Though perhaps anticipated, Dare Rosenthal’s declaration Wednesday night that he would forego his senior year of college and enter the NFL Draft was a significant blow to Kentucky’s offensive line ahead of the 2022 season.
Rosenthal, the Cats’ left tackle, would have provided stability up front at a major position. Now the Wildcats will have to replace both of their starting offensive tackles; senior right tackle Darian Kinnard is projected to go in the first round of April’s draft.
Some believed that Rosenthal, who sat out of UK’s appearance in the Citrus Bowl because of injuries, might have benefited from another year in college. His frame — 6-foot-7, 327 pounds — and athleticism are unquestionable, but his down-to-down consistency and efficiency of play have often been cited as areas of improvement. Pro Football Focus has tabbed him as a possible day-two selection, which would put him in the second or third round of the draft.
“It’s encouraging that Rosenthal seems to have grown and developed a bit since his time at LSU,” Ian Cummings wrote for PFF in early December. “He’s trending up, and he has the athletic upside to be an NFL starter. Day two is very much in the realm of possibility. And from there, Rosenthal could be groomed into a formidable NFL left tackle.”
Kentucky’s offensive linemen
Rosenthal transferred to Kentucky over the summer following two seasons at LSU and provided immediate relief for a team that watched homegrown stalwart Landon Young get selected by the New Orleans Saints last April. It’s reasonable to think that Mark Stoops and his staff will scour the transfer portal for a starting-caliber tackle, and possibly two.
Kenneth Horsey started at left tackle in place of Rosenthal against Iowa, with mixed results. Horsey has been a starting guard for the bulk of his career and seems much more comfortable on the interior; still, with an offseason worth of work, it’d be irresponsible to rule him out as a possibility at one of the tackle spots. He will start somewhere on UK’s offensive line this fall, for sure.
The other tackle spot is the biggest unknown if Horsey is working at one of them in the spring. Offensive coordinator Liam Coen projected Jeremy Flax, a redshirt sophomore last season, as the Cats’ starting right tackle (with Kinnard at left) coming out of spring camp, but that was before Rosenthal was in the equation. Flax was part of the rotation and could start on the right side, where he backed up Kinnard, primarily, before splitting snaps with Horsey in the Citrus Bowl. That pair gave up most of Kentucky’s six sacks against Iowa, though.
Quintin Wilson, the presumed heir apparent at center going into spring camp last year, was overtaken by Luke Fortner but handled duties at guard and center in 2021. He or Eli Cox, UK’s starting right guard before an injury sidelined him midseason, should get the nod in the middle. Tashawn Manning, a guard who’s transferred from Auburn, seems like a good bet to see the field in his final college season; it’d be weird for him to transfer to Kentucky without a vision of playing time. Jager Burton, a true freshman and high-profile recruit in the 2021 class, will vie for time too. Austin Dotson, who started in place of Cox when he went down and for part of the 2020 season, was a senior and has not announced that he’ll opt into a “super senior” season. With or without Dotson, UK has a fair amount of experience and upside on the inside.
The Wildcats don’t lack for bodies on the roster; most of them are just void of actual game experience, and it’s unclear from the outside where they best fit as part of UK’s system. David Wohlabaugh (6-6, 290), Paul Rodriguez (6-5, 330) and Josh Jones (6-6, 336 pounds) were all freshmen last season. Deondre Buford, a redshirt freshman, was listed as Rosenthal’s backup all year but was not part of the rotation when games were on the line; perhaps an offseason of strength work will get the former four-star recruit (6-foot-3, 290 pounds), and/or another freshman, closer to where they need to be physically to compete down to down.
Five-star signee Kiyaunta Goodwin (6-8, 340) seems a shoo-in to see some run, given his recruiting profile and level of athleticism, but to play starter-level snaps as a Southeastern Conference tackle would be a lot to shoulder as a true freshman. Two other incoming freshmen, Grant Bingham (6-6, 302) and Nikolas Hall (6-5, 310), appear to have high potential but are unlikely to contribute right away up front.
It should be said up front: It’s unlikely that any offensive lineman that Kentucky adds to its roster from the transfer portal, if any, is currently in the portal. The aftermath of spring camps will see several more players, as Rosenthal did last year, become available.
Western Kentucky standout Mason Brooks, a former two-star prospect out of Cedar Park, Texas, was rated as the No. 8 transfer available — at any position — by The Athletic as of Tuesday night. Other than the fact he played collegiate snaps within the state’s border the last four years, there’s no apparent connection between UK and Brooks, whom The Athletic reported is being wooed by Texas Tech, Baylor, Ole Miss and Auburn. It’s hard to see Kentucky being a factor for him.
FCS transfers Tre’Mond Shorts (East Tennessee State, 6-4, 326) and Michael Shanahan (UT Martin, 6-5, 310) were both left tackles at their previous schools and are tabbed by The Athletic as top-25 available transfers. It’d be a step up in competition, but years of experience might be enough to get them in the mix across the border.
Kentucky at one time was involved in the recruitment of Tyler Steen, when he was a high school defensive end in the 2018 class, but he’s been a starter at left and right tackle in his three seasons at Vanderbilt. He would have up to two years of eligibility through the NCAA COVID-19 waiver.
Tennessee tackle K’Rojhn Calbert was a starter in 2019 but missed last season with a biceps injury. He entered the portal on Tuesday night. Underclassmen who played very few snaps at Alabama (Tommy Brown) and Mississippi State (Calvin McMillian) are also in the portal from the SEC.