By: Dustin Cordell
2017 Redshirts: Don’t forget about them
It is always nice to look ahead to the possibilities of the 2017 Kentucky football season, but it is easy to forget about the guys who redshirted last season. Kentucky had 15 players receive redshirts, which is a pretty big number for Kentucky to be able to pull off. In years past if an incoming player had enough ability, the coaching staff had no other choice but to play them immediately. However, UK has recruited well enough in recent years to be able to enjoy the luxury of giving guys an extra year to learn the system and get stronger.
Expect a decent amount of these redshirts to have impacts on the field next season and below you will see what to expect from each of the redshirts.
AJ Rose, running back
Benny Snell will lead the Cats at the running back position next season, but with the departure of Boom Williams to the NFL draft, they will need to replace the lightning he provided to Snell’s thunder. Rose is an explosive back whom the coaching staff raved about last season. He can offer plenty of the speed the Cats are losing and he will be greatly depended upon to replace what Boom brought to the team. I fully expect Rose to be the 2nd team running back.
Drake Jackson, center
When he arrived at UK, Drake was a highly-regarded recruit who saw his stock rise after dominating at several football camps. It was at those camps where he dominated 5-star recruits who had committed to schools such as Alabama, Ohio State and other powers. With Jon Toth anchoring the center position for the Wildcats last season, Drake was able to take a redshirt and work on learning the system, as well as get bigger and stronger, which should pay huge dividends for him going forward. You should fully expect Drake to get serious consideration for the starting center position, and he will be no worse than second string for the 2017 season.
Gunnar Hoak, quarterback
Hoak came into Kentucky with high expectations from the coaching staff, and was considered to be, potentially, the future starting quarterback.
Hoak has plenty of ability but the emergence of Stephen Johnson last season may have dampened those expectations a little. With the recruitment of fellow quarterbacks Walker Wood and Danny Clark, Hoak’s road to starting in the future just got much harder.
You should still expect Hoak to get some shot at the starting position, however unlikely that may be. Depending on the health of Drew Barker, expect Hoak to be 3rd string for the 2017 season.
Tobias Gilliam, defensive back
Gilliam is a talented defensive back who will, without a doubt, see some playing time as a redshirt freshman and I’d expect him to see the field plenty. He is capable of playing multiple positions in the backfield and he could see playing time at either nickel or safety.
The more likely scenario would be at nickel, where I predict him to be second-string on the depth chart, following the graduation of Marcus McWilson and Blake McClain. I expect Gilliam to have a fantastic career and he is a player to keep an eye on in the future.
Devonte Robinson, cornerback
In years past, Robinson would have a legitimate shot at starting at cornerback for the Wildcats. However, with Chris Westry and Derrick Baity having the starting spots on lockdown, expect Robinson to be second-string behind one or the other. Being the second team will mean Robinson gets some playing time; you can expect to see him on special teams as well.
Jaylin Bannerman, linebacker
Bannerman was a late arrival to campus because of a non-football injury, so he fell a little behind learning the defense, leading to his redshirt. Despite his late arrival, coaches raved about his aggressiveness, which is something the Cats can use more on defense.
Bannerman follows along the lines of what Kentucky has looked for in outside linebackers as he is a little undersized but makes up for it with his speed, which allows him to play sideline to sideline. Bannerman will not start next season but it’s fair to say he should see the field for anywhere between 10-15 plays a game, as well as be a key contributor on special teams.
Kordell Looney, defensive tackle
Looney is an individual who will have a chance to produce a good amount next season for the Cats. Looney received a great amount of praise from the Kentucky coaching staff during his redshirt season and they expect big things from him before his time as a Cat is over. It’s fair to say he could end up as a second-stringer on the depth chart this coming season.
Tate Leavitt, offensive tackle
Most people thought Leavitt was recruited to make an immediate impact as a starter on the offensive line last season. However, after he struggled in the spring and in the Blue-White game, he dropped on the depth chart and became a likely candidate for a redshirt. Leavitt will get a shot at a starting spot this coming spring, but expect to see him end as a reserve again when the season begins.
Justin Rigg, tight end
Rigg is a big target at the tight end spot and he will get some opportunities this season. He will have the get the chance to play behind CJ Conrad and Greg Hart. And remember this – any time anyone asks tight ends coach Vince Marrow about either Conrad or Hart, he inevitably brings up Rigg’s name. That should tell you something.
Zy’Aire Hughes, wide receiver
Hughes came to Kentucky a little overlooked but has the potential to be contribute in the future. However, expect him to only play sparingly this coming season.
Dakota Holtzclaw, wide receiver
Holtzclaw is a tall receiver who could be utilized on the deep ball or fade routes, where let the receiver go up and over the defender. He will remind you a lot of current UK receivers Blake Bone and Dorian Baker, who are taller guys the Cats have looked to in similar situations. However, like Bone, you should expect to only see him in specific situations, although he could play a key role on special teams, trying to block field goals.
Ja’Quize Cross, nose tackle/defensive tackle
Cross is a raw talent who has some upside, but you should expect him to see only limited action and provide depth. He will most likely be listed as the third-string nose tackle this season.
Luke Fortner, offensive guard
Fortner is a guy who has the ability to play multiple positions on the offensive line. He could play both guard or center for the Cats but you likely will see him slotted as a second- or third-stringer at one of the guard positions.
Jamar Watson, outside linebacker
Watson is another player with a lot of potential but at the same time has a long way to go in his development before he sees much time on the field. Possible third-stringer with limited playing time.
Roland Walder, inside linebacker
Playing behind Courtney Love and Kash Daniel, Walder will only see limited action this year. With Love graduating after the 2017 season, Walder could get more opportunities in the future, but will have a tough time getting on the field this year.