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5 Wildcats to watch vs. Central Michigan

Taking a look at five guys to keep an eye on when the Wildcats take on the Chippewas.

Kash Daniel Jason Marcum - Sea of Blue

As the Kentucky Wildcats prepare to take on the Central Michigan Chippewas to kick off their 2018 campaign, there are a few guys worth keeping an eye on. Here is a look at a few Wildcats to pay particular attention to.

LB Jamar “Boogie” Watson

Count me in as a member of the Boogie Watson fan club this year. He is going to struggle at times as he adjusts to his new position and being a full-time starter, but he is explosive, determined, and has plenty of room to grow.

Watson will be lining up opposite of Josh Allen, which could mean that he will see his fair share of one-on-one matchups in pass rush situations, and with a solid mixture of strength, speed, and explosiveness, offensive lines are going to have a tough time containing him one-on-one.

Watson has played well in backup roles, but now as a full-time starter, I look for him to have a solid season, which begins against Central Michigan. The Chippewas have an experienced offensive line, so this will not be a cake-walk for Kentucky’s front seven, but I look for Watson to have at least one sack and a couple of QB hurries, making life difficult for new CMU quarterback Tony Poljan.

OT Naasir Watkins/E.J. Price

With Landon Young’s injury, this will be a very close battle to determine who will take over at the starting left tackle spot. Watkins, a redshirt freshman, will likely start the game but expect to see a heavy dose of sophomore E.J. Price, who transferred from USC and was ranked as the 8th best offensive tackle coming out of high school.

With a decent amount of offensive line depth, there will probably be a fair amount of rotation at left tackle and other areas along the line, but the left tackle will be a place to keep an eye on as neither have suited up in a game for the Wildcats.

Chippewas defensive ends Mitch Stanitzek and Mike Danna are experienced pass rushers, so Watkins and Price will need to be up to the challenge.

LB Kash Daniel

Daniel is getting his first start at linebacker for the Wildcats after playing well on special teams and a backup role last year. Against Central Michigan, Daniel and his teammates on the defensive side of the ball will have their hands full with Chippewas running back Jonathan Ward.

Ward is a versatile back that the Chippewas will use in a variety of situations. In his sophomore season, he surpassed 1,000 yards rushing to go along with 470 receiving yards and 13 total touchdowns. Kentucky can limit Ward’s impact by gaining an early lead and forcing the Chippewas to throw the ball, but Ward can also be a threat then.

For Daniel, the challenge will be to keep Ward in check early. If the Wildcats can stifle him early, Kentucky will likely be in a good position to force the Chippewas into an aerial attack and throw them out of their comfort zone.

You know Daniel will be amped up for the game and his enthusiasm, competitive drive, and leadership will hopefully spread throughout the rest of the Wildcats defense.

RB A.J. Rose

Rose got his first taste at playing time as a redshirt freshman last season, but he has the chance to move into a spot as Benny Snell’s primary backup this year if he can continue to show improvement in blocking.

Ranked as a three-star coming out of Cleveland, Rose was the 34th ranked athlete in the state of Ohio. Some thought that he could see the field as a freshman in 2016, but he redshirted and then saw limited playing time last season. However, Rose looks like he is ready to show what he can do this season, and had a really strong Spring Game in April, rushing for 134 yard and three touchdowns.

On the depth chart, he is listed as an “OR” with Sihiem King. King is a smaller back with a lot of speed, but at 6’1 and more than 200 pounds, Rose can be a back that can run between the tackles as well as get into space on the outside. One of his main struggles last year was in pass protection, so if he can improve there, Rose can be a major piece in Kentucky’s running back rotation. Look for him to receive a fair share of carries against the Chippewas, especially if Kentucky can gain an early lead.

WR Dorian Baker

We know Kentucky’s wide receiver group has talent. Lynn Bowden has shown how electrifying he can be on the field in glimpses last season. Tavin Richardson had a solid second half of the season and had five catches for 89 yards in the bowl game. However, a major part of the wide receiver equation for the Wildcats will be Dorian Baker.

Baker missed last season because of an injury, but he is going to be the veteran of this group with 88 career receptions for 1,015 yards and six touchdowns. Baker will be a player to watch as he returns from a significant injury and the weakness of the CMU defense is expected to be the secondary with two freshmen starting at safety.

Baker will have the opportunity to make a big impact at wide receiver for the Wildcats this season. Having a strong showing in Week 1 could give him plenty of momentum going into the rest of the season.