Boogie Watson scouts Kentucky’s offense, explains how defense can improve
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Scouting the Cats
University of Kentucky football beat writer Josh Moore and columnist Mark Story are examining the 2019 Wildcats position by position through a series of nine stories leading up to the start of their season on Aug. 31 against Toledo. Click below to read previous installments in the series.
Some guys say they don’t take to heart whatever negative thoughts or feelings might be shared from pundits when they’re asked about the University of Kentucky’s on-the-field outlook this season.
Jamar “Boogie” Watson isn’t one of those guys.
“I’ve got a lot of those articles saved to my phone and I read ’em,” Watson said. “A couple of them I’ve got saved as screenshots.”
UK doesn’t lack for outspoken player advocates when it comes perceived disrespect of the program; Kash Daniel’s the most forward with his disapproval, but they’re scattered among every position group.
Based solely on his social media presence, you wouldn’t know how much the dismissal of Kentucky football makes Watson boil. He barely tweets — he’s only made about 40 original posts since the calendar year started — and when he does, it’s usually something aspirational, inspirational or self-reflective.
Occasionally he’ll mix in some post-workout photos. One such tweet in June was only two characters long — a zipped-mouth emoji and an hourglass — with a photo of Watson, staring at a barbell, in a cutoff shirt that read in all caps: “NO TALK ALL S.H.O.W.”
Kentucky has some great talkers. Watson prefers they take the mic.
“I see the noise and I see all the doubt, but I’m a quiet guy,” Watson said. “I’m not gonna be outspoken about it. I’m just gonna put my head down and work.”
Watson started seven games last season. He is UK’s returning leader in sacks (five, all unassisted) and among returning linebackers in the SEC ranks third in that category (behind Tennessee’s Darrell Taylor and Alabama’s Anfernee Jennings). Those two this season are redshirt seniors; Watson’s entering his junior campaign.
It will be a crucial one for the Maryland native as the Wildcats look to replicate the production that Josh Allen took with him to the NFL. Watson’s the most veteran player among their outside linebackers. Alex King and Jordan Wright both saw time as redshirt freshmen last season while Josh Paschal, who has been shuffled back to that group this fall, is still working himself back into game shape after a year-long treatment of cancer.
Watson understands the task in front of he and his teammates.
“Josh, he did a lot, so it’s kind of hard to replace his production. He had a career year, an unbelievable year, it’s hard to replace that. But as a competitor and as a teammate to Josh, I’ve talked to him about chasing his records and chasing everything he’s done. As a competitor, I want to have a season like that, but I’m just gonna go in and do my job and do the best I can.”
A quartet of true freshmen at outside linebacker — Jared Casey, Shawn’Kel Knight-Goff, K.D. McDaniel and J.J. Weaver — have all the physical tools to make an impact early, Watson said.
They’re also making him feel a little gray.
“Damn, they’re like my little brothers that I never had,’” Watson said with a laugh. “They’re all so young, 17, 18 years old. I feel like just yesterday I was coming in here as a freshman. I just try to help them the best I can. I know it can kind of be a lot thrown on them in camp, it can be a grind.”
Kentucky’s defense can be “just as good,” but in different ways than it was last year, Watson said. There will be growing pains as his group and a bevy of newcomers to the secondary try to catch up to the experience present through the middle of the defense, but he’s confident whatever errors they make through camp will be remedied swiftly.
Watson’s got a healthy attitude when it comes to mistakes. In a quote-tweet in response to a question posed by singer-songwriter Queen Naija Bulls — “what’s life without mistakes ?” (sic) — he wrote a single word.
Leading men: He’s already a star, but Kash Daniel’s a senior and ready to play like one as the guy among Kentucky’s inside linebackers. The Paintsville native is UK’s returning leader in tackles (84) and spearheads an inside unit that boasts three other returning lettermen in Jamin Davis (Daniel’s immediate backup), Chris Oats and DeAndre Square. The latter two, both sophomores, will play the weakside (Square projects to start). Jamar “Boogie” Watson played in 12 games last year, starting seven, and will get to build on a strong sophomore year; the 6-3, 242-pound product of Forestville, Md., last season had 24 tackles and five sacks, the latter stat second only to Josh Allen (17) in 2018.
Supporting cast: The starting job at “Jack” linebacker — where Allen flourished — could go to Josh Paschal, who has returned to the unit after a brief move to the defensive line, or Jordan Wright, who played in nine games last season as a redshirt freshman, or Xavier Peters, whose eligibility as a transfer is up in the air. Wright (6-5, 242) figures to be in better shape than Paschal (6-3, 284) due to Paschal’s treatment for cancer over the last year, but both will be essential as UK looks to reignite its defense; Peters, if available, will provide an immediate boost. Returning sophomore Alex King along with several true freshmen — Louisvillians Jared Casey (6-2, 224) and J.J. Weaver (6-5, 234) among them — bolster the ranks.
Outlook: So much talk surrounding the linebackers has been about the loss of Allen that it’s easy to forget that he wasn’t the only guy playing behind the defensive line in 2018. Replacing the production of a top-10 NFL draftee of course will be difficult, but there’s more experience here than in the secondary, and enough promising talent to make one believe these guys can still bring the heat in 2019; it might not be as hot as last year, but fire’s still fire.
Scouting the Cats
This is the third of nine stories looking at the 2019 Kentucky football team position by position.