2013 Kentucky Preview – Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Kentucky Wildcat Defense
Preview 2013 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: The defense wasn't necessarily the problem last season, doing a good job rushing the passer and holding up relatively well against the run. There are athletes across the board for defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot to play around with in his 4-3 alignment, but it's all going to be a work in progress. The secondary was hit hard by injuries, but on the plus side, several young players got in meaningful work. The line should be the biggest plus with pass rushers Alvin "Bud" Dupree on one side and JUCO transfer Za'Darius Smith on the other, while there's a good group of veteran tackles with size and quickness in the interior. The linebackers can all move with tackling-machine Avery Williamson and speedster Miles Simpson ready to put up big numbers again.
Star of the defense: Junior DE Alvin "Bud" Dupree
Tackles: Avery Williamson, 135
Sacks: Alvin Dupree, 6.5
Interceptions: J.D. Harrison, 2
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore LB Khalid Henderson
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DE Za'Darius Smith
Best pro prospect: Senior DT Donte Rumph
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Dupree, 2) LB Avery Williamson, 3) Rumph
Strength of the defense: Pass Rush, Athleticism
Weakness of the defense: Defensive Back, Tackles For Loss
The line has to get into the backfield more, but the pass rush should be fantastic again led by Alvin "Bud" Dupree, a 6-4, 254-pound hybrid who's part linebacker, part end, all pass rusher. Originally a tight end, the junior moved around early on, but he found a home showing what he could do last season finishing second on the team with 91 tackles with 6.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss. He'll be used wherever he can continue to produce big plays.
In the interior, 6-3, 323-pound senior Donte Rumph looks the part of an SEC anchor starting for the last two seasons with the size and raw bulk to go along with good quickness and maturity. Good at getting to the quarterback, he made 36 tackles with four sacks, and while he's not necessarily an anchor, he's solid. Rumph has to get past a shoulder injury, but even at 100%, he'll work in a rotation with junior Mike Douglas, a beefed up linebacker who saw time in every game making 12 tackles with a sack.
6-0, 340-pound senior Mister Cobble is a built like a bowling ball with great size, excellent leverage and good strength for the interior. Along with his fantastic name, he has good experience and pass rushing ability with two sacks to go along with 25 tackles in his ten games of work. He'll once again work in a rotation with senior Tristian Johnson, a smaller, quicker option with 6-1, 277-pound size and a great first step. He made 27 tackles with 1.5 sacks, and he led the team with five quarterback hurries.
On the way to add even more disruptive ability to the pass rush is JUCO transfer Za'Darius Smith, a 6-6, 260-pounder out of East Mississippi CC with a world of upside. A phenomenal get for the Wildcats, he's big, active and still scratching the surface. A basketball player who didn't start playing football until late in his high school career, the upside is limitless. He'll be backed up by sophomore Farrington Huguenin, a 6-4, 269-pound sophomore who got in a little starting time finishing with 11 tackles and three quarterback hurries. He's close to being a devastating pass rushing specialist.
Watch Out For … Jason Hatcher and Alvonte Bell, two big-time end prospects who had their choice of top schools, and will soon be key parts of the UK line. At 6-3 and 250 pounds, Hatcher is built more like a linebacker and has serious speed off the end. A closer, he doesn't make a mistake when he gets a bead on a passer. The 6-5, 255-pound Bell is another devastating pass rusher with decent athleticism. The Florida native was hurt throughout last year, but he'll be fine.
Strength: Pass rush. A weakness became a strength. Dupree should be even stronger as an end in the 4-3, while the addition of Smith should ramp things up even more. The defensive tackles can get to the quarterback, too.
Weakness: Tackles for loss. The pass rush was solid, but oddly enough, the defensive front didn't come up with enough plays behind the line finishing dead last in the SEC in tackles for loss. The run defense wasn't bad, but the line has to be even more disruptive when it's not going after the quarterback.
Outlook: The coaching staff will want even more of a pass rush and even more production. There's a great combination of size, experience and depth, but the aggressive and attacking line has to keep moving forward. The potential is there for this to be a major plus.
Unit Rating: 7
Kentucky always seems to find statistical superstars at linebacker, and the next in line after Danny Trevathan did the job. Senior Avery Williamson came up with a terrific season cranking out 135 tackles with three sacks with a pick and two forced fumbles. The 6-1, 241-pound man in the middle finished second in the SEC in tackles with double-digit stops in eight games including 20 in the loss to Vanderbilt. Very quick and always around the ball, he's a pure tackler who set the Tennessee state championship record with 22 tackles in his high school's title game, and he's solid in pass protection.
Also back is junior Miles Simpson, who's like a big safety at outside linebacker with tremendous speed and quickness. The former running back quickly moved over to the defensive backfield when he arrived, and last year he great into the role doing a little of everything finishing third on the team with 70 tackles with a sack and four broken up passes. Also in the hunt for playing time is Kory Brown, a 6-0, 205-pound defensive back-sized linebacker out of East Central CC who saw a little time throughout last year making 11 stops with a tackle for loss. Fast and smart, he can be a hybrid type in several formations.
6-1, 224-pound sophomore Khalid Henderson did a nice job as a
true freshman making 26 tackles, and now he'll get a
starting job on the outside where he has the
potential to be a dangerous pass rusher and
playmaker behind the line. A high school sprinter
and long jumper, he's a fantastic athlete who's
smooth as silk and gets around the ball without a
Watch Out For … Josh Forrest, a 6-3, 241-pound academic all-star who started out his career at wide receiver but bulked up and became a part of the linebacker rotation making 13 tackles on the season. With his athleticism, he needs to make more things happen against the pass.
Strength: Speed. By design, the former coaching staffs made a big deal about getting athletes. Almost all the UK linebackers ran track and they can all swarm around the ball. Everyone in this group can hit, too.
Weakness: Plays behind the line. The UK linebackers don't use their speed enough to make things happen behind the line. The pass rushing was left to the line, but now it's up to the linebackers to start being more disruptive and far tougher.
Outlook: Last year was a work in progress with several young athletes trying to figure out what they were doing. The statistics will be solid in the 4-3 alignment, but now that there's experience at all three spots, the impact plays have to come.
Unit Rating: 7
The corners have to be far stronger after allowing too many big plays, and it's going to be an ongoing battle for both spots. 5-10, 177-pound sophomore Cody Quinn grew into a role last season when players started going down and he came up with 25 tackles with five broken up passes. Extremely fast, he has sub-4.4 speed and has no problems staying with the more athletic SEC receivers. Sophomore J.D. Harmon is a bigger option with 6-2, 191-pound size and nice athleticism. The former walk-on was forced into playing time making 24 tackles with a team-leading two interceptions with four other broken up passes. With a high motor, he's always working to make something happen.
Coming in and looking to take over a starting corner spot right away is JUCO transfer Nate Willis, a 6-0, 180-pounder from Arizona Western College with lock-down, No. 1 skills. Quick and physical, he could be moved into a nickel role if he doesn't see time at corner, but he'll find a starting spot somewhere right away. Sophomore Fred Tiller is also in the hunt for a starting gig after getting his feet wet in his true freshman season. A phenomenal athlete in a secondary full of great athletes he stands out with tremendous leaping ability making him play bigger than his 6-0, 170-pound size. He didn't pick off any passes as a true freshman, but he broke up two passes and made 27 tackles.
Is junior Ashely Lowery healthy? The team's only returning starter in the secondary was seriously injured in a car accident this offseason and is still trying to recover, much less get back on the field. At 6-1 and 219 pounds, the safety is a good veteran who made 43 tackles with a pick despite missing four games hurt. If and when he's right again, he'll be a leader and a tone-setting difference-maker, but considering what he's coming back from, other options have to be at the ready including junior Eric Dixon, a 5-11, 189-pound versatile defender who can play anywhere in the secondary. He did see too much time as a sophomore making five tackles with a sack, but he'll be called on to do far more.
The Blaylock brothers, and sons of former basketball star, Mookie Blaylock, will fight for playing time and could each start. 6-1, 213-pound sophomore Daron Blaylock is the bigger and better of the two, seeing a little time as a true freshman making 14 tackles with two broken up passes. Very fast, he has terrific range, as does his twin brother, Zack Blaylock, who ended up burning his redshirt and started three times finishing with 15 tackles in just seven games. At 6-0 and 191 pounds he's a little smaller than his brother, but he's a good hitter.
Watch Out For … Marcus McWilson, a 6-0, 210-pound safety who might be the team's most talented defensive back right out of the box. Very tough and very quick, he's a dangerous return option with great hands and range. He did it all in high school, and he should quickly grow into a tone-setting playmaker.
Strength: Corner options. Last year the injuries that struck turned out to be a positive to get so many young players the time needed to figure out what they're doing. There was some lump-taking, but the payoff should come with young veterans combining with Willis to give the secondary hope.
Weakness: Big passing teams. Arkansas, Georgia and Tennessee had their way with the Cats, and most teams that tried to throw, did. There weren't enough big plays to offset the problems with just five picks on the year – with two of them against Missouri – and there were too many big plays allowed.
Outlook: It might take another season before the secondary finds its groove, but it's a very young, very promising group with enough good underclassmen and enough good incoming prospects to expect more in the near future. There could be a big problem at safety if Lowery can't come back and be his normal self, but overall the production shouldn't dip.
Unit Rating: 6
Craig McIntosh is gone, but he wasn't exactly a weapon hitting just 8-of-15 field goals. Senior Joe Mansour will get the first look at the starting placekicking gig with a big leg as the team's kickoff specialist over the last few years. He has the talent to be fine, and he should add a bit more range than Mansour. He'll also work as the backup punter, but the job is sophomore Landon Foster's, a top recruit who averaged 42.9 yards per try and put 13 inside the 20. Also a placekicking option, he found his niche as the punter for another three years.
Receiver Demarco Robinson only averaged 6.5 yards per punt return, but Daryl Collins was a little more dangerous averaging 15 yards per try on his three attempts. They're both extremely quick with the potential to do far more.
Running back Raymond Sanders only got ten kickoff returns, but he made the most of his attempts averaging 22.3 yards per try. He and Dyshawn Mobley have the straight-line speed be more dangerous.
Watch Out For … Austin MacGinnis, a star kicker recruit out of Alabama who'll get every shot for any and all the kicking jobs. He can kickoff and punt, but he'll eventually be the starting placekicker with a monster leg and the mindset to handle himself under pressure. He'll be a difference-maker.
Strength: Punt coverage. Foster did a nice job in his first year, and he was helped out in a big way by the coverage team that allowed just six yards per return. The Cats can't give up field position, and Foster should do even more.
Weakness: Placekicking. It's not like the Cats were in a ton of close games, but it would be nice if the kicking game was stronger. There are several options ready to fight for the job, but last year's 8-of-15 from McIntosh won't do.
Outlook: UK has to own the third phase. The speed is there to do more with the return game, and the coverage teams will be fine, but the kicking game has to be stronger to complement the nation's 18th best punting game.
Unit Rating: 6
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