First it was Cole Mosier, Kentucky’s senior left offensive tackle, a returning starter, who was lost for the season after tearing his ACL in training camp. Then it was Dorian Baker, senior wide receiver, who dislocated his ankle during a fall scrimmage, shelving him for most if not all of the 2017 campaign.
Then Thursday, Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops announced that inside linebacker Jordan Jones, a pre-season All-SEC choice and arguably the team’s best player on defense, won’t play Saturday at South Carolina because of a shoulder injury.
Not the news you want to hear for a team heading into its SEC opener in a hostile environment against a home team that is already 2-0 with wins over a pair of Power 5 schools in North Carolina State and Missouri. And the win over Missouri came on the road.
So how much will Jones absence hurt for the 7:30 p.m. kickoff on the SEC Network?
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It doesn’t help, of course. An Energizer Bunny of a linebacker, Jones is in many ways the emotional leader of the defense. His maturity has been questioned -- Jones did not play the first quarter of last Saturday’s 27-16 win over Eastern Kentucky after video surfaced showing him interacting with and allegedly spitting toward Southern Miss fans during the season opener in Hattiesburg -- but not his talent. The junior from Youngstown was a pre-season all-conference choice by the league coaches.
His replacement Saturday will be Eli Brown, a sophomore from Bowling Green, who made his first career start last week. A 6-foot-2, 215-pounder, Brown redshirted as a freshman in an effort to bulk up and played in 12 games a year ago. Though talented, he’s been limited by his size.
His playing time against EKU was limited after committing a personal foul on an EKU punt -- Brown was called for an illegal leap at the line -- that kept a Colonels’ scoring drive alive. Stoops admitted Thursday that he would have liked to have seen Brown get more snaps.
Behind Brown is Jamar “Boogie” Watson, a 6-3, 240-pound redshirt freshman from Forrestville, Md., who was moved from outside linebacker to inside backer near the start of fall camp. The coaches believe Watson has made the transition well, but he’s a player with limited experience at the spot.
Maybe more worrisome is Stoops’ description of Jones’ status being week-to-week and that it would be “a stretch” to think that the linebacker would be ready when Florida comes to Kroger Field on Sept. 23.
The other worry is that this will be one of those seasons in which injuries are contagious. Often, for whatever reason, they hit a team in waves. Ask former Rich Brooks, who saw one of his early Kentucky teams decimated by injuries. Given that Brooks was dealing with scholarship limitations from an NCAA probation, the Cats lacked the depth to deal with such losses.
Stoops is in a better spot. In this fifth season, he has recruited and developed well enough to have capable players to fill in for Mosier, Baker and now Jones. The problem is the replacements lack the experience and, in Jones’ case, the skill level.
Before the Jones announcement, Kentucky faced a tall task in Columbia against a South Carolina team that is already a 6.5-point favorite. The task just got tougher.
KENTUCKY AT SOUTH CAROLINA
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia
TV: SEC Network with Tom Hart, Jordan Rodgers and Cole Cubelic
Radio: UK Network with Tom Leach, Jeff Piecoro and Dick Gabriel