This week we’re taking a team-by-team look at what the biggest offseason needs are for every team in the SEC. Here, we take a look at Kentucky.
Key losses: Jon Toth
Breakdown: Kentucky doesn’t have a mass exodus at any particular position group; the Wildcats are one of the more fortunate teams when it comes to returnees, as they lose only four offensive starters and only two full-time starters on defense. The one place they’ll have an important void is center, where All-SEC Jon Toth was a mainstay for the last four years.
Toth was a four-year starter who started 48 consecutive games at Kentucky. As most coaches will tell you, playing the position isn’t just snapping the ball, it’s having an extensive knowledge of the offense and other linemen’s assignment in order to call protections on the fly at the line of scrimmage.
To replace Toth, a second-team Coaches All-SEC pick this year, there’s a chance the Wildcats could turn to one of their other 2016 starting offensive linemen. Jervontius “Bunchy” Stallings, who started eight games at right guard for Kentucky this season (including all but one of the last nine), was the backup to Toth at the position this year. The 6-foot-3, 318-pound Stallings will be a junior in 2017 and made significant progress in his sophomore season.
There’s also a young prospect who could be in the mix: Drake Jackson. The 6-foot-2, 302-pound Jackson was Kentucky’s second-highest rated recruit in the 2016 recruiting class, a four-star prospect who was No. 238 overall in the 2016 ESPN 300. Jackson was ranked as the third-best center in the nation in his recruiting class. Jackson was one of seven Kentucky 2016 signees who enrolled last January so he’s already been on campus for a year developing.
Spring practice will give Kentucky a chance to sort out who Toth’s successor will be, but whoever it is has some big shoes to fill.