Report Card: Linebackers hurt by lack of depth


Linebacker Josh Forrest (45) of the Kentucky Wildcats tackles running back Sony Michel during the first half of the game against the University of Georgia Bulldogs at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday, November 8, 2014 in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky trails Georgia 35-24. Photo by Michael Reaves

By Annie Dunbar

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UK’s linebackers showed flashes of promise throughout the 2014 season but were never able to hit a consistent stride in what turned into a learning experience for a core that will return all of its starters next season.

Entering the 2014 season, the linebackers had big shoes to fill after standout Avery Williamson finished his senior season and left for the NFL’s drafted enroute to the Tennessee Titans.

His absence was missedbut the play of junior linebacker Josh Forrest eased the fears of skeptics as he turned in an exceptional year with 110 tackles and was second on the team in tackles for loss with eight.

His partners in crime, juniors Ryan Flannigan and Khalid Henderson, both performed admirably and displayed potential that should come to the forefront next season when all three linebackers return as senior leaders.

Despite the evident progress the group made throughout the year, instances of inexperience crept into the games and the Cats, as a defensive whole, gave up 2,294 rushing yards on the season. Teams averaged 191 yards per game. With the majority of yards coming from poor gap control and weak fundamentals from the linebackers and defensive line.

UK struggled against SEC powerhouses LSU, Mississippi State and Georgia. who all exclled in the run game. Each ran for over 300 yards on the Cats, an embarrassing number against a defensive-minded head coach in Mark Stoops.

The linebackers though, despite some poor performances, showed flashes of promise throughout the season. UK’s best games of the year came when they held opponents to less than 100 yards on the ground, a testament to the play of the linebackers. Vanderbilt rushed for 54 yards, Ohio had 74 rushing yards and Louisiana-Monroe rushed for just 77 yards. The linebackers also performed well against in-state rival Louisville in the season finale, allowing only 83 rushing yards.

With a combination of upperclassmen and a talented group of underclassmen, the 2015-16 group will enter the season with another year of experience in defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot’s system. The combination of proven seniors and experienced underclassmen will add an element to a defense that will be lacking proven stars like Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith.

However, this season proved to be an inconsistent struggle for the linebackers. Lack of depth and poor fundamentals earns the group a C for this season, but look for next year to be the year in which this group truly breaks through.