In the recent run of winning seasons for the Kentucky football program, quality play in the trenches has had a lot to do with the rise of the Big Blue under head coach Mark Stoops. The offensive line has specifically stood out producing multiple All-SEC selections, a consensus All-American (Darian Kinnard) in 2021, and five draft picks over the last four drafts.
But the defensive line isn’t very far behind.
The Wildcats have had three players drafted out of Anwar Stewart’s position room over the last two drafts and that’s not counting Marquan McCall who earned a roster spot with the Carolina Panthers this season. Josh Paschal became a dominant force in 2021 on his way to All-SEC honors and that helped set the table for this group’s future.
On Wednesday, Kentucky completed the recruiting flip for Purdue commit Kendrick Gilbert. The four-star prospect with excellent physical traits (6-foot-5, 35-inch arms) and good film signed with the Wildcats on National Signing Day. That was significant because it was another solid recruiting win for this position room.
Since the class of 2020, Kentucky has inked six top-500 high school defensive line prospects. The Wildcats have also went to the transfer portal and added a pair of former blue-chip recruits. There is also roster balance. UK will enter the 2023 season with one senior, four redshirt juniors, three redshirt sophomores, one sophomore, one redshirt freshman, and two true freshmen. The coaching staff is consistently recruiting the defensive line well and stacking quality depth at a very important position.
Kentucky has also found a cornerstone piece to be a star.
Four-star signee Deone Walker was outstanding as a true freshman in 2022 playing over 500 defensive snaps and becoming a full-time starter at boundary tackle. The Detroit (Mich.) Cass Tech product led the defensive line in pressure rate (8.7%), run stuffs (6), tackles (40), and tackles for loss (4.5). Walker’s tape against Mississippi State, South Carolina, and Louisville flashes big-time potential as a pass rusher and the young player is already stout against the run in multiple playing spots along the defensive line. The sophomore should be a very popular talking point in Nashville at SEC Media Days in July. Expect the hype train to get rolling this summer for Kentucky’s defensive star.
The news wasn’t all good for Kentucky’s defensive line this offseason as the Wildcats lost starting nose tackle Justin Rogers to Auburn. However, things are trending in a very positive way. Stewart just received a contract extension through 2024 that will provide this group with some coaching stability. In the room, Kentucky has a proven star, depth at multiple spots, and excellent class balance.
Don’t be surprised if this becomes one of the best position groups on the team in 2023. The pieces are in place and Kentucky could make a run again at being a top-15 defense due to what is available in the trenches. Defensive coordinator Brad White has stability with a high ceiling on the line of scrimmage. That could go a long way.