2012 Kentucky Preview – Defense
Kentucky DE Collins Ukwu
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Kentucky Wildcat Defense
Preview 2012 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: The defense that finished tenth in the SEC and 58th in the nation did what it could considering the offense didn't provide any help. Even so, there wasn't enough of a push into the backfield – nothing new for the UK D – and stopping the run wasn't always a given. Now the defense has to go on without its two best players, linebacker Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy, and has to hope and pray that a shaky corner situation comes together in a big hurry. Defensive coordinator Rick Minter will try to get more creative and more aggressive with a veteran line that should be decent with a good set of tackles in Donte Rumph and Mister Cobble. The linebacking corps has lots of work to do, but there's plenty of athleticism to work with, and the safety tandem of Mikie Bendon and Martavius Neloms will be a plus.
Star of the defense: Senior S Martavius Neloms
Tackles: Martavius Neloms, 71
Sacks: Alvin Dupree, Collins Ukwu, 2.5
Interceptions: Several at 1
Player who has to step up and be a star: Redshirt freshman CB Marcus Caffey
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB/DE Alvin Dupree
Best pro prospect: Junior DT Mister Cobble
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Neloms, 2) LB Avery Williamson, 3) Cobble
Strength of the defense: Tackle, Safety
Weakness of the defense: Linebacker, Pass Rush
The defensive front has to start getting into the backfield more, and that needs to start with Collins Ukwu, a 6-5, 258-pound veteran speedster who ranked out 2.5 sacks with 6.5 tackles for loss and 28 tackles despite missing four games. It's a stretch to call the senior a disappointment, but he hasn't been able to turn it loose and become a difference-making pass rusher.
There will be a battle on the other side for the starting end job with linebacker Alvin Dupree getting a long look. The 6-4, 247-pound strongside defender will try to put his hand on the ground after making 21 tackles with 2.5 sacks. Originally a tight end, he has moved around early on in his career and now could get a shot at becoming a top pass rusher. He'll rotate with veteran Taylor Wyndham, a 6-4, 243-pound senior who made 14 tackles with a tackle for loss. He was expected to explode into a big-time factor, but it didn't happen with no sacks and little production. While he has had shoulder problems in the past, he should be more than fine and needs to play up to his potential.
Back to try to clog things up on the inside is junior Mister Cobble, a 6-0, 331-pound junior who came up with 33 tackles with a sack and three tackles for loss. Really big and really strong on the inside, he has been around long enough to know what he's doing after starting nine times last year. He'll work in a rotation with Tristian Johnson, a smaller, quicker option with 6-1, 272-pound size and a good first step. However, he made just one tackle after playing in just two games missing most of last year with a shoulder problem.
Returning to the other tackle spot after starting most of last year is junior Donte Rumph, a 6-3, 315-pound run stopper who made 31 tackles with a sack and three tackles for loss. He has the size and he's more active than his stats might show. Big, quick and mature, he's poised and ready for what should be a solid season with a little help from the rest of the line. Also in the mix will be 6-3, 288-pound sophomore Christian Coleman after making 21 tackles in a promising first season. Very active and with a great motor, he maintained his quickness and athleticism despite bulking up over the last few seasons.
Watch Out For … Dupree. Is he a linebacker? Is he an end? Wherever he plays he'll be asked to become a key pass rusher for a line that needs to come up with more big plays. He might not be a rock up front against the run, but he'll be turned loose to get behind the line.
Strength: Tackle. The combination of Cobble and Rumph should be able to line up and start stopping the run on a regular basis. They're big, active and experienced with the potential to be one of the team's biggest strengths if everything goes according to plan. They were fine last year, but now they need to be great.
Weakness: Pass rush. The Wildcats haven't been able to get behind the line for years, but last season was particularly lousy with just 20 sacks and 64 tackles for loss without enough of that production coming from the line. UK has to manufacture production from somewhere.
Outlook: The coaching staff has made a particular effort to try upgrading the play on the line, and now should be the payoff. If more can come from the ends, the potential is there for this to be the strength of the D. It'll be an aggressive, attacking line that will try to figure out how to get to the quarterback.
Unit Rating: 6.5
How is it possible to replace Danny Trevathan, who did absolutely everything for the front seven. He was the ultimate playmaker, and now it'll be up to junior Avery Williamson to be the new star of the linebacking corps after making 49 tackles with a pick. The 6-1, 245-pound man in the middle is a quick playmaker who gets to the ball in a hurry and makes the stop when he gets there. A pure tackler, he set the Tennessee state championship record with 22 tackles his high school's title game.
Sophomore Malcolm McDuffen made nine tackles working as Trevathan's understudy, and as this offseason showed, he's not Trevathan. At 6-3 and 216 pounds he's built like a big safety and can move, but he needs to be consistent and he has to show he can get to the runner quicker. Lighting fast, he has the potential to become a game-changer, but the athleticism has to translate to production on the field or else redshirt freshman Demarius Rancifer will quickly take over. The 6-2, 226-pound hitter has been more impressive and should see plenty of playing time if he doesn't move McDuffen out of a starting spot. A great athlete with a nose for the ball, he'll eventually be a statistical superstar.
6-2, 223-pound sophomore Miles Simpson is part safety, part linebacker. The 6-2, 223-pound speedster started out his career as a running back but quickly moved over to the defensive backfield. Last year he made five tackles in a limited role, but now he'll get an early look at strongside linebacker where he can use his tremendous athleticism and quickness to do a little of everything. He'll combine with 6-3, 226-pound redshirt freshman Josh Forrest, a high school wide receiver who also came up with a strong year on the defensive side and as a top basketball player. After moving over from wideout last year, he appears ready to make an impact.
Watch Out For … the redshirt freshman. McDuffen and Simpson were underwhelming this offseason leaving the door open for Rancifer and Forrest to get every chance to step in and take over jobs. The coaching staff will go with anyone who can come up with big plays.
Strength: Quickness. The Wildcats use a slew of beefed up safeties as linebackers, and while there will be plenty of question marks, but everyone can move. It might take a little bit of time before everything comes together, but plenty of mistakes will be covered up by getting around the ball fast.
Weakness: Danny Trevathan. 143 tackles, three sacks, 11 tackles for loss, four picks, five broken up passes and five forced fumbles. Trevathan cleaned up a lot of big messes, and the Wildcats don't have another one like him ready to roll.
Outlook: This will be a work in progress with several very young, very athletic prospect ready to fight it out for playing time. The stats will be there because of the nature of the positions, but it could take a while before the corps works like it's supposed to.
Unit Rating: 6.5
With Winston Guy gone, senior Martavius Neloms will be the team's top safety after finishing third on the team with 71 tackles with a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss. A good reserve early on in his career, the 6-1, 188-pounder showed he could work at corner making 55 tackles two years ago, but with his speed and athleticism he's a difference-making type of strong safety. A Tennessee state champion-level sprinter, getting around isn't a problem.
5-11, 195-pound senior Mikie Benton turned into a big of a shocker last year. A reserve who did next to nothing over the first few years of his career, he ended up starting every game last season making a team-leading seven broken up passes with 28 stops. The former walk-on didn't come up with any picks, but there are few more active defenders and no one has a better motor. He can play any position in the secondary, and if he moves, 6-1, 209-pund sophomore Ashely Lowery will step in after making 16 tackles with a fumble recovery in a reserve role.
Former running back Marcus Caffey is getting a long look and every shot at one of the starting corner jobs. At 5-11 and 201 pounds he has great size and the speed and quickness to be an instant factor in the defensive backfield. Bulked up over the last year, he has the bulk to hold up against the run, but he's going to be raw. He'll work in a rotation with 6-0, 200-pound sophomore Eric Simmons, who's getting every shot at a starting job. One of the team's fastest players with sub-4.4 speed and tremendous leaping ability, all the tools are there to go along with his excellent size.
5-10, 187-pound senior Cartier Rice made nine tackles in a limited role and has seen enough time over the last few years to be ready to see more time at one corner spot. Fast and experienced, he needs to solidify one side with so many questions and concerns about the outside. He'll have to work with sophomore Eric Dixon, a 5-11, 184-pound safety and special teamer who'll move to corner after making four tackles with a sack. A good tackler, he should be physical when he gets his chances either at corner or at nickel.
Watch Out For … Caffey. The former running back switched over early enough in his career to grow into a good one over time, and it will take time. He has all the skills, speed and quickness, but it'll be tough for a little while.
Strength: Safety. Losing Winston Guy is a huge problem, and the Wildcats use one hybrid spot as a linebacker/safety, but Mikie Benton and Martavius Neloms are good safeties to work around. They should be good enough to make up for the potential issues at …
Weakness: Cornerback. It's not a mess, but it's not exactly a settled positive. UK will be hoping and praying for Caffey, Rice and others to be good right out of the box. Considering the pass rush likely won't be there to help the cause, the spotlight will be on the corners.
Outlook: It was the case with most SEC teams, especially in the East, there just weren't many top passing teams to deal with. South Carolina went ballistic and a few other teams had some success, but for the most part, the secondary got by thanks to the mediocre passing games on the slate. This year, there's athleticism across the board and there's plenty of experience at safety, but corner is a question and there might be a few problems against anyone who has a good quarterback.
Unit Rating: 6.5
Senior Craig McIntosh followed up a nice sophomore season, when he hit 11-of-15 kicks, with a terrific junior campaign nailing 12-of-14 field goals. He missed a chippie and he didn't bomb away for anything that deep, but he was the team's best offensive performer at times. While he might not be special, he's a solid, reliable veteran.
The punting game was among the best in the nation and finished second in the SEC averaging 39.58 yards per kick thanks to a huge year from Ryan Tydlacka, who average 43.6 yards per kick. Now it'll be up to junior Joe Mansour, a bomber of a kickoff specialist who could work as a placekicker if needed. He'll still deal with kickoffs and will have to battle with Landon Foster, a new recruit who can do a little bit of everything. He'll be the team's placekicker next year, but he's a terrific punter who'll get every shot right away.
The kickoff return game was average with Mychal Bailey averaging 20.7 yards per try, but now it will likely be up to Ashely Lowery, a speedster who averaged 21.4 yards per kickoff return, to give it a shot, while it'll take some work for Gene McCaskill, among others, to add more pop to a miserable punt return game that was the second-worst in the country.
Watch Out For … Foster. McIntosh isn't going to get moved out as a placekicker, but Foster has the ability and the potential to get a few tries. It will be a slight shock if he's not the starting punter sooner than later.
Strength: McIntosh. Considering the Wildcats struggle to score, having a reliable placekicker is a really big deal. UK might not win many games by a field goal, but it has a good option in case it needs to.
Weakness: Punt returns. Considering field position is a must for the offense, having a miserable punt return game is a big problem. The Cats averaged a whopping 1.84 yards per try. Only New Mexico's punt return game was worse.
Outlook: The return game fell off the map without Randall Cobb to rely on, and the punting game is a little bit of a question mark. However, McIntosh is a good placekicker and the coverage teams should be fine. UK has to be great on special teams, but it'll be just okay.
Unit Rating: 5.5
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