The new NCAA rule that allows players to play in four games without losing the ability to redshirt a full season creates a lot of interesting scenarios, especially for Kentucky’s true freshmen.
While some of those have yet to be decided, there are quite a few true freshmen that Coach Mark Stoops said he anticipates making a bid for playing the entire season right away.
One that Stoops mentioned immediately is Chance Poore, the true freshman kicker, who has a bigger leg than first-string kicker Miles Butler.
“So should we need a game-winner, and possibly even to end a half, a long kick,” Stoops said of Poore, “we could use Chance at that point, and he could keep on working because he’s looked impressive during camp as well with all field goals and PATs.”
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Other names to keep an eye on include DeAndre Square, who especially impressed coaches during spring practices in place of an injured Jordan Jones at inside linebacker.
Square is competing with another true freshman, four-star linebacker Chris Oats at the backup spot for Jones, who led UK in tackles as a sophomore and was sixth last season despite missing four games with a shoulder injury. Both Oats and Square will play this season, Stoops said.
Another possibility on defense is Marquan McCall, who is listed behind Quinton Bohanna and senior Tymere Dubose at nose guard. “Marquan will be one of those guys that we just have ready,” Stoops said, noting that he was a game-to-game decision.
On offense, two wide receivers, Akeem Hayes and Allen Dailey, will play this season. Hayes, a 5-foot-8, 153-pound speedy slot receiver is listed on UK’s new depth chart behind sophomore Lynn Bowden.
“He’s a guy with tremendous quickness,” wide receivers coach Michael Smith said during camp. “He’s a guy who’s able to put his foot in the ground and go a different direction really quick. He’s very competitive for a small guy, which a lot of small guys are.
“They have that small-man complex, has a chip on his shoulder, wants to prove that he can play at this level. He’ll bring a change of pace. We’ve got some bigger slots. When he’s in there, when he gets the ball in his hands, he’s pretty dynamic.”
Dailey, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound true freshman, is listed as competing for a backup spot with sophomore Isaiah Epps behind Dorian Baker at the “X” wide-out.
Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said Dailey was probably “the furthest along” of the wide-outs in the middle of fall camp.
Two other players to keep an eye on “a couple guys that we’ll keep warm in that same boat are Keaton Upshaw and Brenden Bates.”
The true freshmen tight ends have impressed their coaches and teammates this preseason. “They are both guys that we’ll develop and keep up,” Stoops said.
“And there’s other guys as well. So we’ll see what happens with injuries and you know, week to week, it’s nice when we talk about managing to keep guys active and if we can get them in certain games, we will.”
One other true freshman on the first depth chart is Darian Kinnard, who is listed as the backup right tackle behind George Asafo-Adjei.
The 6-foot-5, 357-pound freshman had been playing some right guard in preseason, but he probably will slide out to tackle after the season-ending knee injury to Landon Young at left tackle.
“You go from feeling pretty darn good about nine, 10 guys (available on the offensive line) to just taking that one spot away and having to move some of the tackles around,” Stoops said. “And Darien was looking so great at guard and we’ll put him back at tackle.”
Several freshmen from last season that were redshirts a season ago dot the new depth chart and probably will see their first action soon. Those include left tackle Naasir Watkins, who is listed as a potential starter at left tackle with transfer E.J. Price.
Austin Dotson is listed as a right guard backup behind Bunchy Stallings now.
On defense, look for linebacker Jordan Wright, who is situated behind Jamar “Boogie” Watson at Josh Allen’s old linebacker spot after the senior moved over to the spot previously occupied by Denzil Ware, who opted to transfer after graduation.
Redshirt freshman Alex King is listed as the third option behind Allen and senior Kengera Daniel at that other outside linebacker spot.
At middle linebacker, Kash Daniel is slated to make his first start with redshirt freshman Jamin Davis behind him.
The secondary has a few redshirt freshmen including Michael Nesbitt, who is listed behind Derrick Baity at one cornerback spot. Tyrell Ajian and Yusuf Corker are penciled in as the third options at the safety spots.
Depending on the packages, they could see more time, though, with starting strong safety Mike Edwards also listed as the Cats’ starter at nickel back.