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Implications of the Jason Hatcher Dismissal

What impact will Jason Hatcher's dismissal have on the 2016 defense?

Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky's dismissal of Jason Hatcher on Monday is far outweighed by the emotional toll it is almost certainly taking on Hatcher, his family, and friends.

Talking about football at times like this could be considered superficial and gauche. I wouldn't blame anyone who comes down in that camp. The following is meant to be an analytical (i.e. "non-judgemental") measure of Hatcher's impact, and what UK will lose without him being on the team.

I wish Hatcher and his family the best for the little it's worth.

What Kentucky Loses

Hatcher has had a rather unremarkable career in three seasons. In 30 games over the last three seasons, he's averaged three tackles per game. In nine games in 2015, he averaged a little over four tackles per game. His two sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss, and three pass break-ups in 2015 are also fairly unremarkable. His most productive games were against poor Missouri and Vanderbilt offensive lines last season.

The lack of production in his first two seasons can easily be explained by the scheme UK executed. Hatcher was on the field for most running downs, but when UK went into its nickel package, Hatcher came off the field. Opportunities to rush the quarterback were extremely limited.

Physically adapting to perform on run downs in league play takes development. 2015 was supposed to be his breakout season, but he would miss games. For comparison's sake, in Bud Dupree's first season as weakside linebacker, albeit in a slightly different scheme, he played in 12 games and averaged 8 tackles per game.

How Kentucky Responds

From a purely production standpoint, UK is not losing much, but it also wasn't returning much production in the first place. Hatcher's 5.5 tackles for loss led returning production, but that's a paltry sum regardless. If there was a position to lose a player to attrition, outside linebacker is not the worst candidate.

Presumably, UK will continue to substitute for its weakside outside linebacker ("JACK") when in its nickel package.  In 2016, this was Denzil Ware coming off the field on most occasions, while Hatcher would have stayed on the field. Overall, this mitigates the conceptual role of the position somewhat.

Furthermore, this position is actually fairly deep but is largely unproven. Ware returns after starting last season, and true freshman Josh Allen played in 12 games last season. Also competing for time will likely be Minnesota transfer De'Niro Laster, redshirt sophomore Kobie Walker, and JUCO transfer Jordan Bonner.

This position is in a precarious situation in that losing anymore personnel will be very damaging, but for now has a potentially solid two-deep. After spring practice we should have more of an idea of who takes over Hatcher's strongside outside linebacker ("SAM") duties.

Kentucky will enter 2016 with the same pass-rushing deficiencies we worried about last July (and in hindsight, Laster's transfer last season was just as important as Courtney Love's transfer from Nebraska despite the latter getting more media attention).  UK must develop at least two legitimate pass-rushers for 2016.

Not much changes when a decent player leaves the program.