2011 Kentucky Preview – Defense
Kentucky LB Danny Trevathan
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Kentucky Wildcat Defense
Preview 2011 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: Only two starters are gone from a decent defense that struggled against the run and was great against the pass. The Wildcats finished 45th in the nation in total defense, but allowed 28.38 points per game and did next to nothing to get into the backfield. Danny Trevathan is one of the nation's best linebackers, and Winston Guy is a potentially special safety, but the D needs pass rushers up front with the line and the defense finishing dead last in the SEC in tackles for loss and 11th in sacks. There will be plenty of shuffling in the secondary with a 4-2-5 alignment used on a regular basis, and there's enough experience and enough depth for defensive coordinators Steve Brown and Rick Minter to get creative.
Star of the defense: Senior LB Danny Trevathan
Tackles: Danny Trevathan, 144
Sacks: Luke McDermott, Danny Trevathan, 3
Interceptions: Winston Guy, 3
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior DE Collins Ukwu
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Avery Williamson
Best pro prospect: Senior S Winston Guy
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Trevathan, 2) Guy, 3) CB Randall Burden
Strength of the defense: Experience, Secondary
Weakness of the defense: Pass Rush, Run Defense
State of the Unit: The UK defense was last in the SEC in tackles for loss and 11th in sacks, and while the linebacking corps was good enough to clean up most of the messes, the line's struggles to get into the backfield and inability to hold up against the run, allowing 177 yards per game, was a problem. There's enough experience returning for a good rotation, but there needs to be more production.
Back at one end is junior Collin Ukwu , a 6-5, 255-pound speedster who started every game and finishing with a disappointing 26 tackles with a sack. He has the burst off the line and the athleticism to quickly get into the backfield on a regular basis to make something happen, but he didn't get to the quarterback nearly enough. Trying to fill out his frame has been a problem, and if he's not getting into the backfield, he's not getting the job done. Backing him up is 6-3, 273-pound senior Antwane Glenn , who brings more bulk to the spot. He made five tackles last year and has the strength to kick inside if needed, but he's an end.
Taking over in a fulltime role on the other side is junior Taylor Wyndham, who started the year against Louisville and got the call in five straight games in the midseason, but was pushed out by DeQuin Evans for most of the year. The 6-4, 250-pound Wyndham finished with 27 tackles and was decent at times at getting into the backfield with 2.5 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss, but he was hampered early in his career with a shoulder problem and hasn't been able to blow up as expected. 6-4, 249-pound sophomore Patrick Ligon saw a little time last year and came up with a fumble recovery. While he's not huge, he'll get a little bit of work as a quick tackle when he's not playing on the outside.
Senior Luke McDermott didn't exactly come from out of nowhere last year, but he stepped up to take over a starting tackle spot early on finishing with 17 tackles with three sacks, five tackles for loss and a pick. Way undersized for the position, he bulked up big time just to get to 265 pounds on his 6-1 frame. While he's not big enough to hold his own against the most powerful blockers, he has the pluck and the feistiness to make things happen with his motor. He'll be in a regular rotation with sophomore Mister Cobble , a 6-0, 338-pound bowling ball who only made one tackle last year, but has the bulk to sit in the middle of the line and clog everything up. Also in the mix is 6-1, 324-pound senior Mark Crawford, a former JUCO superstar who emerged as a spot starter last season making 24 tackles with 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. He has great size and a full-tile motor, bringing energy every time he gets in the game.
While there are several options for the tackle position next to McDermott, 6-3, 300-pound sophomore Donte Rumph appears to have emerged from the pack. He saw time last year as a good part of the rotation making 12 tackles with a fumble recovery, and now appears ready to blow up. He originally signed on with UK in 2008, needed a few years to become eligible, and now should become a key part of the run defense. 6-3, 324-pound redshirt freshman Brice Laughlin was a key scout teamer last year, and now he'll bring his size and strength to the rotation. Watch out for him to become a dangerous interior pass rusher.
Watch Out For … Rumph. It should say something about the UK tackles that several players have experience, but it's the true sophomore who appears ready to be the star of the pack. He has the upside to be the anchor of the interior.
Strength: Big bodies. The Wildcats always seem to have good-sized options throughout the depth chart, and they always seem to come up with production from several players in a rotation.
Weakness: Pass rush. A problem for the last few years, there wasn't anyone to worry about with the defense coming up with a mere 21 sacks. There isn't a sure-thing killer on this year's line to count on to get to the quarterback.
Outlook: Head coach Joker Phillips made the line a special priority last year, but the results weren't there. There aren't any big-name stars on the front four, but there should be a good rotation with more than enough big, live bodies to keep everyone fresh. It's not a stretch, though, to suggest that the key to the season will be more activity up front.
Unit Rating: 6
State of the Unit: The key to the linebacking corps last year was its ability to come up with the big plays, and considering the line was so lacking in tackles for loss and sacks, the next second-level guys came through time and again. Will there be two or three in the corps? The UK defense more often than not went with a 4-2-5 alignment, but the starting two coming back are strong and there's a third man in the mix who can play.
Senior Danny Trevathan should've been in the mix for the Butkus Award. The 6-1, 230-pound weakside defender followed up an 82-tackle season with a team leading 144 tackles with three sacks and 16 tackles for loss. A 2010 CFN All-American, he's a speedster with tremendous toughness and limitless range. He fought through most of 2009 with a broken wrist, got healthy, and was all over the place cleaning up everything the line didn't get to. While his game is mostly about speed, he is trying to bulk up and is hitting the weights hard. A certain Combine star, he has all the raw tools to go along with peerless tacking ability registering double-digit stops in each of the last nine games highlighted by a 16-tackle day against Mississippi State.
Back in the middle is senior Ronnie Snead, a 6-2, 230-pound veteran who finished third on the team with 61 tackles with 1.5 sacks and five tackles for loss. He had the unenviable task of replacing Micah Johnson, a heart-and-soul type of leading tackler, and while he wasn't the same player, he came through with a nice year holding up well against the run after bulking up to handle the position. Tough as nails, he has no problems mixing it up. Very smart and always improving, he's a great motor, hard working playmaker who'll start doing more to get into the backfield. He'll be backed up by 6-1, 223-pound sophomore Avery Williamson , a quick hitter who made ten tackles as a true freshman and will soon be one of the team's top tacklers. He set the Tennessee state championship record with 22 tackles in the title game.
When the Cats go to a three linebacker formation, junior Ridge Wilson will step in after making 30 tackles in a part time role. At 6-3 and 238 pounds he's a tall, rangy strongside linebacker with 4.6 speed and great skills, and now he needs to see more time. He came on late last year and became a force over the second half, and with the right skills and a little bit of experience, he's about to become a major factor. Also working into the position is 6-3, 229-pound redshirt freshman Justin Henderson , a smallish defensive end by trade who'll be used as a high-energy pass rusher from the outside.
While it's going to be tough to see time on the weakside with Trevathan doing a little bit of everything, redshirt freshman Malcolm McDuffen will serve as the understudy. While he's a safety-sized 6-3 and 205 pounds, he's lightning fast and has game-changing potential with his athleticism and hitting ability. Smart, he'll be ready to produce when called on. He'll combine with sophomore Qua Huzzie for a backup role. The 5-10, 219-pound Huzzie made 17 tackles and showed off just enough ability to work in the middle or on the weakside. He's not built like a linebacker, and he missed time with a shoulder injury, but he doesn't miss an open field tackle and has a great motor.
Watch Out For … the world to finally wake up for Trevathan. CFN named the UK star an All-American last year, and others are about to notice just how good he is. Few linebackers in college football are around the ball like he is.
Strength: Tackling. Sneed only made 61 stops, but he didn't miss many big tackles. Trevathan's 85 solos tackles along would've made him second on the team. There's good athleticism and toughness among the reserves.
Weakness: Run defense. Yes, Trevathan is special and the linebackers can all hit, but a lot of the plays were made down the field. Even with all the speed, athleticism, and toughness in the corps, the Cats were still lousy against the better running teams.
Outlook: Once again, the numbers and the tackling stats will be there, and Trevathan and Sneed will fly behind the line on a regular basis, but the team's stats aren't going to look great if the line doesn't help the cause. It would be nice if the linebackers didn't have to do everything, but they'll have to once again.
Unit Rating: 8
State of the Unit: The secondary cane up with a great statistical season, finishing 14th in the nation in pass defense and 49th in pass efficiency defense, but that was partly because so many teams were busy running the ball at will. Even though there wasn't much of a pass rush last year to help the cause, and there won't be one this year, the production was still impressive. Now the secondary has the potential to be phenomenal with five starters returning from a group that operated in a 4-2-5 on a regular basis.
The leader of the secondary is playmaking strong safety Winston Guy, a 6-1, 210-pound playmaker who finished second on the team with 106 tackles with three picks and four tackles for loss. A mid-range NFL draft talent, he hits like a ton of bricks, has nice size, and runs like a cornerback. Now he has to do even more when the ball is in the air, even with the team-leading number of picks. He has to use his 4.35 wheels to fly around to help the corners a bit more, but that's nitpicking. Consider it a shock if he's not a lock for All-SEC honors, and with his skills he should be in the hunt for All-America consideration. He'll be backed up by redshirt freshman Miles Simpson, a 6-2, 210-pound running back who moved to the defensive backfield last year, and now needs to use his athleticism and toughness to find a role.
Free safety Martavius Neloms went from being a key reserve to a great corner making 55 tackles with two sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss, and two broken up passes. Now he'll be used in a variety of ways with 6-1, 184-pound size and tremendous speed to get all over the field in a hurry. The junior was a Tennessee state championship-level sprinter, and he's poised and ready for a breakout season where he becomes an even bigger factor against the pass. He's an ideal nickel and dime defender, while senior Mychal Bailey returns after starting every game but one at free safety making 58 tackles with two picks and two broken up passes. The former JUCO linebacker doesn't fly, but he makes huge hits, while 5-11, 194-pound sophomore Dakotah Tyler has the wheels to do more to fly all over the field. A strong safety who's good against the run, the former running back will work more at free safety after making 13 tackles with a tackle for loss.
Senior Randall Burden has the potential to be a lockdown, No. 1 corner now that he has the experience to go along with his good skills. The 6-0, 170-pounder made 36 tackles with a pick and six broken up passes, and after struggling early on in his career he's starting to get it. He'll never be a big hitter, but his cut-on-a-dime quickness is good enough to stay with just about anyone in the SEC. He'll be backed up by junior Carter Rice , a 5-10, 181-pound speedster who locked up the South Carolina win with a broken up pass in the end zone in the final seconds.
6-0, 176-pound senior Anthony Mosley came up with a stunningly good season making 34 tackles with an interception and five broken up passes. The former wide receiver has 4.36 speed and great athleticism, and now he's growing into a terrific all-around corner. While he's not a big tackler, he'll do just enough to get by. Backing him up will be 5-9, 175-pound sophomore Jerrell Priester , a smallish, athletic defender with 4.29 speed and a phenomenal bust. A dangerous kick return option and a great special teamer, he'll see more of the field after making four tackles with two tackles for loss.
Also in the mix for playing time will be senior Taiedo Smith at free safety. The 6-0, 184-pounder made five tackles last year, but the former corner should play a bigger role this year. He's a huge hitter for his thin size, and he's a jack-of-all trades who can play anywhere, as is senior Josh Gibbs , a 5-10, 201-pound fill-in who made ten stops and can work where needed. He'll start out the year at free safety.
Watch Out For … lots of playing around with the alignment. Mosley ended up starting most of the season as a fifth defensive back, and now he'll get more work as a pure safety, while Bailey will find a spot somewhere in the mix on a regular basis.
Strength: Experience. With five starters returning and with so much speed and versatility, the secondary isn't going to make a lot of mistakes and should be steadier. This might not be the best defensive backfield in the SEC, but few in America have the time logged in that this one has.
Weakness: The run defense. Florida wanted to throw, and it did. South Carolina bombed away for 382 yards, Tennessee threw for 354, and Ole Miss pitched for three touchdown passes. The secondary is good, but the numbers are great because so many teams ran the ball on a regular basis.
Outlook: With so much returning starting experience, there's reason to be very, very excited. It would be nice if there were more picks, with the team coming up with nine picks on the year with Guy making three of them, and it would be nice if there were more big plays and more stops on third downs, but this should be a good, sound group that'll be one of the teams' biggest strengths.
Unit Rating: 8
State of the Unit: The UK kicking game found its guy. Punter Ryan Tydlacka hit just one of his three chances, but junior Craig McIntosh stepped up and became a factor hitting 11-of-15 kicks including a 50-yarder. He might not be a special kicker, but he's good enough to be counted on from 45 yards and in.
Tydlacka, a senior, didn't get much help from the coverage team, but he had a strong season averaging 43.8 yards per kick putting 13 inside the 20 and forcing 11 fair catches. However, he put seven in the end zone. Solid and experienced, he should be a weapon.
It's asking a lot to replace Randall Cobb as a kick and punt returner, after averaging 7.8 yards per punt return and 23.7 yards per kickoff return. Raymond Sanders will be the starting tailback, but he has kickoff return talents and returned one punt 12 yards.
Watch Out For … an open tryout for the return game. The Cats have too many 4.4 speedsters and quick players to not get production. There might not be a Randall Cobb in the lot, but there are several interesting options.
Strength: Tydlacka. With experience and a big leg, bombing away with a 73 yarder, and while the punting game finished 11th in the SEC and 81st in net average, he's a good one to count on.
Weakness: Kick coverage. The Cats didn't give up a touchdown, but they allowed a whopping 11.9 yards per punt return. The kickoff coverage team allowed a ridiculous 23.5 yards per try with two scores.
Outlook: The return game needs to find new stars and it would be nice if McIntosh nailed everything 45 yards and in, but the kicking game will be fine and there's potential for more explosion from the returners. The coverage teams were a disaster and need a ton of work.
Unit Rating: 6
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