LEXINGTON, Ky. — By far the biggest concern for Kentucky football heading into the 2017 season is its defensive line. The Wildcats weren’t very good up front last year, after which they lost one of their most competent players, starting end Courtney Miggins, to graduation and his replacement, Alvonte Bell, to an offseason dismissal.
One might argue, then, that the biggest news to come out of the team’s media day on Sunday was junior-college transfer Phil Hoskins saying he expected to be “full-go, 100 percent” to open training camp. Just 18 days earlier, UK coach Mark Stoops told reporters that Hoskins was not fully recovered from surgeries on both of his shoulders.
“Hopefully Phil will be able to step in and help, but I would anticipate that maybe not until Game 3, Game 4, Game 5, as the season goes on,” Stoops said then.
But Hoskins, who plans to play defensive end, said he met with his own personal doctors and Kentucky’s team doctors and “they think I’m pretty good. I feel pretty good, too, so I’m ready to go. With the time frame, the typical [recovery] is 4-6 months, and I’m at that 4 ½ now, so I’m pretty good.”
That’s potentially a big deal for the Wildcats. Hoskins has SEC size at 6-5, 280 pounds, and was productive in his one season at Highland (Kan.) Community College — 8 tackles for loss, 4 sacks — before redshirting last fall. He chose Kentucky because of its obvious need for his help.
“They brought me here for a reason,” said Hoskins, who has three years of eligibility remaining. “I’ve got time, but I want to get playing time, like, immediately. So I’ve been doing whatever I can to get better: watch film, study my plays. Once I can do that, the God-given ability is there. I’m going to work to make sure I get on this field.”
If he’s healthy, there is a clear path to early playing time on a defensive line that ranked 10th in the SEC in tackles for loss, 11th in sacks and 12th in run defense last season. On third downs with the opponent needing 1-3 yards to convert, UK allowed 5 yards per carry in 2016. In other words, they need reinforcements in the trenches.
“They want to stop the run first,” Hoskins said of what coaches expect from him. As for that worrisome defensive line: “We know that everyone is singling us out and we’ve got a big job to fill, and we’re going to get it done.”
While he knows there is plenty of room to improve, there are a couple of things the Toledo, Ohio, native believes he’ll bring to the table from Day 1: speed and aggression. Particularly the latter.
Hoskins tells a story about one day during his sophomore year in high school when his father popped him in the chin and told him he was playing too soft.
“There was no more soft,” he said. “There was just aggression after that.”
Sounds like just the kind of guy the Wildcats desperately need.