Head coach Mark Stoops’ defense got a boost when it found out senior safety Mike Edwards and senior linebacker Josh Allen (6’5, 230) would forgo the NFL Draft and return for another season in Lexington. The defense should be in solid hands behind the two stalwarts. On offense, junior running back Benny Snell, Jr. (5’11, 223) was productive, finishing the 2017 campaign with 1,333 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns. The key for the Wildcats will be who is under center. Sophomores Gunnar Hoak (6’4, 206) and Terry Wilson (6’3, 205) will battle it out in camp to decide the starter. No matter who wins, Stoops will look for ball security. The Wildcats enjoyed a bowl- eligible season behind Stephen Johnson, who completed 60 percent of his passes and threw just seven interceptions. If Kentucky can get the same type of smart quarterback play in 2018, look for them to compete in the SEC East.
Troy’s player to watch
7 Mike Edwards 6’0 201 S-Senior
Edwards has led SEC defensive backs in tackles for consecutive seasons. The senior safety likes to crowd the line of scrimmage and is a force in run support. He also has a knack for picking off opposing quarterbacks. Last season, Edwards had four interceptions. Look for the Cincinnati native to continue to fine tune his craft this season and make the jump to the NFL in the spring.
Game of the season
September 8th at Florida
Kentucky went toe-to-toe with Florida last season before ultimately falling 28-27. This year, the Wildcats will have to travel to Gainesville during the second week of the season. Stoops’ team could establish themselves as a legitimate power in the SEC East if they can secure a statement win against the Gators.
DraftNasty’s Prospect Watch
8 Derrick Baity 6’3 186 CB-Senior
Although Baity has been beaten down the field on occasion (see Hall, Missouri ’17), he exhibits good feet in off-man for a taller cornerback. In addition, he contains the necessary short memory to continue to battle after giving up plays. While capable of reading the action instinctively to tackle on plays in front of him, there is some body-block tackling in his game. The Wildcats have three pro prospects at the cornerback position (Chris Westry, Lonnie Johnson) entering 2018 and Baity is arguably the most fluid of the trio. For him to carve out early-round consideration, he has to clean up the occasional concentration lapses that show up week-to-week.
According to DraftNasty’s Troy Jefferson, Kentucky will fall to Florida and Tennessee on the road and Mississippi State, Georgia and South Carolina at home. The Wildcats will still win enough games to qualify for a third consecutive bowl game.
The Florida Gators poached new head coach, Dan Mullen, from conference foe, Mississippi State, during the offseason. The Gators hope Mullen, who amassed a 69-46 overall record and 33-39 conference record, can bring a level of consistently to Gainesville. Mullen previously served as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coached during Florida’s heyday between 2005-2008. The Gators head coach will have to choose between three underclassmen to take the command at quarterback. Sophomores Feleipe Franks (6’5, 227) and Kyle Trask (6’5, 239) will battle freshman Emory Jones (6’2, 192) for the starting role. Whoever is under center, will have junior wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland (6’2, 205)to depend on. Cleveland finished last season with 410 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Cleveland should be able to stretch defenses with the deep ball. Defensively, the Gators project to be further ahead of the curve than the offense. The Gators have playmakers at each level on defense. Senior defensive end Cece Jefferson (6’1, 242) has totaled 28.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks over his three years in Gainesville. Jefferson, pictured left, plays with strong leverage and can set the edge. In the middle, junior inside linebacker David Reese leads the defensive huddle and junior defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (6’0, 207) patrols the back end, playing on the outside and in the nickel. Gardner-Johnson has five career interceptions. The Gators aren’t expected to contend for a national championship like they were during Mullen’s first stint at Florida, but defensively look for marked improvement.
Troy’s player to watch
33 David Reese 6’1 248 LB- Junior
After missing the entire 2017 offseason recovering from wrist surgery, Reese came back with a vengeance, leading the Gators in tackles with 102 and finishing second on the team with 10 tackles for loss. The junior linebacker also totaled 1.5 sacks and an interception. The Farmington, Michigan native will be tasked with leading the defense from his middle linebacker position. Reese, a solid tackler, is as dependable as they come in the middle of a defense.
Game of the season
September 29th against Mississippi State
Head coach Dan Mullen will return to Starkville to face his former team during the fifth week of the season. The Bulldogs finished 9-4 last season in Mullen’s ninth and final season as Mississippi State’s head coach. The storylines will be plentiful and the two teams should be evenly matched. The Gators are looking to get back to a bowl game and beating a conference foe will be crucial.
Draftnasty’s Troy Jefferson is predicting a 7-5 record and a bowl game appearance for the Florida Gators. Mullen’s crew will fall to some of the upper echeloncompetition in the SEC including LSU, Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina. The Gators will also fall to in-state rival Florida State but will win enough games to inspire confidence in the new head coach.
Former Missouri wide receiver J’Mon Moore sat down with DraftNasty to talk about bouncing back, route running and what makes him such a dangerous receiver after the catch. The 6-foot-3, 207-pound Moore averaged 15.7 yards per reception with 21 touchdowns during his career. He eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in each of his last two seasons on campus.
DN: Your straight-stem (as a route runner) and not having a lot of wasted movement is very important. What have you worked on to improve that?
Moore: Just one of the things that I always work on when I think about route running is trying to play as low as possible. Because I know I’m a tall, long guy. I think about the best way to get to my depth without giving away anything and then kind of switching it up at the top of the route.
DN: When you catch the football, you run angry after the catch. Who did you kind of grow up and pattern that after?
Moore: Growing up, I played a little bit of running back. I played in the streets of Houston and we used to do sideline-kill. Once you get in that grass, I didn’t like getting tackled. I used to just run mad. Usually when I get the ball, I kind of run with a type of aggression because I don’t like to be tackled. So, I kinda think that aggression just came from me growing up. It started at a young age.
DN: Back-to-back seasons with 1,000 yards. You played with a quarterback (Drew Lock) who set an SEC record for touchdown passes. You were the No. 1 receiver but Emanuel Hall this year also showcased his speed. Former triple jump guy. Who’s the fastest out of you and Emanuel Hall?
Moore: I give it to E-Man (Hall). E-Man’s a track guy. Let him have that one.
DN: But it seems like you’re a 4.4-guy?
Moore: Yes sir, I’ve got some speed to. But Emanuel is elite speed. That’s him. He’s got that straight-line speed. I got the straight-line speed but I got that lateral too, side-to-side. I can get a little shifty. I’ve got some good body control.
DN: Absolutely. Who was the toughest corner you’d say you went against?
Moore: Toughest corner. I want to give a shot out to that Florida corner. He’s young, can’t remember his name (CJ Henderson). He’s going to be good. The best corner that I saw…um, I like Lammons.
DN: South Carolina (Chris Lammons).
Moore: I like him. He was a pretty good cat. He did his thing. That was kind of one of my bad games, but I liked his style.
DN: If you were to say that there was a game that the scouts come up and say, ‘This is a game that I want you to watch’, and maybe if they ask you why, what game would that be?
Moore: Game that I want somebody to watch. Uh, I wanna say…Florida was a good game. But, I’ll tell them to turn on the Arkansas game, even though I had a lot of drops that game. That was the game I had the most drops. Even though I dropped the ball like that, I was still able to be focused. I didn’t let those drops get to me. I just moved forward from them, I stayed in the game.
DN: And you’re referring to that back-shoulder catch at the end of the game.
Moore: Yes sir. I was just able to put those drops to the side and not let them build on me and mess up my whole flow of the game. So, I think I did good with the adversity during the Arkansas game.
DN: What’s your best route? The deep stops on the outside, you do those pretty well.
Moore: I’m like a double-move guy. Really, I like any double move. I like slant, sluggo (slant-and-go), I like post-corners, corner-posts, whatever. I like double moves. I like those kind of routes.
DN: Well, you’re going to get an opportunity this week man (Senior Bowl). Want to wish you the best.