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2024 Kentucky Spring Preview: Linemen

2024 Kentucky Spring Preview: Linemen

Two Very Strong Groups

Welcome back to our series looking at the 2024 Kentucky Football team. In case you missed them we started off with the quarterbacks. That was followed by the running backs and finally the receivers and tight ends. This time out we’re looking at the big guys up front whose job it is to protect new quarterback Brock Vandagriff and opening the holes for Chip Trayanum. We begin our 2024 Kentucky Spring Preview: Linemen with a look at the offensive line. In addition, we’ll flip to the defense and the big guys up there.

Lots of Talent Returning

The Wildcats have a returning face coaching the offensive linemen in 2024. Zach Yenser was let go and his replacement came as quite a surprise to the Big Blue Nation. Eric Wolford, who held the position in 2021 until leaving for Alabama, returned to Lexington. When Kalen DeBoer was hired Wolford wasn’t retained.

Mark Stoops quickly swooped in and rehired his former assistant. The two say they worked things out, probably over some of the UK head man’s bourbon, and are ready for the season. As we mentioned earlier Wolford’s got a very good room.

Four of the five starters return from 2023 as only Jeremy Flax is gone. However, one key member isn’t participating in the spring. Former USC transfer Courtland Ford is out due to an undisclosed injury.

Fortunately, the Cats brought in help from the portal in the form of Gerald Mincey. The Tennessee transfer has played more than 1,000 snaps in his career at both left and right tackle.

On the other side, Marques Cox is back for a seventh season of football and holds down the left tackle spot. Austin Ramsey and Malachi Wood are two other tackles fighting for playing time.

Moving Further Inside

Heading over to the guard position either Dylan Ray or Jalen Farmer is likely your starting right guard. Ray, a transfer from West Virginia, came to Kentucky as a preferred walk-on. However, when Kenneth Horsey got injured in week one Ray stepped up playing eight games at right guard, one at left guard, and even time at tackle. Farmer is a transfer from Florida who’s been getting quite a few snaps with the first-team offense.

On the other side of the ball, Jager Burton has the nod at left guard. The Lexington native moved to center last year and struggled mightily. Unfortunately for the Big Blue Nation Burton also struggled when he moved back to his former spot. Farmer or Paul Rodriguez could garner some playing time as well.

Super Senior Eli Cox is the man under center. A season ago Cox moved back to center after the third game after playing every game there in 2022. Redshirt freshman Koby Keenum is the back up to Cox.

As we continue our 2024 Kentucky Spring Preview: Linemen let’s move to the defensive side of the ball.

A Very Strong Group

There’s no doubt the defensive line has the potential to be one of the best units on the 2024 team. However, they have to get healthy first. After this past Saturday’s practice, Stoops said he’s down eight defensive linemen who aren’t participating in spring practice. As a result, he’s having to alter Saturday’s spring game from actual tackling to what he’s calling “thudding.”

The defensive tackle group starts with Deone Walker. The 6-6 Detroit native burst onto the scene as a freshman with 40 tackles and a sack. He was even better last year making 55 tackles, 12.5 for a loss, and seven-and-a-half sacks. Walker’s likely a pre-season All-American and a big 2024 can put him in the mix as a first-round pick in next year’s draft. Another junior, Khalil Saunders did a great job when asked in 2023 recording 18 tackles and 1.5 sacks.

Moving to the nose guard position the Cats have two solid players in Josaih Hayes and Keeshawn Silver. Returning for his senior season Hayes played over 300 snaps last year recording 17 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Silver, a former five-star transfer from North Carolina, also had 17 stops. Those two will platoon at nose guard.

Finally, a couple of seniors are top the depth chart at defensive end. Octavious Oxendine had a strong end to 2023 with 2.5 sacks over the last six games including a big one in the Gator Bowl loss to Clemson. Tre’Vonn Rybka has logged more than 800 snaps in his UK career with more than 60 tackles.

Looking to the Future

Other players on the defensive front are Darrion Henry-Young, an Ohio State transfer who played well before suffering a knee injury. He won’t be able to play until the fall. Tavion Gadsen played in four games last year, keeping his redshirt. Likely he’s the heir apparent when Oxendine and Rybka graduate. Two other names to watch are redshirt freshmen Kendrick Gilbert and Tommy Zeismer.

It must be noted two of Kentucky’s top recruits for 2024 are already on campus and in the case of Brian Robinson are already turning heads. He’s listed as an edge rusher but with his size could end up at defensive end. The other is Jerod Smith, from just down the road in Corbin, Kentucky.

Final Thoughts

Under Wolford, Kentucky hopes the offensive line can return to 2021 form when they were a finalist for the Joe Moore Award. They have plenty of experience up front, they just need to put it together. If you remember the Wildcats struggled running the ball over the last five games.

Led by the possible All-American Walker the top six players from last year’s line all return. As we hear coaches say all the time games are won up front. Coach Anwar Stewart’s group is a big reason why the BBN expects a bounce-back year from the defense.

Thanks for checking out our 2024 Kentucky Spring Preview: Linemen here at Last Word On College Football. Next time we’ll look at the linebackers.


2024 Kentucky Spring Preview: Linemen
Photo courtesy: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports



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