Kentucky Preview 2006 - Defense
Kentucky Wildcats
Posted Aug 8, 2006

Kentucky Wildcats Preview 2006 - Wildcat Defense

What you need to know ... The defense was the worst in the SEC in just about every way imaginable and isn't about to be dominant. However, there should be a bit of improvement with all the young players who had mega-problems last season more experienced led by a linebacking corps with all three starters returning and an athletic, sophomore dominated front line. The secondary will be a work in progress with the pieces needing to be put together around corner Bo Smith. Most importantly, the D has to be far better against the run.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Wesley Woodyard, 100
Sacks: 3 players with two
Interceptions: Bo Smith, 2

Star of the defense: Junior LB Wesley Woodyard
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore CB David Jones and/or redshirt freshman CB Trevard Lindley
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Nii Adjei Oninku
Best pro prospect: Senior CB Bo Smith
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Woodyard, 2) SS Roger Williams, 3)
Nii Adjei Oninku
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, young athleticism
Weakness of the defense:
Run defense, second cornerback

Defensive Line
While there's not a lot of overall starting experience, that might not be a bad thing considering the lack of production of last year's group. The line should be better with good, quick prospects ready to blossom and enough overall athleticism to get into the backfield on a regular basis. It's not a huge line and there has to be far more production against the run with 307-pound sophomore Myron Pryor needing to be the clogger the line was missing last season. Durrell White got bigger and should be better at one end, while Nii Adjei Oninku has to use his tremendous athleticism to be a top pass rusher on the other side.
The key to the unit: All the good young athletes have to grow into tough veteran defenders. The entire line has to be far better against the run.
Defensive Line Rating: 6

Projected Starters
- DE Durrell White, Sr. - 22 tackles, 1 sack, 4 TFL, 2 broken up passes
The former linebacker was moved to the line to provide more of a pass rush, but he wasn't as effective as he should've been suffering a foot injury late in the year and having overall problems against the more physical linemen. Now he's up to 260 pounds and has the experience to be far more productive.

- DT Lamar Mills, Sr. - 8 tackles
The 295-pound senior didn't become the producer he was expected to become last year, but he looked great this spring and quickly moved his way into the starting mix. He's smart, quick and tough.

- DT Myron Pryor, Soph. - 13 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 TFL

The 307-pound sophomore made good strides as a true freshman getting the starting nod late in the year. He's a good athlete for his size with the strength to grow into the anchor in the middle. He's quick for his size and should be one of the team's top defenders over the next few seasons.

- DE Nii Adjei Oninku, Soph. - 24 tackles, 2 TFL
The former star of the scout team and top reserve now gets his shot to start on the right side taking over for top pass rusher B. Jay Parsons. He's fast enough to be expected to become a terror in the backfield as the season goes on. 

Top Backups
- DT/DE Ricky Abren, Jr. - 5 tackles, 1 TFL
Abren appeared to be all set for a huge sophomore season but was never healthy with a wrist injury limiting him all year. He's healthy now and should be a great interior pass rusher if he doesn't take over on the outside. At 285 pounds, he's big enough to play anywhere on the line.
- DT Jason Leger, Jr. - 23 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL
One of the line's toughest players, the 288-pound junior goes full-tilt all the time. He's one of the line's most experienced defenders with 21 games of experience and seven games of starting time last year, but he'll have a hard time pushing rising start Myron Pryor out of the starting right tackle spot.
- DT Ventrell Jenkins, Soph. - 6 tackles
The 286-pound sophomore saw a little bit of time as a true freshman and now will push for the starting job at left tackle behind Ricky Abren .The former linebacker is extremely quick and should be an explosive interior pass rusher with a little more experience.
- DE Dominic Lewis, Jr. - 2 tackles
Lewis has been moved all over the place from tight end to tailback. Now the 263-pound junior will stay at defensive end where he'll be one of the fastest and most athletic linemen on the team.

There's plenty of experience with all three starters returning along with plenty of developed depth, but this is still a very, very young group that'll rely on four sophomores and two juniors to improve the fortunes of the defense. Braxton Kelley's return from a knee injury should help the production in the middle, while the experience of Joe Schuler and All-SEC candidate Wesley Woodyard on the outside will be a steadying factor. Sophomores Ben McGrath, Johnny Williams and Mikhail Mabry can all fill in and start without a problem.
The key to the unit: Wesley Woodyard needs to be as good as he was last year while the rest of the corps has to be stronger against the run and needs to make more big plays.
Linebacker Rating: 6.5

Projected Starters
- Joe Schuler, Jr. - 47 tackles, 3.5 TFL
Able to play in the middle or on the outside, the 233-pound junior will return to his starting spot on the strongside. He's an experienced, steady defender who has to be more explosive and make more plays in the backfield. With the strength of a defensive lineman, he has to be more effective against the run.

- Braxton Kelley, Soph. - 44 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL
Kelley was growing into a strong defender in the middle as a true freshman before suffering a knee injury. He's a huge hitter who plays much bigger than his 226 pounds, and he started to become a leader of the defense even with his limited experience. It's not a lock that he'll be a starter by opening day, but he'll find his way back into the lineup early on.

- Wesley Woodyard, Jr. - 100 tackles, 2 sacks, 7 TFL, 1 interception, 5 broken up passes, 4 recovered fumbles
The former strong safety quickly made the adjustment to linebacker and became a whale of a defender leading the team in tackles and finishing second in broken up passes. He's only 212 pounds, but he's extremely fast and is always around the ball. The vocal leader of the defense, he should be the tone-setter and used more to get into the backfield.

Top Backups
- Ben McGrath, Soph. - 35 tackles, 4 TFL
"Blood Bath" played a key role in the middle taking over when Braxton Kelley got hurt. The former high school quarterback runs well and did a good job on the inside considering his lack of experience. He's being prepped to start in case Kelley's injured knee isn't back to 100%.
- Johnny Williams, Soph. - 14 tackles
The 243-pound sophomore is one of the biggest players in the corps. He has the potential to be a good run stopper on the strongside behind Joe Schuler with enough pass rushing skills to potentially bulk up a bit more and be used at end.
- Mikhail Mabry, Soph. - 5 tackles
The 235-pound Mabry is a much bigger option on the weakside than the 212-pound Wesley Woodyard. With his size and tenacity, he has the potential to be a great all-around playmaker and a top pass rusher.
- Micah Johnson, Fr.
One of the nation's top recruits, the 6-2, 255-pound true freshman was a superstar running back who ran for 2,543 yards and 46 touchdowns over the last two seasons. He could potentially be a lightning fast defensive end but will start out as a potentially dominant outside linebacker.

Defensive Backs
The secondary will be a work in progress trying to fine the right pieces to fit after allowing an SEC worst 243 yards per game and 24 touchdown passes. Bo Smith would've been a lock for a starting corner spot if he wasn't booted off the team, and Roger Williams will fit in again at safety, but everything else is relatively wide open and should change around several times. There's good speed at the other corner with David Jones one of the team's faster players, while Karl Booker and Marcus McClinton should do well combining at free safety.
The key to the unit: Someone has to make a play. The secondary only picked off four passes and was consistently picked apart.
Secondary Rating: 5.5

Projected Starters
- CB Trevard Lindley, RFr.
One of the surprises of spring ball, Lindley showed off his tremendous speed and played far stronger than expected. He bulked up, but is still a thin 6-0 and 175 pounds. Even so, he took over the starting job out of spring ball.

- FS Marcus McClinton, Soph. - 7 tackles
A rising star at safety last year, McClinton injured his knee and missed most of last season. Fortunately, it happened early enough to give him time to heal and be 100% for the start of the season. At 214 pounds he's a good-sized defender with the athleticism to be a good pass defender.

- SS Roger Williams, Jr. - 69 tackles, 1 interception, 2 broken up passes, 2 TFL
One of the team's fastest players is also a big-league hitter. He's 6-0 and 200 pounds, and now he's on the verge of becoming a rock in the secondary after finishing third on the team in tackles last season. He has All-SEC potential if he makes a jump in production like he did last year.

- CB Karl Booker, Sr. - 9 tackles, 1 broken up pass
First a wide receiver and then a cornerback, then a free safety, now back in the corner mix, Booker moved back to corner if Marcus McClinton gets healthy. The former walk-on is a good athlete with good range. Now he has to prove he can hit.

Top Backups
- CB David Jones, Soph. - 20 tackles, 3 broken up passes
His 4.4 speed should make him a mainstay at right corner over the next three seasons. He made an impact as a backup corner and on special teams and now has to grow into a big play defender on the other side of Bo Smith.
- CB Shomari Moore, Soph. - 24 tackles, 1 interception, 3 broken up passes
Moore had a strong first season as a good reserve with two starts at corner. He's lightning fast and now needs to shine as a steady corner with top defender Bo Smith dismissed from the team.
- CB Bo Smith, Jr. - 53 tackles, 2 interceptions, 2 TFL, 5 broken up passes
The coaching staff named him the team's defensive player of the year after being a top tackler and the team's best cover-corner, but now, one of the team's top players has been dismissed from the team due to academic issues and won't play this year leaving a huge hole at corner.

Special Teams
The kicking game won't be anything special unless punter Tim Masthay ups his average to around 40 yards a kick and new placekicker J.J. Housley can be above average. The return game should be among the best in America thanks to Rafael Little, who averaged a whipping 16.9 yards per punt return. UK finished third in the country in punt returns and fourth in kickoff returns and should be close to as good.
The key to the unit: The kicking game needs more range and Rafael Little has to be as good a returner as he was last season.
Special Team Rating: 7

Projected Starters
- PK J.J. Housley, Soph.
Housley is the only uncertainty in the special teams replacing the rock-solid Taylor Begley, who hit 12 of 15 field goals. The sophomore doesn't have to be a bomber, but he'll need to be consistent from 35 yards and in.
- P Tim Masthay, Soph. - 54 punts, 1,965 yds, 36.4 yards per kick, 15 inside the 20
Masthay had a decent season as a true freshman, but not a great one. He needs to get more blast on the ball and has to be good again at putting the ball inside the 20. He was great at hanging the ball up for fair catches.

Related Stories
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Kentucky Preview 2006 - Further Analysis
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Kentucky Preview 2006 - Offense
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