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Building A Viable Football Program: Part Four

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Looking at the roster make-up for next season, as well as speculating on the size of the 2015 signing class.

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Mark Stoops will sign his third class this February. In addition, the players who will be seniors will have been in his program for three off-seasons once August rolls around. The upcoming senior class may have signed with the Joker Phillips regime, but they will be Mark Stoops players by the fall. With the end of this season, it's time to say that Stoops has flipped the roster both by injecting new players via recruiting, and also by developing the upcoming senior class. It'll take two plus years, but this program is now completely owned by Mark Stoops.

The Current Two-Deeps

Let's start with the defense. The bolded names are those graduating:

Corner Safety Outside Linebacker Inside Linebacker Defensive Tackle Nose Tackle Defensive End Inside Linebacker Outside Linebacker Safety Nickel back Corner
Fred Tiller (Jr.) AJ Stamps (Jr.) Bud Dupree (Sr.) Josh Forrest (Jr.) Mike Douglas (Sr.) Melvin Lewis (RS Jr.) Za'Darius Smith (Sr.) Ryan Flannigan (Jr.) Jason Hatcher (So.) Marcus McWilson (So.) Blake McClain (So.) Cody Quinn (Jr.)
JD Harmon (So.) Glenn Faulkner (Jr.) TraVaughn Paschal (Sr.) ??????? Corey Johnson (Jr.)/Regie Meant (RS Fr.) Matt Elam (Fr.) Farrington Huguenin (Jr.) Khalid Henderson (Jr.) Jabari Johnson (Jr.) Ashely Lowery (Sr.) Kendall Randolph (Fr.) Nate Willis (Sr.)

UK graduates six players from the defensive two-deep. A study of the roster immediately raises a few flags. First, UK is short on outside linebackers with both Paschal and Dupree graduating. Perhaps Hatcher and Johnson will start on opposite ends next season, as Johnson's play towards the end of the season was a pleasant surprise.

In any case, there's no depth behind them until one gets to this year's freshmen class who were redshirting. Denzil Ware and Kolbie Walker may one day be truly great, but it's a vulnerability to have inexperienced redshirt freshmen as your primary back-ups. For this reason, I suspect UK will look to sign a JUCO outside linebacker in this signing class.

UK returns its three inside linebackers, but will again rely on redshirt freshmen like Nico Firios and Dorian Hendrix to provide critical depth. If senior-to-be Daron Blaylock has a great offseason, he will get a shot at playing time with the position's depth, perhaps on the outside as well. UK may also look for a transfer to fill its needs at the position (but they may not even be eligible this season due to transfer rules). UK has to get more linebacker bodies for the 2015 season, but especially for the 2016 season.

It'll be interesting to see what UK does with the defensive end position. Huguenin will return and he has improved through the years. Yet again, behind him are inexperienced freshmen Tymere Dubose and Lloyd Tubman (pending his legal situation). This is another position that a transfer or JUCO makes sense. I could see a player like Adrian Middleton moving to the position in the spring, but again, he's only going to be a redshirt freshman.

The secondary looks to be in the best shape of all. There are several multi-year starters who will be challenged, and made better, by arguably the best prospects Stoops has signed in the underclassmen ranks.

And now the offense. Seniors again in bold:

Receiver Receiver Tight End Tackle Guard Center Guard Tackle Quarterback Running Back Receiver
Demarco Robinson (Sr.) Joey Herrick (Jr.) Steve Borden (Sr.) Darrian Miller (Sr.) Ramsey Meyers (RS Fr.) Jon Toth (So.) Zach West (Jr.) Jordan Swindle (Jr.) Patrick Towles (RS So.) Braylon Heard (Jr.) Javess Blue (Sr.)
Blake Bone (Fr.) Ryan Timmons (So.) Ronnie Shields (Sr.) Kyle Meadows (RS Fr.) Nick Haynes (RS Fr.) Zach Meyers (So.) Cole Mosier (Fr.) ??????? Reese Phillips (RS Fr.) Stanley Williams (Fr.) Dorian Baker (Fr.)

Projecting the offense involves even more guess work than the defense with a new offensive coordinator coming in. He may prioritize more two back sets, or go five wide more often. For now, we'll just operate under the assumption that the scheme won't be much different from this past season.

The offensive line returns quite a bit of experience on the interior. What's troublesome is the lack of depth at the tackle positions. After Swindle and Meadows there is no returning experience, and UK will again rely on freshmen who redshirted this year like Josh Krok and Nick Richardson. Jon Toth originally signed at UK to play offensive tackle, so he may see some reps at tackle this spring if Zach Meyers is ready to take the reins at center. Redshirting freshman Jervontius Stallings is another candidate for the center position if Toth moves, but again, he's still going to be very green.

The running back corps returns everyone, and may even add five star talent in Damien Harris. I don't think there's much to add here. The same goes for the quarterback position. All four return and the starting position probably gets opened back up for competition this off-season.

Tight end position graduates its two seniors, leaving the only scholarship tight end to be redshirting freshman Darryl Long. Incoming freshman CJ Conrad will have a great career, but both he and Long will likely struggle at times given their inexperience - most likely with blocking. This is another position where I wouldn't be surprised if UK nabs a JUCO signee if they can get a good one.

The receiving corps loses two of its most productive receivers in Robinson and Blue, but returns 11 scholarship receivers. This until will have a good blend of experience with two seniors, one junior, two redshirt sophomores, and the rest true sophomores or redshirt freshmen.

Incoming Freshmen?

It's hard to say at the moment which incoming freshmen will make an impact on the two-deep next season. When you look at UK's signing class last year, a case can be made that Stanley Williams, Matt Elam, Blake Bone, Garrett Johnson, and maybe Dorian Baker and Mikel Horton had to play this year to varying degrees. Next season, though, there will be less need, and the bar will be even higher to avoid a redshirt. Tight end seems like the one position that early playing time is almost assured. I don't expect a true freshman to win a starting offensive tackle or linebacker position over the other guys who have been in the program.

Attrition

We all know the drill by this point. Attrition happens every off-season at various points between the end of the fall semester and during the summer months (the latter almost always for disciplinary reasons). It's not fair to speculate on individuals without a hint of proof, but likely candidates are always those upperclassmen with enough credits to graduate and who are buried on the depth chart. Also, any player that is having grade or discipline issues may be asked to transfer. The end of the fall semester at UK is December 19th. News should filter out shortly after that time if players are leaving. This is important because it could impact how many players UK can sign in the 2015 class.

Size Of The Signing Class

UK can maintain up to an 85 man roster. It's hard to know for sure, but presumably this fall saw 17 scholarship seniors graduate bringing the roster total down to 68 assuming all 85 scholarships were awarded this year. There are likely walk-ons who were on scholarship this season who are subject to losing their free ride (Cole Mosier and JD Harmon immediately come to mind) if a few more spots are needed.

After doing guesswork on the level of attrition, and the number of walk-ons asked to pay their own way next season, UK is probably looking at a signing class of 19-23 players but that's just a guess. There are currently 17 commitments so either space is getting tight, someone is going to get recruited over, or my estimation is short-selling the final tally. UK won't be able to sign more than 25 in this class though.

Wrapping It Up

This roster should now be considered all Stoops by the time we get to August. After this signing class, almost 70 of the 85 scholarship players will have been signed by him and his staff. The remaining difference will have gone through three off-seasons in his system by the time fall camp begins.

UK will still be dangerously thin at positions next season. On the offensive side of the ball, the tackle and tight end positions will undoubtedly feature inexperienced personnel. On the defensive side of the ball, it will be both the inside and outside linebacker positions, as well as defensive end.

The roster still doesn't quite resemble most SEC rosters, but it's slowly getting there. If the UK football program was a bourbon - lazy metaphor, I know - it'd be a single cask and not a blend by the way Stoops is properly filling and balancing class sizes one-by-one.

There have been no short-cuts; however, next fall the roster projects like a batch that's been aging for 8 years, and it'll need to be the 12 year-old variety to consistently win its SEC games at home and on the road.