Kentucky's youngest players will continue to make a big impact this season with at least four true freshmen listed in starting spots and several more in prime positions.
The Cats' first depth chart since the end of spring practice has tight end C.J. Conrad, right tackle George Asafo-Adjei and cornerback Chris Westry all listed as starters in UK's season opener on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium.
True freshman running back Sihiem King also will see significant playing time. He's listed in the top spot at kick returner.
"Sihiem has done a nice job," Coach Mark Stoops said on Monday to preview Louisiana-Lafayette. "He's been very explosive in camp; he's made big plays. He's protected the football.
"He's proven to be a playmaker, so we want to give him the opportunity and get the ball in his hands and see if he can make some plays."
Other true freshmen listed on the UK depth chart include Kengera Daniel at No. 2 on the depth chart at the defensive end/linebacker hybrid spot behind redshirt freshman Denzil Ware.
Josh Allen is the No. 2 strongside linebacker behind Jabari Johnson, with Eli Brown listed behind seniors Ryan Flannigan and Khalid Henderson at weakside linebacker.
Derrick Baity is still the second string corner behind senior Cody Quinn, but he's made a significant push for playing time.
There's still a chance that UK could be looking at two true freshmen starting on the outside at some point this season in Baity and Westry, but Quinn, who has 24 career starts and 87 tackles (with zero interceptions), has made a strong push to keep his spot, Stoops said.
The head coach already had hinted that the other corner spot belonged to Westry, a 6-foot-4 freshman who picked UK over schools like Auburn, Florida, South Florida and others.
It's not unprecedented for Stoops to play a true freshman at corner, with him recalling playing Antoine Cason at Arizona.
"All he did was start every game for four years and win the Thorpe (Award) and become a first-round draft pick," Stoops said. "So that was nice."
Another true freshmen likely to see playing time this season is linebacker Jordan Jones, who has missed time while battling an undisclosed illness.
Playing so many first-year players is hardly new for Stoops and staff. In last season's opener versus Tennessee Martin, Stoops played nine true freshmen, 10 redshirt freshmen and five transfers.
By the end of last season, true freshmen that had played included running backs Mikel Horton and Stanley "Boom" Williams, wide receivers Blake Bone, Dorian Baker, Garrett Johnson, T.V. Williams and Charles Walker. On defense, Stoops played cornerback Kendall Randolph and defensive tackle Matt Elam.
"In this day and age we will always need some of that depth," Stoops said when asked about wanting to redshirt more players from each class, noting that even perennial powers play freshmen.
"We'll always play some, and if guys come in and they can help you and they're talented players, we expect to play them because the more games we win the more talented players we're gonna get, and so you expect those guys to come in and help you."
In 2013, Stoops' first season at Kentucky, UK played eight true freshmen in wide outs Ryan Timmons, Jeff Badet and Alexander Montgomery as well as running back Jojo Kemp. On defense, the true freshman that saw action that season included Jason Hatcher, Blake McClain, Marcus McWilson and Jaleel Hytchye.
Two true freshmen that Stoops said he wouldn't mind redshirting this season are wide receivers Tavin Richardson and Jabari Greenwood.
They will be held out until UK sees what happens in the first couple weeks of the season.
"They're both doing some very good things, but as you can tell, there are some good players ahead of them," Stoops said. "If we stay healthy, then we'll protect them if we can. If we need them to win football games, then we'll play them."
Flannigan a question mark
Weakside linebacker Ryan Flannigan is still a question mark both on the depth chart and practice field, Stoops said.
The 6-foot-2, 225-pound senior injured his right shoulder during practice two weeks. He is listed as an "OR" on the depth chart with fellow senior Khalid Henderson.
"He's getting better," Stoops said. "I think he's very close. If he could practice Tuesday or Wednesday, he'll play. If he can't practice by Wednesday, then he probably won't play."
Stoops also was asked if fullback Jacob Hyde was in the doghouse (not on the depth chart) for being the one who inadvertently injured Flannigan in practice.
"No. No," Stoops said. "We had a good feeling there was going to be a good collision on that play, too, and our linebacker's been out ever since. So that's poor coaching. Actually, that goes on Coach (Shannon) Dawson. We told him to get (Hyde) out of there on that play."
Two suspended for opener
Kentucky will be without two veteran linemen when it plays the Ragin' Cajuns on Saturday, with right tackle Kyle Meadows and defensive tackle C.J. Johnson both suspended for an unspecified violation of team rules.
The loss of Johnson, who had 10 tackles, including four for loss, 2.5 quarterback sacks and three hurries, leaves UK with little experience behind Regie Meant. Redshirt freshman Adrian Middleton is next up on the depth chart.
Meadows was thought to have been battling for a starting spot at right tackle with Asafo-Adjei.