Here’s how UK’s defense will look to fill gaps with worthy replacements


Kentucky Wildcats linebacker Kash Daniel (56) reaching for a tackle. University of Kentucky football defeated Middle Tennessee State University 34-23 at Kroger Field on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018 in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Mohammad Ahmad

Out with the old, in with the new.

That could be the 2019 Kentucky football defense’s mantra. With nine defenders leaving a defense that finished second in the SEC in total defense last season, some big shoes need to be filled.

Defensive end Josh Allen’s departure hit the team the hardest. He received multiple accolades after anchoring the Cats’ defense last season before being drafted seventh overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars this past April.

“You can’t replace Josh (Allen),” UK defensive coordinator Brad White said during media day. “Everybody knows that. Everybody knows Josh was a special talent, one of those generational-type players. What we have to do now is find the next one. It’s finding the next guy that’s going to elevate his game.”

Perhaps one of White’s biggest challenges in his first year as defensive coordinator might be molding Allen’s replacement. He did, however, hint his confidence in several rising linebackers and rushers on the depth chart.

“When you have T.J. Carter, Calvin Taylor, you bring in a Looney, a Phil Hoskins, I mean, we should be able to have some success interiorly,” White said. “Then when I look out there and see guys like Kash (Daniel) and (DeAndre) Square and (Chris) Oats and Jamin (Davis), inside linebackers that can blitz, cause all kinds of issues.”

Both seniors, the 6-foot-9-inch, 310-pound, Taylor and the 6-foot-4-inch, 289-pound Carter provide an imposing presence on the front line. Outside linebacker Jamar “Boogie” Watson, who had five sacks last season, provides another piece of veteran talent who can help replace Allen’s presence.

Josh Paschal’s return and the possible addition of Florida State transfer Xavier Peters deepens the outside linebacking corps. Inexperienced yet potential-filled freshmen edge rushers J.J Weaver, Jared Casey, KD McDaniel and Shawn’Kel Knight-Goff will look to complement White’s 3-4 defense.

Senior linebacker Kash Daniel will help fill those major gaps left behind. Entering his final season, Daniel was a major contributor to UK’s defense last year, finishing the season with 84 tackles, half of them solo and 7.5 of them for a loss. Expect to see first-year inside linebacker’s coach Jon Sumrall working strongly with team-captain Daniel on leading the inside rush 

“When you take out a guy like Josh (Allen) out of the equation, you’re gonna say, ‘How do you have the same kind of defense?’” Daniel said. “What Coach White is doing is taking our defense and making tweaks to it to where we’re not relying on an outside linebacker rush. It’s like an offense running the three same plays from a different formation.”

While the defensive front is an exclamation point, the defensive backfield is a question mark. Losing five defensive backs may have been hard enough for head coach Mark Stoops but losing safety Davonte Robinson to season-ending surgery may have been an even harder pill to swallow.

“We feel for Davonte most because I know the amount of work that he’s put in to put himself in a position to be one of the guys. He’s so versatile,” Stoops said on media day. “He also was a great cover guy. The other thing, he was one of our best tacklers… It’s going to be missed.”

Stoops said veteran safety Jordan Griffin will play a key role in filling the void left by Robinson and has been named the starting strong safety against Toledo. Griffin played in 12 of 13 games last year, finishing with 13 tackles. Other supporting cast members like returner Tyrell Ajian, alongside freshmen like Moses Douglass, the speedy MJ Devonshire and Brandon Eichols could help tie the loose ends in the backfield.

Despite the inexperience of young stars looking to step up and make a difference for a rebooted defense, returning vets will look to maintain the Cats’ momentum from last year with hopes that they can win back-to-back bowl games. Those prospects leave Stoops excited.

“You learn so many things throughout the years,” Stoops said. “You try to use it to put your team in the best position to be successful. That’s what I think excites me and our staff and our players about this year, this opportunity with this team.”