Two key positions for Kentucky’s Big Blue Wall in 2021
Longtime starters Drake Jackson and Landon Young are gone. Both were the pillars and initiators of the Big Blue Wall. The UK are facing the roster of a new starting center for the first time in four seasons and establishing a consistent presence in the right tackle following Darian Kinnard’s passage down the left side.
Center Drake Jackson has started 44 straight games with the Wildcats. But more importantly, he’s played almost every snapshot during those competitions, which limited significant reps for the Cats’ new projected starting center. Quintin wilson. Wilson played eleven games during his two-year career at Lexington; however, some of his playing action came to the hilt.
Quintin Wilson arrived on campus ranked fifth among centers in the country by Rivals. He played three seasons at Walnut Hills High School before transferring to Turpin for his final season. The honors student received all-state honors and was considered a three-star prospect. He signed with the UK at Boston College, Virginia and Duke. The 6’1, 294-pound Ohio product is a junior redshirt who has already graduated from the UK and is set to take over as a Big Blue Wall quarterback.
Kentucky’s right tackle position opened up to competition as All-American Darian Kinnard moved in to protect the quarterback’s blind side. Two players have been mentioned as potential replacements: Naasir Watkins and Jeremy Flax.
Senior Naasir Watkins is the more experienced of the two. The 6-foot-5, 305-pound offensive lineman has played 25 games and served as a swing tackle on the line playing right and left in 2019. Considered a three-star prospect at Our Lady High School of Good Counsel in Maryland, Watkins played both tight end and tackle and was a teammate with current starting defensive end Josh Paschal.
Jeremy Flax was a highly sought after candidate from Independence Community College in Kansas. Linen has been rated four stars by Rivals. 247Sports ranked him as the best JUCO offensive tackle in the country. Flax signed with the UK on Auburn and Texas Tech. He underwent a body transformation by losing weight to accompany a 6’6 frame.
What does it all mean?
Quintin Wilson has a tough draw. Replacing a timekeeper is never easy and comparisons with Drake Jackson will be frequent; However, Wilson is a cerebral football player who understands leverage and has taken the opportunity to learn from an All-SEC artist for three seasons. A regular and mature athlete, now won’t be too great a moment for Wilson. According to reports from spring training, guard Luke Fortner and other Wildcat offensive linemen rotated through the center to provide depth to Liam Coen in position. Wilson replacing Jackson has been in the works for three years.
While naming a starter on the right tackle is important and will be a scenario during fall camp, identifying a swing tackle is just as imperative. A swing tackle is normally the third tackle on the depth board that can play on both the right and left side of the line of scrimmage. Naasir Watkins missed the 2020 season with injury, but is a seasoned veteran who can play a vital role if he is in good health. Jeremy Flax is a former top prospect who has made significant strides in spring training. There are more options, including former four-star John Young, Deondre Buford, and Jake Pope. The Cats are deep and talented in this role.
Kentucky has an All-American left tackle with Darian Kinnard. He also has quality depth to guard due to the return of Luke Fortner, entering his sixth year of eligibility; however, there will be some novelty in the middle and right tackle. The UK is now an offensive destination for linemen. The Wildcats have a proven player development formula, but they’ve relied on linemen like Jackson and Young for many seasons.
Although there will be new faces, the program’s standards of being physical up front will remain the same. New offensive coordinator Liam Coen has set up an outer zone running program that will make extensive use of offensive tackles to secure the advantage. Flax and Watkins have all the necessary traits to do this. Quintin Wilson’s ability to quickly deal with defensive fronts and make adjustments will be essential skills needed to remove the Cats in 2021.
Hurry up, fall camp.