Jen Smith on UK Football

A look at likely 2016 redshirt players, including several who already are helping Kentucky

cbertram@herald-leader.com

Even though A.J. Rose won’t see the field this season, the true freshman running back is doing his part to help Kentucky try to beat Louisville this weekend.

To try and simulate the hard running style of Heisman Trophy frontrunner Lamar Jackson in practice this week, Kentucky’s scout team will use Rose in place of Jackson.

“I don’t know if anybody can give you that kind of look,” UK Coach Mark Stoops said when asked about Rose’s ability to mimic Jackson, who leads the nation in rushing touchdowns with 19 and is eighth in the country in rushing yards with 1,367.

Rose is one of several Class of 2016 players that has been a standout on the scout team this season and Cats coaches are excited about seeing on the field next season.

Rose “is definitely one that we absolutely love,” Stoops said, also mentioning defensive back Davonte Robinson of Henry Clay and former Woodford County standout Drake Jackson, an offensive lineman, as “guys that probably could have played some this year.”

That 2016 class, ranked No. 29 by Rivals, features several big-name players that sat out this season and likely will help UK next season, including four-star players like Jackson and fellow offensive lineman Tate Leavitt.

Quarterback Gunnar Hoak, could have played this season, too, if something had happened to start Stephen Johnson. Stoops praised the freshman just a few weeks ago.

“We’re very impressed,” Stoops said of the three-star signal caller from Dublin, Ohio. “He’s getting better and better with every snap. He’s very poised. But I think it’s fair to say that always at that position you have to get them in a game and see how they function out there. He shows everything that you want in a quarterback.”

Others who sat out this season include, on the offensive side: running back Rose, quarterback Hoak; wide receivers Zy’Aire Hughes (a three-star from Paducah); 6-foot-7 Dakota Holtzclaw (a three-star from Worthington, Ohio); offensive linemen Jackson and Luke Fortner (a three-star from Sylvania, Ohio).

On the defensive side, there was Robinson along with fellow DB Tobias Gilliam (a three-star from Huber Heights, Ohio); linebackers Jamar Watson (a two-star player from Forestville, Md.) and Roland Walder (a three-star from Trotwood, Ohio); defensive tackles Ja’Quize Cross (a two-star from New Market, Ala.) and Kordell Looney (a three-star from Springfield, Ohio) as well as defensive end Jaylin Bannerman (a three-star from Pickerington, Ohio).

A lot of those players will benefit greatly from the extra practice time a bowl game guarantees, Stoops said.

Kentucky will treat the practices leading up to the bowl game as a second spring practice, which benefits the younger players especially.

“Fundamentally we would work hard on getting things corrected that we didn't do as well as we'd liked throughout this season and getting some younger guys a lot of reps, in particular the guys that have redshirted,” Stoops said. “So it's really important. I think just for the morale and for the reps, for the practice.”

2016 players likely to redshirt

DE Jaylin Bannerman

DT Ja’Quize Cross

DB Tobias Gilliam

OL Luke Fortner

QB Gunnar Hoak

WR Dakota Holtzclaw

WR Zy’Aire Hughes

OL Drake Jackson

OL Tate Leavitt

DT Kordell Looney

DB Davonte Robinson

RB Asim Rose

LB Roland Walder

LB Jamar Watson

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