John Clay

Five Kentucky football players to watch this fall

Kentucky safety Mike Edwards intercepts a pass and returns it for a touchdown in the second half of UK’s win over Charlotte on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015 at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington.
Kentucky safety Mike Edwards intercepts a pass and returns it for a touchdown in the second half of UK’s win over Charlotte on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015 at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington. Lexington Herald-Leader

We might not be just around the corner, but the train is surely approaching that curve in the summer stretch leading to the start of another Kentucky football season.

As we count down the days, here are five Cats, in no particular order, I’m eager to see what they can do when fall camp starts:

Jordan Jones: The 6-foot-2, 220-pound sophomore linebacker earned plaudits in the spring for being annoying. That’s right, annoying. The Youngstown, Ohio, native was so full of no-batteries-required energy he couldn’t help digging under some skin, but in a good way. Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot spoke of how Jones kept everyone on their toes with his enthusiasm and effort. You could tell Eliot loves the guy.

Rated a four-star prospect coming out of high school, Jones has some straight-up football talent, something the Cats could use at a position sorely short on game experience heading into 2016. Long-range goal: Opponents find Jones even more annoying.

Landon Young: Generally speaking, it’s a tough ask for a first-year offensive lineman to survive and thrive in the take-no-prisoners SEC. After all, despite fall practice raves about his superior strength, “Big George” Asafo-Adjei struggled in his rookie campaign at tackle last season, not all that surprisingly.

Young could be the exception to the rule, however. The 6-7, 305-pound former Lafayette star was rated as the No. 12 prospect in the nation by 247Sports. Young gives off a laid-back country boy vibe, but he showed he could be ready right here, right now at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, when he was named top offensive lineman. His fall camp progress could give hints just how many snaps he can handle this season.

Eli Brown: Listed at just 6-2, 215 on the UK depth chart, the main reason Brown was held out of action last season was so he could add both weight and muscle. He has plenty of the other components to play linebacker at this level.

A four-star recruit out of Warren East High School, Brown reportedly can fly to the football. ESPN ranked him as the nation’s 15th-best outside backer, and he was chosen for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. Danny Trevathan wasn’t the biggest backer when he arrived on campus — generously listed at 230 as a freshman — but he had an incredible nose for the football. After helping Denver win the Super Bowl, Trevathan signed a four-year deal with Chicago. UK hopes Brown follows a similar career path.

Drew Barker: A no-brainer on the show-me list, Barker got to show a little of what he could do last season, when he replaced Patrick Towles as the starting quarterback for the final two games. That was a small sample size, however, under less-than-ideal circumstances.

Now, Barker is “the guy” as in “the guy” who will lead new coordinator Eddie Gran’s reboot. A top-of-the-list recruit when the Conner High star picked the Cats, the 6-3, 225-pound sophomore has a swashbuckling bent. He’s not afraid to squeeze balls into tight windows or swing for the fences. Of course, there are times to be aggressive and times to be patient. His learning curve will be interesting to watch.

Mike Edwards: On the Blue-White postgame show in April, head coach Mark Stoops said the defensive back from Cincinnati might be the best player on the whole team. Not in the secondary. Not on the defense. The entire football team.

That wasn’t the first time Stoops has bragged on the 6-foot, 200-pound safety, but to this point we haven’t seen a whole lot of the rising sophomore. A late arrival forced him to redshirt in 2014. He played in all 12 games last season, but he didn’t start until the final five. Edwards then suffered a scary accident during spring drills that kept him out of the Blue-White game. He figures to be a major piece of Stoops’ defensive puzzle in 2016, part of a secondary the Cats expect to be a team strength.

A previous edition of this story said Eli Brown played at Bowling Green High School. He played at Warren East High School in Bowling Green.

Kentucky football 2016 schedule

Date

Opponent

Sept. 3

SOUTHERN MISS

Sept. 10

at Florida

Sept. 17

NEW MEXICO STATE

Sept. 24

SOUTH CAROLINA

Oct. 1

at Alabama

Oct. 8

VANDERBILT

Oct. 22

MISSISSIPPI STATE

Oct. 29

at Missouri

Nov. 5

GEORGIA

Nov. 12

at Tennessee

Nov. 19

AUSTIN PEAY

Nov. 26

at Louisville

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