Coaches call it “the Boogie wiggle.”
It’s the versatility and the explosiveness that Kentucky’s coaches see in outside linebacker Jamar “Boogie” Watson.
On Saturday, the 6-foot-3, 234-pound sophomore will be one of just two players who will be starting their first games on a veteran defense. Watson replaces longtime starter Denzil Ware, who opted to transfer after he graduated in May, after he had a big season that included 47 tackles, including nine for loss and 6.5 sacks.
The “Boogie wiggle” also could be about how much wiggle room his skill set gives the Cats’ coaches.
In reality, Watson will replace not Ware, but fellow outside linebacker Josh Allen, who moves over to the spot once held by Ware at the so-called “Jack” linebacker position.
Coaches think the move will help UK in a multitude of ways, allowing Allen to get closer to the line of scrimmage, with fewer obstacles between the senior and the quarterback he’s salivating to sack.
“You know what’s in front of you, there’s not a lot of running around you have to do,” Allen explained of his new position. “All my plays happen in a small box. I like that. I like that.”
It gives him a chance to swiftly get into opponent backfields like he did much of last season when he amassed 65 tackles, including a team-best 9.5 for loss and seven sacks from his former “Sam” linebacker spot.
Allen is quite familiar with the new position already, shifting over to it a lot last year whenever UK would shift to a package with an extra defensive back.
The senior, a potential first-round NFL Draft pick in several 2019 mock drafts, likes what he sees across the field in Watson.
“Boog knows what he has to do,” Allen said. “He’s prepared. I’m in his ear all the time telling him I’m going to get more sacks than him. So he has that in the back of his mind.”
For Watson, he not only has old film to study of Allen from a season ago playing that position successfully, but also Allen to go to for advice.
“He’s been very helpful for me,” Watson said. “He got a lot of sacks last year and kind of put his name on the map, so I’m going to try and imitate that.”
Watson has plenty of confidence, a requirement at that position, which requires a player to not only rush the passer and be stout in run defense, but also drop in coverage when necessary.
“Like a closing pitcher, you have to walk in and know you can throw strikeouts,” new outside linebackers coach Brad White said describing Watson’s swagger.
“Boogie’s athletic enough and he’s savvy enough to handle what a DB has to do, but big enough to where we can bring him and he can tackle tight ends. He adds an element there that we’re excited about.”
The sophomore from Forestville, Md., wiggled from position to position last season when UK needed it on defense. Watson started at his current “Sam” spot, but then had to move to inside linebacker when injuries stacked up.
Watson made a key tackle on a big fourth down at South Carolina last season, playing out of his natural position.
“At that point, we were trying to use his talents and help us win games,” defensive coordinator Matt House said. “With (Allen’s) body transition and with Boogie, Boogie’s got wiggle and short-area quickness, and just kind of fit what we want to do.”
Spending an entire spring and summer learning the nuances of that position has been huge for Watson, who had seven tackles and two sacks last year.
“People don’t realize it’s hard to bounce in and out of positions,” White said. “It’s hard enough to bounce back and forth between our field outside backer and our boundary outside backer let alone from inside backer to outside.
“Now he can settle in and figure out the nuances of that one position. It allows him to play fast.”
Watson plays with “very good instincts,” Coach Mark Stoops said, noting that if the sophomore doesn’t have to stop and think about what position he’s playing and what he has to do next, he’ll be even more impressive.
“He’s explosive, a good rusher,” Stoops added. “Also good on his feet. He’s really good at that spot.”
A basketball star at Bishop McNamara for most of his life, Watson didn’t play football until his junior year of high school.
By the time he was a senior, he was impressive, compiling 59 tackles, including five sacks and two interceptions, one he returned 68 yards for a touchdown.
Kentucky’s defense is going to need that kind of jump from Watson this season. Allen thinks it’s going to happen.
“He’s pushing me to get better. I’m pushing him to get better. I’m teaching him new moves and he’s teaching me new moves. We’re just trying to get each other better so we can be the best duo in the country.”
Central Michigan at Kentucky
When: 3:30 p.m.