Many starters return to headline 2017 roster

Kentucky Wildcats defensive backs Chris Westry and Mike Edwards dance during the open practice at the Joe Craft Football Training Facility on Saturday, August 5, 2017 in Lexington, KY. Photo by Addison Coffey | Staff

As UK football attempts to build off last season’s achievements, they’ll need all departments of the team to contribute if they hope to accomplish their goals.

The Cats return 17 starters and 46 letter-winners from last season’s team that finished 7-6. All starting lineups are highlighted by talented players that could be difference-makers for the Cats throughout the season.


Junior quarterback Stephen Johnson will likely lead the Cats’ offense under head coach Mark Stoops and offensive coordinator Eddie Gran.

Johnson got his first start at Kentucky in week three of last season after sophomore quarterback Drew Barker went down with a back injury following an interception. Johnson went 5-3 as a starter, and led the Cats to their first bowl appearance in over half a decade, as well as defeating Louisville with a 338-yard and three-touchdown stat-line.

However, Barker is healthy now, himself and Johnson having been battling in training camp to win the starting quarterback job. Either quarterback would be a good starting option for the Cats.

A quarterback’s passing game is nothing without a strong offensive line and an effective run game. UK’s starting offensive line is loaded with veteran players, all of which have at least one or two years of experience and know how to play alongside each other.

As for the run game, star sophomore running back Benny Snell will be the lead rusher in the backfield after an impressive freshman season in which he rushed for 1,091 yards and a show-stopping 13 touchdowns.

UK also has depth at the wide receiver position, which will obviously benefit the quarterback that wins the starting job. The Cats return six letter-winning wide receivers from last season, led by 1,000-yard career receivers Garrett Johnson and Dorian Baker.

C.J. Conrad will lead the tight ends after accumulating 411 yards and five touchdowns on 34 receptions last season.

These offensive weapons should allow whichever quarterback the freedom to play his own style freely, setting up for a potentially successful season.


The Cats’ defense returns nine starters from last season, led by their returning leading-tackler, Jordan Jones. In his sophomore season, Jones racked up 109 tackles, 15.5 of which were for a loss. After making the All-SEC 2nd team as a sophomore there are high expectations for Jones going into his junior season.

Joining Jones at linebacker is senior Courtney love. Last year Love finished with almost 80 tackles, and is expected to make another great impact for Matt House’s defense.

Arguably the strong point on UK’s defense is the secondary, led by Mike Edwards.

Edwards was the second leading tackler on the team with 100 tackles and three interceptions, which was tied for most on the team. Alongside Edwards are defensive backs Chris Westry and Derrick Baity. Westry led the pair with 43 tackles and one interception last year, and throwing toward him this season will be no easy task.

Putting pressure on the quarterback is the most important job of a defense. One of the keys to that scheme for UK is Denzil Ware.

Finishing the season with the fourth most tackles on the season with 70 and 5.5 sacks, Ware is a crucial player for the team in terms of getting defensive stops.

Along with Ware getting to the quarterback, he will be joined by Josh Allen, who led the team with seven sacks last season, which was also 12th in the SEC.

With expectations to make another bowl game, the defense will be heavily relied upon.

Special Teams

Usually undervalued, the special teams came up big for the Cats last season with two game-winning field goals, including the one that upset Louisville last season.

Austin MacGinnis delivered those kicks, which were just two of his 16 made field goals last season off 19 attempts. MacGinnis returns for his senior season as the No. 2 scorer on UK’s all-time scoring list, 48 points behind former kicker Lones Seiber.

As for kick and punt returns, the Cats have a plethora of guys who could put six points on the scoreboard in a flash. Expect Charles Walker, Sihiem King and electric freshman Lynn Bowden to all return kicks and punts this year.