Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

2024 Kentucky Spring Review: Secondary

2024 Kentucky Spring Review: Secondary

Another Strong Returning Group

Hello everyone and welcome back to our early position-by-position review of the Wildcats. Spring practice is over and coincidentally so are our looks at Mark Stoops’ 12th squad. Much like the defensive line, the secondary was hampered by injuries leading into the spring. In fact, it led to a total revamp of the spring game. Let’s get things rolling with our 2024 Kentucky Spring Review: Secondary with a look at the defensive backfield. In addition, we’ll look at the Wildcats’ special teams.

Who’s Gone From 2023?

Cornerback Andru Phillips surprised many when he declared for the NFL Draft. However, he wowed scouts at the combine and is projected as high as a second-round pick. Safety Jalen Geiger hit the transfer portal and is now playing for former UK assistant Jon Sumrall at Tulane. Another cornerback, Elijah Reed, entered the portal back in December but is yet to announce a new school.

That’s all the Cats who have left from the secondary. Which in this day and time is pretty amazing. As we continue our 2024 Kentucky Spring Review: Secondary let’s look at who’s back.

Very Talented Group

Let’s start with what defensive coordinator Brad White calls the “Sam” linebacker spot or what other schools call the nickelback. It is held down by junior Alex Afari Jr. The former four-star recruit recorded 49 tackles in 2023 with 5.5 for a loss. In addition, he had a sack and a fumble recovery.

Behind him, Tyreese Fearbry could see time at that position. Furthermore, a couple of incoming freshmen could push for playing time. Former Michigan commit Jaden Smith won’t be on campus until the summer but was a late big-time pickup. Jacob Smith, who we talked about at the edge position, could be in the mix.

Both starting cornerbacks return from 2023. Maxwell Hairston burst on the scene a year ago and led the SEC in interceptions with five including two for touchdowns. The Cats will need another strong season from him. The other cornerback spot is held down by Jantzen Dunn. A transfer from Ohio State Dunn finished 2023 strong and hopes for a big 2024.

Behind them, the combination of JQ Hardaway, Jordan Robinson, and Nassir Watkins will push for playing time.

Continuing on with our 2024 Kentucky Spring Review: Secondary let’s move to the safety position.

Lots of Returning Depth

Kentucky’s top four players return in 2024. Zion Childress and Jordan Lovett are the starters. Childress, a captain last year, was fourth on the team with 59 tackles. In addition, he had a sack and three passes defended. Lovett was second on the team with three interceptions to go along with 30 tackles and a fumble recovery.

Sophomore Ty Bryant and transfer Krisitan Story are the backups to Childress and Lovett. Bryant, who started three games as a freshman, recorded 40 tackles ranking him ninth on the squad. Story appeared in 13 contests last season for Alabama making 15 tackles and an interception.

Continuing on with our 2024 Kentucky Spring Review: Secondary let’s look at some incoming players pushing for playing time.

Help for the Future

We’ve talked a great deal about how Kentucky focused heavily on defense with their 2024 recruiting class. In addition to the Smith’s Jerod and Jaden, the Cats signed two others. Safety Cam Dooley is a four-star player from Alabama who is ranked as the 194th player in the class. South Carolina native Quaysheed Scott is the eighth-ranked player in the Palmetto State.

While all those players will help in the future UK is looking to add an experienced player now. Kentucky was set to host one of the top available cornerbacks in the portal this upcoming weekend. However, Greedy Vance committed to USC late Sunday night. The Cats will now look elsewhere for some depth. Vance would have been a great pickup for the Cats but he’s off the table. One thing to watch into the Summer is to see if they can land a top cornerback through the portal.

Let’s finish our look at the Kentucky football team with special teams.

Good, Great, and Not So Good

He didn’t get a lot of opportunities last year but when he did Alex Raynor made the most of them. The Georgia Southern transfer made 10 of 11 field goals and 48 or 49 extra points. His consistency was a huge boost to a kicking game that struggled in 2022. Raynor announced he was returning for one more year which is huge for the Cats.

The Wildcats must replace kickoff specialist Chance Poore. UK signed Jacob Kauwe from Montana who has experience as a kicker and punter could replace Poore. Speaking of punting that’s one aspect of the game that was pretty awful. Wilson Berry averaged only 39.7 yards per punt. Kauwe could challenge immediately for that role.

One spot the Cats are golden is the return position. Barion Brown set a school record last year with three kickoff returns for touchdowns. That led not only the SEC but the NCAA as well. In addition, his 36 yards per kick average topped the nation as well. He also averaged 17 yards on three punt returns.

Final Thoughts

While the Cats have plenty of returning players they need to take a step forward in 2024. Last year UK was one of the worst in the league on third-down efficiency. Basically, they have to do a better job of getting off the field. Look for UK to look at the transfer portal and getting Vance would be a huge plus if they could pull it off.

Thanks for checking out our 2024 Kentucky Spring Review: Secondary here at Last Word On College Football. Next time out we’ll look at the Wildcat players hoping to hear their name called in the upcoming NFL Draft.


2024 Kentucky Spring Review: Secondary
Photo courtesy:  Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports


More Posts

Send Us A Message