A Tale Of Two Groups
Hello everyone and welcome back to our final preview of the 2022 Kentucky Football team. Thanks to everyone who’s checked out the other previews. In case you missed them we started with Will Levis and the quarterbacks. Next, it was the really strong running backs. Following that we looked at wide receivers and tight ends. Lastly, we focused on the offensive and defensive lines. In our 2022 Kentucky linebackers and secondary preview, we’ll introduce you to arguably the most talented room on the team and another that has to replace several top players.
Strongest Unit On The Team?
Heading into the season the Cats are feeling good about the linebacker position. Both Jacquez Jones and DeAndre Square are back for another year under the NCAA’s COVID-19 waiver. Jones led the Cats with 82 tackles, after doing the same for Ole Miss the previous year. In addition, he had an interception, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.
Square finished second on the squad with 81 tackles to go along with 3.5 sacks and an interception. Of course, that pick was memorable as it cemented Kentucky’s school’s epic Citrus Bowl win. Between the two they’ve played in over 100 games and started nearly 70. Having these two backs makes new inside linebackers coach Mike Stoops’ job pretty fun.
In fact, Jones and Square were named to the Coaches All-SEC Preseason team.
Behind those two are a couple of guys who could start for many SEC schools. D’Eryk Jackson and Trevin Wallace. Jackson tore his Achilles last spring and was expected to miss the whole season. However, he returned for the last four games where he recorded 18 tackles and one interception.
Wallace was a highly touted late addition to the Cats’ 2021 recruiting class. He appeared in 12 games with one start. He recorded 32 tackles and two sacks. Of course, Cat fans remember he returned a blocked field goal 76 yards against Florida. That put UK out front as they knocked off Florida at home for the first time since 1986.
The Cats also have Luke Fulton and Martez Thrower who can play as well.
Good On The Outside As Well
Moving to the outside linebackers position Kentucky’s strong there too. Jordan Wright returns for his “Super Senior” season after appearing in nine games last year. Wright had 30 tackles and a sack and also ranked 15th in the SEC in passes defended.
J.J. Weaver was also slowed by injuries last season but should be fully healthy in 2022. His 10.5 tackles for a loss were second on the team to Josh Paschal. In addition, his six sacks led the squad, and also had 34 tackles and two interceptions. With both healthy defensive coordinator Brad White should be able to feature the 3-4 defense more this year.
Behind those two depths is a concern as their backups are both freshmen. Tyreese Fearby comes to Kentucky from Pennsylvania where is ranked as the 185th best player in the country. The other is Keaten Wade who ranked 197th in last year’s class. There’s a report Wright will miss the first game against Miami (Ohio) so one of these two has to step up.
Continuing our 2022 Kentucky linebackers and secondary preview let’s move to the defensive backfield.
Players Looking To Step Up
One of the biggest questions marks coming out of the spring was in the secondary. That was only enhanced when Vito Tisdale suffered a knee injury and will miss 2022. In addition, Yusef Corker, Quandre Mosely, and Cedric Dort, and their 127 tackles are gone from last year. However, there are several players waiting in the wings.
Super Senior Tyrell Ajian along with Carrington Valentine and Jalen Geiger look like three of the four starters. Ajian has appeared in 49 games starting 23. A season ago he finished sixth on the team with 46 tackles and had a 95-yard interception return against Tennessee-Chattanooga. Valentine was fourth with 61 tackles last year. In addition, the junior had a sack and a pass deflection. Geiger recorded 18 tackles and a pick-six against Vanderbilt.
Help Through The Portal
When you need help quickly at a position what’s the best way? Through the transfer portal of course. Kentucky brought in three players who they feel provide instant help. Keidron Smith comes to Lexington as a two-year starter at Ole Miss. During his time in Oxford Smith had 222 tackles, five forced fumbles, and five interceptions. Plus he’s reunited with his former teammate in Jones. He’s likely your fourth starter.
In addition to Smith Kentucky brought in Zion Childress from Texas State and Londyn Craft formerly of Mississippi State. During his two years in Texas, the sophomore made 135 tackles, an interception, five pass breakups, and four fumbles. In 2021 he ranked 17th in the Sun Belt with 74 stops and 10th in the league with 41 solo tackles. Craft had 57 tackles in 2020 but missed all of last year due to injury.
Returning Cats Andru Phillips, Maxwell Hairston, Jordan Lovett, Taj Dodson, and Alex Afari are all expected to play significant minutes this year.
For a special added bonus our 2022 Kentucky Linebackers and Secondary preview with a quick look at special teams.
Who Are Kentucky’s Specialists?
Matt Ruffolo returns for another year of eligibility under the COVID-19 waiver. He set a school record with 54 extra points in 2021 breaking the record of 51 made by Lones Seiber back in 2007. Ruffolo also added 10 field goals. Chance Poore handles kickoff duty and is the backup kicker.
They return both Wilson Berry and Colin Goodfellow at punter. Berry missed most of last season due to a back injury but did punt in two games averaging 37 yards. Goodfellow was second in the SEC with a 46-yard per punt average.
Handling the kickoff return duties will either be JuThan McClain, Kavosiey Smoke, or Barion Brown. Tayvion Robinson is the punt return guy. The Virginia Tech transfer led the ACC in every punt return category last year and took one to the house against Richmond.
Thanks for checking out our 2022 Kentucky linebackers and secondary preview with us here at Last Word On College Football. Next time out we’ll predict the Wildcats’ game-by-game record as they look for a seventh straight bowl bid.