Despite the fact that all but one starter on Kentucky’s defense is returning, there still will be plenty of flipping and switching this spring.
In his first news conference after the start of spring football, UK Coach Mark Stoops outlined some of the possible moves Monday.
Josh Paschal, who was a breakout star at outside linebacker last season playing in all 13 games with 17 tackles, including 4.5 for loss, is moving to a spot on the interior defensive line.
When Kentucky plays its base 3-4 defense, it will slide Paschal in at defensive end, which would enable the Cats to have veteran outside linebackers Josh Allen and Denzil Ware on the field with Paschal.
“He’s a guy that’s hard not to play,” Stoops said. “He needs to be on the field playing for us. He’s definitely one of our best 11. Just because we have some depth at outside backer, you don’t want him sitting there on the sidelines next to me. You want him out there playing.”
Paschal actually went to Stoops to ask about making the shift, saying he thought UK would be better if he moved inside this upcoming season.
Stoops’ reply? “Well, then let’s get eatin’.”
The sophomore arrived on campus at around 270 pounds and had to be careful about what he ate to maintain the frame needed for an outside linebacker.
“He worked pretty hard to stay in the 260 range, you know, a couple biscuits and he’s at 270-something right now,” Stoops joked. “So he can help us and he gives us that athleticism.
“We have some solid guys but we haven’t had a difference-maker inside in some time and definitely feel like he has that kind of ability, so we’ll explore and work him inside this spring and see where it goes.”
That likely frees up Kentucky to move Boogie Watson to a more permanent spot at outside linebacker behind either Ware or Allen.
“We feel like he has some very good pass rush ability and is a very instinctual, very good outside backer,” Stoops said of Watson, who had seven tackles last year. “He could be a very good player wherever we settle in on him, and we decide to keep him outside because he is a very good pass rusher, as well.”
Inside linebacker had some movement, too, especially after the recent unexpected departure of Eli Brown, a former Warren East standout.
Brown’s exit leaves UK without an experienced backup behind weakside linebacker Jordan Jones, who is the only middle linebacker returning who has seen significant action.
Jamin Davis, who redshirted last season, will slide in behind Jones. Originally Davis was expected to compete with Kash Daniel for the open middle linebacker spot vacated by two-year starter Courtney Love.
Now it will be Daniel and redshirt freshman Alex King vying for minutes at middle linebacker. King moved over from an outside linebacker spot, Stoops confirmed.
“They will be interchangeable, but Alex is another guy, 6-3, 6-4, 230, 240 pounds, getting some size in there that we need,” Stoops said.
Player transported to hospital
There was a potentially significant injury on the first day of practice Monday morning for junior tight end Justin Rigg. Stoops called it a “precaution” that Rigg was transported to UK Hospital.
“Chris Westry and Justin collided, coming from opposite directions, very unfortunate,” Stoops said. “Looks like Chris will be just fine. Justin took a pretty good shot. We wanted to take him to the hospital.”
Rigg suffered a significant injury his freshman season when he lacerated a kidney in the second game. The junior tight end was having some difficulties after the hit Monday, so UK sent him to get checked out.
Jim Madaleno, UK’s director of sports medicine, said “everything checked out fine,” Stoops said. “Hopefully it seems like everything should check out just fine.”
News and notes
Three starters will sit out spring practice coming back from injuries, Stoops confirmed Monday.
Baker, a former starter who missed last season after breaking his ankle in August, is continuing to come back from his surgery. “It’s just not worth the risk at this point,” Stoops said of Baker, a senior with 88 career catches for 1,015 yards and six touchdowns. “He’s going to continue to rehab, get stronger and get better. He looks good.”
Baity, a three-year starting cornerback, suffered a shoulder injury. “He can do a lot of individual (workouts),” Stoops said. “He can move around and run and do plenty of rehab and get some looks, but the shoulder is just not quite ready to get any contact.”
Quarterback Walker Wood, who has had myriad injuries including two shoulder surgeries last year, is not at 100 percent, but was able to practice Monday. The former Lafayette standout will not be able to go every day, though.
▪ The spring media guide has new jersey numbers posted for the mid-year enrollees and a couple of number switches for returning players, most notably quarterback Danny Clark moving from No. 13 to No. 8. Outside linebacker Chris Whittaker will go from No. 94 to No. 97 and special teams regular David Bouvier will be No. 33 now.
As for the newcomers, quarterback Terry Wilson will wear No. 3 and cornerbacks Domonique Williams No. 30 and Stanley Garner No. 37. Linebacker Deandre Square will wear No. 43.
New punter Max Duffy is taking over the No. 93 of fellow Australian punter Matt Panton, whose eligibility is used up.
UK football spring practice
When: Monday through April 12 (Three practices per week)
Where: Joe Craft Football Training Center
Notable: All practices closed to public
Key dates: March 23, Pro Day; April 13, Blue-White Spring Game
Off dates: No practices during spring break March 10-19