UK Football

As many as nine true freshmen could play for Kentucky football

With so many starters returning on offense and defense, there weren’t a ton of surprises on the Kentucky depth chart released on Monday.

Perhaps one of the more interesting question marks that remain is just how many true freshmen will see the field this season from a class that Coach Mark Stoops has been praising since their signing.

By the coach’s count, at least eight or nine freshmen have earned a chance to get in the mix with a veteran group.

“The nice thing about playing freshmen is because they jump out at you, not because you need them,” Stoops said as he previewed Kentucky’s game at Southern Miss on Saturday.

So who are those players most likely to play?

Stoops suggested that Clevan Thomas, listed as the No. 2 wide receiver behind Garrett Johnson at one of the slot spots, “might be the first one in.”

Others who likely will see the field — probably at Southern Miss — include defensive end Josh Paschal, defensive lineman Quinton Bohanna, defensive back Cedrick Dort, wide receivers Isaiah Epps, Lynn Bowden, Josh Ali and Stoops mentioned running back Bryant Koback and offensive tackle Naasir Watkins as maybes.

The other players listed at right tackle in front of Watkins include George Asafo-Adjei and Kyle Meadows, who started there last season and is listed as starter along with Landon Young at left tackle now.

“We’re not playing these guys just because they have to fill a hole,” he said of the numerous true freshmen mentioned. “That’s the difference. A guy like Josh Paschal is a guy that is a great example of that. And all players we tell them that: Make us not play you.

“If you jump out and produce then we have to play you. He’s a guy I think that fits that role.”

Pashcal was listed as the backup to junior outside linebacker Denzil Ware.

As for Koback, the running back has been coming back from leg surgery he had his senior season, and then he suffered a minor setback recently, Stoops said.

“What we have seen out of him and what we saw in the last scrimmage, was very encouraging,” the head coach said. “We’ll see where it goes and how the health issues hold up with the running backs. So the good thing is we know he’s going to be a very good player. So we’ll see if we need to use him or not, let him get back to full strength and go from there.”

Dort, a 5-foot-11 defensive back from Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., is a player who hasn’t been discussed much in preseason, but Stoops mentioned him among the likely true freshman players in 2017.

“He is consistent,” Stoops said of Dort, who had the lowest recruiting rating of any of UK’s defensive back signees in 2017. “He’s just out there, kind of quietly going about his business every day. … He’s earning the trust of us.”

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader

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