Despite continuously losing key players to the NFL, the Kentucky Wildcats’ defense just keeps reloading year after year to play at a high level in the SEC. And while the 2021 roster was set to continue that trend, it was a little light at linebacker.
That all changed today when Ole Miss transfer Jacquez Jones committed to Kentucky.
Jones announced on June 1st that he intended to transfer, and everyone knew it would be a quick process even though his decision to transfer was a surprise to many. And last week when the SEC did away with the rule requiring transfers to sit for a year, that made his decision a lot easier.
The 6-foot, 235-pound Jones was allegedly considering Kentucky, South Carolina, and Kansas as transfer destinations. He initially picked Ole Miss over Michigan, Tennessee, LSU, and Maryland as a high school recruit.
Jones has been one of the key pieces of the Ole Miss defense for three years. He made the SEC All-Freshman team in his first season, and he led the Rebels in tackles a year ago with 75. Keep in mind that those tackles came in only nine games with the season shortened due to COVID-19. He had 71 tackles, two sacks, and two forced fumbles as a starter the previous season.
Kentucky did not offer a scholarship to Jones coming out of high school. He was a three-star linebacker out of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. But Kentucky assistant Jon Sumrall was on the staff at Ole Miss in 2018 when Jones arrived on their campus. You have to think that connection played a major role in leading Jones to Lexington.
With D’Eryk Jackson likely sidelined for the season due to injury, DeAndre Square and Jared Casey are the only returning linebackers on Kentucky’s roster. Incoming freshmen Trevin Wallace has a ton of potential, but asking him to play a major role so early is not ideal.
In addition to continuing to recruit a high level, Mark Stoops and his staff are also continuing to improve their ability to land top transfers. Jones joins Michigan State transfer Luke Fulton to fill out the linebacker room. Both of those guys have Power 5 experience and should be able to make an immediate impact on the field while also helping Wallace to develop without adding too much pressure.
Jones played for three different defensive coordinators at Ole Miss, and while he will be new to Brad White the consistency that Kentucky has had at that position will certainly be a nice change of pace. Jones will be learning the schemes of Kentucky’s defense, but he will have the aid of dozens of players that have been in the system for a while. Whereas at Ole Miss, the entire team was learning a new system every season.
Expectations will be high for this defense. They already were without Jones, but his commitment firms up a position that was looked at as a question mark previously. If this group lives up to their potential this season, it could be a special year for Kentucky football.
Jones was a true junior this past season, so he’ll technically be a senior in 2021, though he can use the free extra year of eligibility the NCAA granted everyone and play for two seasons in Lexington if he so chooses.