brother” to Allen, had 47 tackles, 9 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks last season. Ware and Allen will have a new position coach this season for the third consecutive year. Former Indianapolis Colts assistant Brad White was hired as outside linebackers coach. Dean Hood coached the position last season, but he’ll move to the secondary with Steve Clinkscale.

Kentucky is set to return 10 starters from defense last year with Courtney Love as the only absence. Love was Kentucky’s second leading tackler in his senior season, and the leader of the defense. He won the Wuerrfel Trophy, the top community service award in college football. Junior Kash Daniel is the favorite to fill Love’s place at middle linebacker. 

Replacing Love’s leadership will be a bigger concern in the linebackers room. Jones’ unpredictable nature got him in trouble several times last season — from the opening game at Southern Miss when he spat in the direction of fans to the Louisville game when he drove Lamar Jackson to the ground in a fight and was later called for back-to-back personal fouls.

There will be questions for Ware as well. He was suspended for Kentucky’s Music City Bowl game against Northwestern for a violation of team rules. Stoops said on National Signing Day that Ware is “participating in everything at this point in time.”

Player to watch

Josh Paschal had 17 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss in his freshman season. He looked physically advanced for a freshman, and Paschal is now listed at 270 pounds on the updated roster. It’ll be interesting to see how the staff moves him around to find him consistent snaps.

He could develop into one of Kentucky’s top defensive players.

Behind the starters

Several redshirt freshmen, and maybe even a first-year freshman or two, could see time at linebacker this season.

Outside linebackers Jordan Wright and Alex King were two freshmen the staff talked up at the end of last season. Expect both of them to add depth this season.

But who does Kentucky turn to for depth at the two inside positions? It’ll be a competition, but for now lets assume Daniel starts at middle linebacker. Redshirt freshman Jamin Davis might be in line to back him up, or maybe first-year freshman Chris Oats could find an immediate role.

Kentucky’s depth took its biggest hit when Eli Brown announced he would transfer. Brown started four games last season when Jones was injured and he would’ve been the obvious choice to again back Jones up. Brown then would’ve been in line for a starting job as a senior.

Stoops, Hood and White will have to sort it all out, but Jamar “Boogie” Watson is a versatile player who can play inside or outside. His role might be in flux all season.

Projecting the position group

Strongside linebacker

1. Josh Allen (Sr.)

2. Jordan Wright (R-Fr.) OR Alex King (R-Fr.)

Outside linebacker/defensive end

1. Denzil Ware (Sr.)

2. Josh Paschal (Soph.)

Middle linebacker

1. Kash Daniel (Jr.)

2. Jamin Davis (R-Fr.)

Weakside linebacker

1. Jordan Jones (Sr.)

2. Jamar “Boogie” Watson (Soph.)

More in our Kentucky position preview series: 

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