2014 Kentucky Preview: What You Need To Know
Kentucky DE Za'Darius Smith
Kentucky DE Za'Darius Smith
Posted Jul 13, 2014

Preview 2014 - What You Need To Know About Kentucky

2014 Kentucky Preview

What You Need To Know...

- 2014 Kentucky Preview  
What You Need To Know About The Offense: Can the Wildcats score? Offensive coordinator Neal Brown has veterans to play around with, and he gets four starters back up front, but he needs steadier quarterback play, more first downs, and points, points, points for a team that managed just 20.5 per game and scored more than 17 just three times over the final ten games. The backfield should be terrific if it gets a little bit of support with the combination of Jojo Kemp and Nebraska transfer Braylon Heard just a few of the options. The receiving corps needs to hope for a few more weapons to emerge around Javess Blue, who came up with a good first year from the JUCO ranks, but none of it matters unless a quarterback emerges – most likely Patrick Towles - who can keep the offense moving.

What You Need To Know About The Defense: Experience has to translate into production with eight starters back from a D that couldn’t overcome a mediocre offense and couldn’t get off the field, allowing teams to convert 48% of its third down chances. The pass rush should be solid with Alvin Dupree and Za’Darius Smith on the ends, but the interior has to come up with a few new options and hoping for JUCO transfer C.J. Johnson to be a factor right away. The secondary only came up with three picks on the year, but there’s enough speed, athleticism and experience to be far better if Dupree and Smith are doing their job up front. The linebacking corps needs a new star with Avery Williamson gone, but the group can move.

Players You Need To Know

1. DE Alvin "Bud" Dupree, Sr.
The goal going into last season was for the line to get into the backfield more, and Dupree did his part, continuing to get to the quarterback, following up a 91 tackle, 6.5 sack, 12.5 tackle-for-loss 2012 with 61 stops – finishing second on the team – with seven sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss. At 6-4 and 252 pounds he’s a hybrid pass rusher and playmaker on the outside, using his great first step and athleticism to be one of the few defenders teams have to prepare for. Originally a tight end, he was moved early on, and now he’s a veteran end who should put up even bigger numbers in an all-star season.

2. OT Darrian Miller, Sr.
While he’s not massive at 6-5 and 284 pounds, he can move, and he knows what he’s doing. One of the team’s most consistent blockers, he’s the star on a veteran line that gets back four starters after starting each of the last 24 games. Originally a big blocking tight end in jumbo packages, he was a nice recruit with excellent athleticism. Now he has to be a stronger pass protector for a line that gave up 37 sacks, but he’s very strong, very experienced, and good enough to be the anchor up front.

3. DE Za'Darius Smith, Sr.
The Wildcats hoped to get an instant jolt for the pass rush to help out Bud Dupree, and they got it from the JUCO ranks with Smith coming in and finishing tied for third on the team with 59 tackles with six sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss and a team-leading six quarterback hurries. At 6-6 and 254 pounds, he has excellent size, great range, and outstanding quickness off the snap. The former East Mississippi CC star was a phenomenal get for the program, and the potential is there to do far more. A basketball player, he didn’t start playing football until late in his high school career, but he could now be one of the SEC’s best defenders.

4. S Blake McClain, Soph.
After coming to the program as a corner, he became a nickelback and was one of the team’s steadiest players and best defenders despite stepping in from Day One as a true freshman. He tied for third on the team with 59 tackles with a sack and five broken up passes, and while he didn’t pick off any passes, the interceptions should come now that he knows what he’s doing and now that he has a year of experience. At 5-11 and 190 pounds, he has decent size, is technically sound, and has 4.5 speed – he’s one of the team’s rising stars.

5. S Eric Dixon, Sr.
A versatile defender, he can play anywhere in the secondary, but turned into a key safety last season making 55 tackles as a decent last line of defense for the running game. However, he didn’t pick off any passes and didn’t do nearly enough to make things happen when the ball was in the air. Very physical and excellent against the run, he’s willing to do everything and will bust his tail to make a play. With his time in the system, and with his athleticism and ability to get to the ball, the broken up passes should come – they need to.

6. QB Patrick Towles, Soph.
While he’ll have to beat out a few other options, the 6-5, 236-pound sophomore should have the inside line on the starting job with the size, the arm, and the skills to be the one the offense builds around for the next few years. The former Kentucky Mr. Football and Parade All-American led his high school team to three straight state titles. A true pro-style bomber, he has the right look and the gun for an arm, but he struggled early on in 2012 when given a chance hitting just 19-of-40 passes for 223 yards with a touchdown and a pick. As good as he was out of high school, he still needed some seasoning, and he got it when he redshirted last year and worked on his mechanics. The hope was to not play him as a freshman, but he got forced into the mix when the options started to dwindle. Now he’s more seasoned and he should be ready, but he still has to prove that he’s the main man over a few other talented options.

7. RB Jojo Kemp, Soph.
The new coaching staff last year needed more firepower on offense, and they hoped they got it in Kemp, a 5-10, 190-pound speedster with great hands as a receiver and excellent pop. The Florida native ran for 23 touchdowns in his senior year of high school, and stepped in right away rushing for a team-leading 482 yards and three scores, and catching nine passes for 56 yards – he can do far, far more for the passing game. Used as part of a rotation, he came up with a few big dashes here and there, but he wasn’t able to tear off too many game-changing plays. He’ll once again be a part of a rotation, but there will be times when he gets to carry the load.

8. WR Javess Blue, Sr.
The 6-0, 190-pounder came in as a star JUCO transfer and paid off right away with a team-leading 43 catches for 586 yards and four scores. He only came up with one huge performance, catching six passes for 114 yards against Miami University, but he was a steady go-to target good for a few catches a game. If he gets steadier quarterback play, he could explode with the 4.4 speed and the hands to put up massive numbers.

9. RB Braylon Heard, Jr.
Now he’s ready. The 5-11, 198-pound transfer from Nebraska sat out last season after running for 348 yards and three scores as a reserve for the Huskers in 2012. Fresh and ready to go, he was a phenomenal recruit for the Big Red and a great newcomer for UK, bringing his decent size and track star speed to the offense that needs as many good options as possible. A potential game-changer, he has the burst to do something big from anywhere on the field – he’s explosive.

10. OG Zach West, Jr.
While Darrian Miller is the star of the veteran UK line, West isn’t too far behind as a veteran left guard next to Miller. While he struggles with quick interior pass rushers, and he’s not huge at only 6-4 and 308 pounds, he’s a good, tough blocker with the smarts and experience to be even steadier. Like Miller, West was a top recruit and a local product who’s one of the team’s building blocks.

- 2014 Kentucky Preview