Brad White is entering his fourth season as Kentucky's defensive coordinator and the sky is the limit for the 2022 edition of his Wildcat defense. With that being said, there are some players who will play a very big role in the success of White's squad this season.
3: Carrington Valentine
After an up and down season in 2021, Carrington Valentine is looking to assert himself as the leader of the secondary. The junior has plenty of experience, as he played in 10 games in his true freshman season and was a full-time starter as a sophomore. Reports around fall camp indicate that Valentine has made vast improvements to his game over the offseason and is expected to be ready to take a big leap as an upperclassman. With a lot of new faces in the secondary, it’s critical that he stays healthy and plays to his full potential this season.
2: JJ Weaver
As Kentucky’s sack leader in 2021 and a team captain in 2022, JJ Weaver is undoubtedly a leader on this defense. Weaver played the entire 2021 season while still recovering from the torn ACL that he suffered in 2020. That did not stop him from having a breakout year and proving to be the most talented outside rusher on this unit. With Jordan Wright suspended for the first game, and possibly more, the Kentucky native will be priority number one on the outside for opposing offenses. Without him, especially while Wright is out, Kentucky’s outside linebacker group gets much younger and depth becomes a huge concern.
1: Octavious Oxendine
Before suffering a season-ending injury in a 42-21 win against LSU last season, Octavious Oxendine was coming into his own. While rehabbing, Ox focused on losing weight and getting lighter on his feet to improve his explosiveness off the line. Coach Stoops has made it apparent in several press conferences that the North Hardin alum has added a burst to his game, while maintaining his super-human strength. As mentioned several times throughout camp, Kentucky’s defensive line has made vast improvements and is likely going to be the stronger of the two lines in blue and white this season. That has a lot to do with the leadership and play of Oxendine that has allowed him and the defensive line to get to the quarterback with better success this season. Versatility is another huge factor in his play as he mentioned earlier in camp that he has been playing tackle and end. Not only is Ox the most important player on this defense, he could be the best player on this Kentucky roster by the end of the year.
With expectations at an all time high in Lexington, Mark Stoops needs his defensive unit to play at an elite level. In 2018, Kentucky had that and it in turned into the first double-digit win season in my lifetime. Last year, it was balance that had Kentucky back in the 10-win range. To take the next step and compete for a SEC title, both sides of the ball have to be among the best in the country. For the defense to achieve that goal, we will need Valentine, Weaver, and Oxendine all at 100% health for the entire year.