Kentucky Football Breakdown- Linebackers and Secondary

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KNOXVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 12: Kentucky Wildcats center Jervontius Stallings (65) and Kentucky Wildcats offensive tackle Kyle Meadows (73) hold off Tennessee Volunteers linebacker Colton Jumper (53) and Tennessee Volunteers linebacker Kenny Bynum (51) during a game between the Kentucky Wildcats and Tennessee Volunteers on November 12, 2016, at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, TN. (Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Kentucky Football Breakdown- Linebackers and Secondary

We are less than two weeks from the start of the season on September 2nd, and time for the last in the series of previews on the Wildcats. Today the focus is Kentucky Football Breakdown- Linebackers and Secondary. These are arguably the two strongest positions on the team. In addition we will also take a look at the special teams.

Two All-SEC Players

The Wildcats have a one-two punch at the linebacker positions as good as anyone in the SEC. Inside linebacker Jordan Jones is the leading returning tackler in the conference with 109. His 15.5 tackles for loss were the most for the Wildcats since Danny Trevathan in 2010. In addition, Jones had four quarterback sacks. He is a first team All-SEC Preseason selection.

At middle linebacker is former Nebraska transfer Courtney Love. In his first season under inside linebackers’ coach and now defensive coordinator Matt House, Love made 79 tackles and a sack.

Mark Stoops has a new outside linebackers coach in former Eastern Kentucky head man Dean Hood, who also coaches the special teams. Hood has an outstanding group to work with. Josh Allen gets the nod at one outside linebacker position while Denzil Ware is the starter at the hybrid position of linebacker/defensive end. That spot, first played by Bud Dupree, who is now a star with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ware was named to the All-SEC Preseason Second Team. Ware finished 2016 with 70 tackles, 12 for loss and five and a half sacks. Allen is the team’s best at getting to the quarterback with seven sacks last season.

It seems as if every one of these previews there has been talk of incoming freshmen and for good reason. The 2017 recruiting class is one of Stoops’ best with players who can make an immediate impact. That is certainly true at linebacker as Josh Paschal has by all accounts “wowed” the coaching staff. The four star-player out of Maryland was one of five featured back during National Signing Day.

The Best Safety in the SEC?

While Kentucky boasts one of the best linebacker corps in the SEC, the secondary is just as good headed by Mike Edwards. The strong safety had over 100 tackles and three interceptions, giving Kentucky the only teams with two players over 100 tackles. After playing strong safety in 2016 defensive backs coach Steve Clinkscale is talking of moving Edwards to nickel back  for 2017. The Cats have many players who can play different positions including Darius West and Kendall Randolph which gives them that flexibility.

What makes Edwards one of the SEC’s best, take a look.

Much like safety, the Cats have two of the best cornerbacks in the league in Derrick Baity and Chris Westry. Baity’s sophomore season was a breakthrough campaign in which he made 42 tackles and three interceptions. Westry struggled last season after being named an All-SEC freshman in 2015. However, Clinkscale is expecting a return to form this season from Westry.

Two other members of the secondary expected to contribute in 2017 are Lonnie Johnson and Jordan Griffin. Out of Gary, Indiana, Johnson ranks as the second best safety in the junior college rankings. Griffin played in eight games as a freshman.

Mr. Clutch

Also as part of this Kentucky Football Breakdown- Linebackers and Secondary, we are going to look at the special teams. The Wildcats have one of the best kickers in the SEC in senior Austin Macginnis. After struggling during his sophomore season with a leg injury, MacGinnis was a model of consistency in 2016. Making 44 of 45 extra points and 16 of 19 field goals, his 92 points were the most by a Wildcat kicker since 2007.

In addition to his consistency, Macginnis became something of a legend after his last-second field goals beat Mississippi State and Louisville. When the game is on the line, Stoops knows he has a guy who can make the clutch kicks.

As good as the kicking has been, the punting has been a different story. True freshman Grant McKinniss averaged only 39 yards per punt, twelfth in the SEC. Kentucky brought in some competition for the fall in Columbia graduate transfer Matt Panton. The Australian-style punter averaged 40.5 yards per punt and landed 17 inside the 20-yard line. No matter who gets the job, the Cats can’t keep losing the line of scrimmage battle due to poor punting.

Getting The Best Athlete On The Field

Last season, punting and kickoff return duty was handled by Jeff Badet and Sihiem King. With Badet transferring to Oklahoma and King getting reps at running back, Stoops has a plan in place. Enter Lynn Bowden, the Cats highest rated recruit into the mix. Due to spending the summer completing academic work, Bowden only began practicing with the team a couple of weeks ago. What better way to use his speed and versatility than returning kicks while he is still learning the offense.

Thanks for checking out this Kentucky Football Breakdown- Linebackers and Secondary here at Last Word On College Football. Next time out, it is 2017 predictions. After making their first bowl since 2010 can the Cats make it two in a row?

Main Photo

KNOXVILLE, TN – NOVEMBER 12: Kentucky Wildcats center Jervontius Stallings (65) and Kentucky Wildcats offensive tackle Kyle Meadows (73) hold off Tennessee Volunteers linebacker Colton Jumper (53) and Tennessee Volunteers linebacker Kenny Bynum (51) during a game between the Kentucky Wildcats and Tennessee Volunteers on November 12, 2016, at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, TN. (Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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