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UK Leaning on Denzil Ware

By Matt Osborne
SouthernPigskin.com
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Kentucky will need Denzil Ware to provide pressure in opposing backfields this fall.

As Kentucky continues to attempt to make its first appearance in a bowl game since 2010, one of the biggest hurdles that the Wildcats will face is overcoming a lack of proven production in the pass rush.

Rushing the quarterback will not be a new problem for the Wildcats, as the team finished last in the SEC in 2015 in pressuring opposing signal callers, registering just 17 sacks on the season.

Finding ways to become more productive at causing chaos in the backfield will be increasingly difficult this fall as well. With the offseason dismissal of Jason Hatcher, Kentucky does not return a single player that registered more than one sack a year ago. Overall, all five of Kentucky’s pass rushers from 2015 have now moved on from the program.

With the overwhelming dearth of proven production in the pass rush, the Wildcats will be relying upon numerous defensive linemen and linebackers to make significant strides with their play during the upcoming campaign.

Of all the players that will contribute to the pass rush this fall, perhaps none will be more important to the overall success of the unit than redshirt sophomore Denzil Ware.

A hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker in D.J. Eliot’s defense, Ware entered Lexington with fanfare and expectation that was unusual for a football recruit for the Wildcats. Excelling as a standout at Crestview High School in Florida, Ware was ranked as a four-star prospect by the overwhelming majority of national recruiting services. ESPN ranked him as the 12th-best defensive end and the No. 113 overall prospect in the country for the class of 2014.

After a redshirt season in 2014 which was spent adding weight and muscle, Ware was expected to make an impact for the Kentucky defense in his first season on the gridiron a year ago.

That impact, however, did not come as quickly as many had expected.

Admitting that he often was thinking too much when he was on the field, Ware allowed his brain to slow down the outstanding athleticism with which he was gifted. Hough he did play well enough to earn a starting position, Ware finished the campaign with just 39 total tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and one sack.

Knowing that he is going to be relied upon heavily for production entering his second season as starter, Ware said that he spent the offseason working on playing with a high motor and not worrying so much about making mistakes.

His newfound commitment to playing full speed at all times was clearly evident during Kentucky’s Spring Game, in which Ware led all defenders with ten tackles, five tackles for loss and four sacks.

Eliot commented after the Spring Game that the coaching staff had noticed that Ware was playing with greater pace during the spring session. It was an improvement which he said he expected to see out of such a young and relatively inexperienced player.

“Sometimes when you throw somebody out there for the first time, what’s going through their mind is, ‘What do I do? What do I do? What do I do? I don’t want to mess that up,’” Eliot commented. “Now we’re at the point where this is how you do it best. We’ve really emphasized that.”

Ware’s production will obviously be critical for a unit which is returning just 4.5 sacks altogether from last season.

And while his statistical production from last fall certainly won’t blow anyone away, there is no denying the fact that Ware has the most potential of any pass rusher on the roster from a physical standpoint.

Unlike last season, however, there will not be any time for Ware to figure it out as the season progresses. The Wildcats will need him to get after the quarterback, and they will need him to do it from the opening kickoff of the year.

Given the significant jump in production which usually takes place for linemen in the SEC, don’t surprised to see Ware emerge as a much-needed difference-maker for the Kentucky defense in 2016.

Matt Osborne - Matt Osborne currently serves as the director of recruiting and lead editor for Southern Pigskin. His work has been published in a number of national publications, including USA Today. Although he loves all levels of football, Matt's number one joy in his life is his relationship with Jesus Christ. Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattOsborne200. For media requests, please email Matt at matt@southernpigskin.com.