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2023 Kentucky Position Previews: Linebackers

A Group With Tons Of Experience

It’s hard to believe but the 2023 football season is upon us. For Mark Stoops and the Kentucky Wildcats, they’re looking to improve on last year’s 7-6 mark. To get you ready for the opener against Ball State we’re taking you position by position through this year’s squad. Last time out it was the offensive and defensive lines. Today we’re looking at one of the strongest groups on the team. Let’s begin the 2023 Kentucky Position Previews: Linebackers with the guys on the inside.

Big Shoes to Fill

Kentucky lost both starters from 2o22. Jacquez Jones and DeAndre Square were multiple-year starters. Square finished second on the team with 58 tackles and second in sacks with two-and-a-half. Even while suffering through an injury-plagued year Jones made 37 tackles with a sack and interception. Those two missing significant times in 2022 allowed extensive playing time for some younger guys. Stoops hopes this means big things in 2023.

D’Eryk Jackson and Trevin Wallace are slotted as starters at inside linebacker. Jackson, a Georgia native, led Kentucky in tackles last season with 67, including four for loss. Wallace, another Georgia native, finished fifth on the team with 54 stops. Furthermore, he was second on the team in sacks (two-and-a-half) and interceptions (two). He starts the year on the Butkus Award list for the nation’s best linebacker. At times both players have shown All-SEC caliber type play. However, they must be more consistent in 2023.

Continuing with our 2023 Kentucky Position Previews: Linebackers we move to the outside where a key return was huge for Brad White’s group.

“Edge” Of A Breakout Season

With one return the Kentucky defense went from being really good to potentially top-tier in the SEC. Even though J.J. Weaver went through “Senior Day” activities last year he decided on one more year in Lexington. Playing at the edge rusher/outside linebacker spot the Louisville native led the team in sacks with three. In addition, he also led the team with three fumble recoveries and made 47 tackles, despite missing two games due to injury.

Weaver’s return makes the loss of Jordan Wright a little less severe. Wright tied for second on the team with 62 tackles, nine for loss, and two interceptions. Weaver starts 2023 on the watch list for the Chuck Bednarik Award for the nation’s top defensive player. You may remember Josh Allen took home the trophy in 2018. The biggest thing for Weaver is staying healthy as he missed time every season.

As you’ve seen Kentucky’s in good shape with its starters at linebacker. However, who backs them up is a big question mark. As we wrap up our 2023 Kentucky Position Previews: Linebackers let’s look at the guys who’ll be needed at some point.

Pushing For Playing Time

Behind Jackson and Wallace, the other two inside linebackers with SEC experience are Luke Fulton and Martez Thrower. Thrower appeared in all 13 games mainly on special teams making five tackles. Fulton, a former Michigan State transfer, played in six games all on special teams.

Incoming four-star linebacker Jayvant Brown flipped from Michigan State to Kentucky on signing day and could also push for some playing time. UK also added Daveren Rayner through the transfer portal. In three years at Northern Illinois Rayner made 118 tackles, two interceptions, and two blocked kicks.

Over at the edge/outside linebacker position Kentucky signed three really good players in the 2022 class. Keaten Wade, brother of backup quarterback Destin Wade, played in all 13 games recording 16 tackles and one-and-a-half sacks. Tyreese Fearby played three games making one tackle while Noah Matthews didn’t see any game action.

Another incoming player looking for immediate playing time is Grant Godfrey. The four-star player from Georgia is the third-highest-ranked player in Kentucky’s 2023 class. Godfrey recorded 69 tackles in 2022 including 11 for a loss. In addition, he had seven sacks, a forced fumble, and an interception.

Final Thoughts

Kentucky’s defense ranked 12th in the nation and second in the SEC to Georgia allowing 311 yards a game. Not too many schools can lose three top linebackers and probably not miss a beat in 2023. The team’s starters are All-SEC quality, however, it’s a matter of getting the guys behind them ready. Thanks for checking out our 2023 Kentucky Position Previews: Linebackers here at Last Word On College Football

Photo Credit: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

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