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UK Football needs Josh Allen to be integral leader on defense

Notes on Josh Allen entering his senior season and Year 2 of Matt House as defensive coordinator.

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Southern Mississippi Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

There’s an immense amount on the plate for Josh Allen.

It’s not just he has to balance his football and school life — or that he’s touted as one of the best linebackers in the Southeastern Conference, so that adds the balancing of expectations. There’s another aspect on his course.

He became a father, and becoming a new dad will help enhance his leadership abilities for a Kentucky defense that is thin at the linebacker spot.

Becoming a parent has motivated the UK linebacker.

”It’s great at some points,” Allen said with a smile when asked about fatherhood. “It’s good and it’s humbling. It’s changed with everything that I do, so it gives me a purpose. It gives me a bigger purpose to work for than before. So I know I got to do everything because I got someone looking up to me for real now.

“I just want to do everything right and be good as I can for him so when he gets a certain age he can remember all of this and be like, “My dad did that,’” Allen added.

Some parents are nervous and hesitant when they first enter parenthood. Allen wasn’t that. He reigned with enthusiasm when he changed his first diaper. Allen doesn’t get much sleep, but he’s OK with that.

”I was actually really excited about it,” he said when asked about changing his first diaper. “The first two diapers, I was like, ‘Yes!’”

The load that comes with being a leader in the linebacking core, a father, and a student athlete is no problem for him. Allen believes in his aptitude, but he also understands that he isn’t the only integral piece on defense.

The incoming senior has posted back-to-back seasons in which he recorded seven sacks. During the past two seasons, Allen has managed 18.5 tackles for loss.

UK needs that once again.

”It’s a lot,” Allen said. “Because I know what I got to do this year. I know what it takes to be a good caliber team. I feel like we got the players. we just got to put everything together. I need to step up and we need players to step up and become better leaders and be more mature. I feel like we are. We just got to take the next steps to be an all-around good team, great team.”

When Allen began his football career with the Wildcats, his weight wasn’t ideal to play linebacker. The highly talented NFL prospect went to work each preseason and offseason that ensued. During the 2017 campaign, he was listed at 252 pounds — which is around 50 pounds less than what he estimated he entered as a incoming freshman years ago.

”To be honest, I was around 210 [or] 205. Probably less than that,” he said. “I wasn’t that big, so it put a stress on my body because I had to play my freshman year. But I’m here now. It prepped me to be where I am now. I feel good.”


UK defensive coordinator Matt House is entering his third season as part of Mark Stoops’ coaching staff. With another year under his belt, he has gotten more adequate within the system. Part of that comfort is the return of veteran playmakers such as Allen.

”I think there’s a sense of comfortability,” he said. “More comfort, because for one, it’s another year in the (defensive) scheme. It’s another year with our players, so there’s certainly a bit more of a familiarity than last spring.”

Throughout the spring the linebacking core — who has lost Denzil Ware and Eli Brown to transfer — has made modest steps.

”We’ve made progress in some areas,” Outside linebacking coach Brad White said. “We’ve got steps to go in others. Personally, I felt like we were really making strides that first couple of weeks of spring practice... I’ve let the guys know, while we are working on the little things, we can’t forget about the big things.

“We’ve got to find that delicate balance and it’s my job to get that done,” White added.

Part of that modest progress in the outside linebacking group comes from Jamar “Boogie” Watson, who is expected to see an increase in playing time — whether it’s inside or outside.

”I’ll tell you what he did sort of all spring, especially in the scrimmages, he was extremely productive,” White said. “He made some mistakes that we’ve cleaned up. But what he was he played fast and, we’ve talked about this before, this game is about finish and it’s about making plays and being a football player. What he did this spring was he made a lot of plays. He was productive in the pass-rush, he was aggressive.”

One part of Watson’s development is the fact the linebacker played with more physicality, a trait that is required to play inside or outside in a 3-4 defensive scheme.

Watson is listed at 234 pounds, around 18 pounds smaller than Allen. But Watson has shown realization in what it takes to play in the front seven.

”What I’ve been most pleased with is he’s playing more physical,” White said. “And I think he understands he may not be the biggest guy on the field, but he understands leverage and body position. Those things have really benefitted him, and we’ve emphasized those things. He’s been playing well.”