Mark Stoops came to Kentucky from a defensive coordinator position at one of the top defensive programs in the country in Florida State.
Yet, in watching his Wildcats on the field, it seems that the offense has been ahead of the defense in both recruiting and player development.
Looking at the 2018-2019 roster, it is pretty clear that if Kentucky’s defensive unit is ever going to meet expectations this mas to be the year.
A big reason for the lofty expectations for this season is senior linebacker Josh Allen.
#41 Josh Allen
Position: Outside linebacker
Measurements: 6’5”, 260 lbs.
Hometown: Montclair, NJ
School: Montclair High School
Recruit Rankings: No. 97 outside linebacker in 2015 (2-star)
Allen was certainly not one of the flashy recruiting names in 2015, an afterthought of some sorts that Stoops hoped would turn a corner when he got to Kentucky.
Allen only saw action in 3 games his freshman year, accumulating 4 tackles and 0.5 sacks. His sophomore year, however, he had a much larger role. He not only played in every game, but had at least one tackle in each including a career high of 9 tackles in the season opener against Southern Miss.
Allen ended the season as UK’s seventh-leading tackler with 62, and he led UK and tied for 12th in the SEC in sacks with 7.0. He also recorded a team-high 9.5 tackles for loss and has 19.5 for his career.
Allen’s combination of speed and strength caused problems for opposing offenses, specially when he would play on the line of scrimmage like a stand-up defensive end from the linebacker position.
That approach continued to benefit him in his third year while leading the Wildcats in tackles for loss and sacks. He was named AP All-SEC Defense (2nd team). He generated a great deal of NFL Draft conversation and was virtually guaranteed to be selected, but chose to return to Kentucky for his senior year.
Josh Allen misses the tackle initially but runs him down. Impressive. pic.twitter.com/vvUooDlMS6— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) December 29, 2017
Then, Allen’s son, Wesley, was born in January of 2018, and when he found out he was going to be a father last fall, he knew his life was about to change, and that he needed to change some things about himself.
“What I had done my sophomore year wasn’t good enough for my junior year,” Allen told Jennifer Smith of the Herald-Leader recently. “I had to take another step. I was like, ‘I’ve got to grow up, be more mature because I have to take care of a family now.’”
Allen’s expectations in his senior season are through the roof. He is a 2nd team All-SEC preseason selection and is generating buzz as a potential first-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. He is also on the Butkus Award watch list.
“He’s made drastic jumps; he’s changed himself from an NFL player to a bona fide Day 1 pick,” Mark Stoops told the Herald-Leader.
Expect Allen to improve on his 7 sacks from last year and potentially lead the team in tackles (he was 4th last season with 65). Given his increased motivation and growing confidence, this season should be another step forward for the young 2-star recruit from New Jersey.
This Kentucky defense, and to some degree the success of the team, will go as Josh Allen goes this season. How far can he take them?