2007 Kentucky Preview - Defense

Posted Jul 30, 2007

Preview 2007 Kentucky Wildcat Defense

Kentucky Wildcats

Preview 2007 - Defense

- 2007 Kentucky Preview | 2007 UK Offense Preview
2007 UK Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Kentucky Preview 

What you need to know:
Defensive coordinator Mike Archer is gone, and now former secondary coach Steve Brown will take over in an attempt to revive one of the nation's worst defenses. The run defense won't be any good again with little size up front, but the secondary should be better with excellent speed and good young prospects. It'll take awhile to see any improvement overall, but there's enough overall athleticism to expect things to be a bit better.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Wesley Woodyard, 122
Sacks: Myron Pryor, 5
Interceptions: Marcus McClinton, 4

Star of the defense: Senior LB Wesley Woodyard
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior DE Nii Adjei Oninku
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DT Corey Peters
Best pro prospect: Junior FS Marcus McClinton
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Woodyard, 2) LB Braxton Kelley, 3) McClinton
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, speed in the secondary
Weakness of the defense:
Run defense, pass defense

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The line has to be better against the run, and that starts on the inside. 6-1, 300-pound junior Myron Pryor is back at right tackle after making 42 tackles and five sacks. While he's a strong interior pass rusher, he has to hold up better when push comes to shove. He's tremendously quick for his size.

Taking over the other starting tackle job from, vacated by Lamar Mills, is 6-3, 290-pound sophomore Corey Peters, the rising star of the defense. A fantastic prospect with a great combination of strength and athleticism, he made 18 tackles and a sack as a reserve. He has the potential to be the anchor of the line over the next three years.

Returning at left end is 6-3, 268-pound sophomore Jeremy Jarmon after getting six starts and making 30 tackles and four sacks. It took him a little while to figure out what he was doing, but once the light went on, he became a factor. Now that he's stronger, and with a little bit of experience, he needs to be the team's go-to pass rusher.

Trying to take over for do-it-all end Durrell White will be 6-1, 248-pound junior Nii Adjei Ononku, a star in practice who has to grow into a regular terror in the backfield. Want-to isn't an issue, but toughness against the run is after making 12 tackles. He has the speed and the motor to become a star if he gets more time to develop.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-3, 261-pound senior Dominic Lewis remains one of the team's most interesting defenders. A tailback to start his career, he has emerged as a decent speed rusher with two sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss, along with 30 tackles, as a reserve. Extremely strong with plenty of experience, he'll be a good option behind Oninku on the right side.

Playing behind Pryor on the inside is one of the team's most promising up-and-coming prospects, 6-4, 289-pound redshirt freshman Ricky Lumpkin. an end to start out his career, Tennessee's "Mr. Football" of 2005 will look to become a steady, athletic tackle option.

Watch Out For ... Peters. Lamar Mills wasn't bad, but he didn't do nearly enough to be missed. Peters is a great looking prospect who should be an upgrade on the inside. 
Pressure. The line might not be all that physical, but it can move. By design, this is an athletic group that can swarm to the ball and create mismatches with its speed. Generating sacks and tackles for loss shouldn't be an issue.
Run defense. You and four friends could push the UK front four around. The line is full of four pass rushers and doesn't have the brick-wall run stopper to work around. There isn't much appreciable hope for a big turnaround this year.
It's almost like Kentucky, as a program, realized it just isn't going to be able to consistently stop the run, so it set out to try to figure out something it could do well. While it did a good job of getting into the backfield, and a decent job of getting to the quarterback, the line could stand to be better overall. If Oninku and Jarmon can use their speed on the outside more consistently, the tackles can spend more time trying to hold up against the power running teams.
Rating: 6


Projected Starters
For all the problems on the defense, the one player the Wildcats can rely in is 6-1, 212-pound senior Wesley Woodyard on the weakside. The former strong safety has been a tackling machine over the last two seasons with 222 tackles and 16.5 tackles for loss. Extremely fast and always around the ball, he'll be the leader and tone-setter for the front seven.

Returning to the middle is 6-0, 226-pound junior Braxton Kelley, an undersized playmaker who hits much bigger than his size. He finished second on the team with 82 tackles and should be even better and more active now that he's two years removed from a knee injury that kept him from seemingly going full-tilt early on in 2006.

A reserve as a true freshman making six tackles, 6-3, 225-pound sophomore Sam Maxwell has tremendous upside with fantastic athleticism and good toughness on the strongside. He'll be pushed for playing time, but he's too fast and too talented to keep off the field for long.

Projected Top Reserves: Is the light going to go on for Micah Johnson? The superstar recruit could've gone anywhere in America, but chose UK last year and was expected, almost unfairly so, to be All-Everything right off the bat. To be fair, he was mostly a high school running back who was just starting to learn all the defensive ropes, especially at an SEC level, and he still made 29 tackles as a true freshman. He's now up to 270 pounds and should eventually grow into a force in the middle once he gets over a sports hernia that kept him out of a bulk of spring ball.

Adding depth to the mix is 6-3, 240-pound junior Johnny Williams, a bigger option than Maxwell on the strongside, and a good veteran with seven starts last season, and 24 games of playing time overall, making 35 tackles in 2006. While strong and with a great motor, he's likely better served to end up as a smallish defensive end than a linebacker.

Watch Out For ... Johnson. He's not there yet, but eventually, he'll become one of the team's top defensive players. His skills and upside are phenomenal. He'll make plenty of mistakes and could end up on the line, but he's too talented not to blossom into a player. 
Tackling. Woodyard and Kelley get to everything and are rock-solid certain tacklers. They've been around long enough to know all the ins and outs of playing in the SEC, and they're good ones to clean up the messes created by the bad line.
Pass defense. The pass defense is a team-wide issue, but the linebacking corps needs to do more against the short to midrange passes. There's too much speed and athleticism to not be better, even though the corps has to spend most of its time dealing with the run.
The strength of the defense by default, this is an experienced, athletic, and active group that'll only get better once Micah Johnson figures out what he's doing. Wesley Woodyard and Braxton Kelley will be among the SEC's most effective linebacking duos, and Sam Maxwell is a good one who'll eventually become a top producer.
Rating: 7

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
As bad as the pass defense was last year, there are some decent players returning. 6-0, 175-pound sophomore Trevard Lindley took his lumps, but he turned into a whale of an open field tackler, finishing fifth on the team with 52 tackles and led the way with 12 broken up passes with two interceptions. He'll be one of the team's best all-around defenders.

Getting the start on the other side will be 6-0, 190-pound sophomore E.J. Adams, a lightning fast prospect who made 13 tackles and a pick in a limited nickel role as a true freshman. With 4.4 speed and tremendous jumping ability, he has the size and the measurables to grow into a consistent second corner. It might take a while, but it'll eventually happen.

Back at free safety is 6-1, 210-pound junior Marcus McClinton after finishing third on the team with 65 tackles and leading the way with four interceptions. A big hitter who showed no ill-effects from a knee injury that knocked him out of the 2005 season, he should be the tone-setter for the secondary who needs to start doing more to help out the corners when the ball is in the air.

Pushing for the starting strong safety job will be 6-0, 205-pound sophomore Ashton Cobb after making 11 tackles as a reserve. While he'll be in a fight for the starting job, he has the strength, speed and upside to get him more starting time and hope he'll grow into a consistent playmaker.

Projected Top Reserves: Battling for the strong safety job will be senior Roger Williams, the starter throughout most of last year who finished fourth on the team with 62 tackles and two interceptions. A huge hitter who has cornerback speed, he'll be back in the starting mix sooner than later. He has too much experience not to be a big part of the mix.

Seeing plenty of action as a reserve will be 5-11, 200-pound sophomore Paul Warford, who made 34 tackles with a broken up pass. One of the team's fastest players and best all-around athletes, he'll see plenty of time in the rotation behind Lindley.

Junior Shomari Moore has been a regular backup for the last two years with great speed and good experience making 44 career tackles. With five career starts, he could step in and be a key player if Adams struggles.

Watch Out For ... Adams. If there's going to be improvement in the secondary, it'll likely come from Adams, who began to show a little bit of what he could do last year in a limited role. Now he should blossom on the other side of Lindley.
Speed. The corners can fly. From Lindley to Adams to Warford to Moore, staying with the speedy receivers won't be an issue. The hope has to be for the overall athleticism to overcome the other problems.
Coverage. Only Kansas was worse against the pass. With three sophomores starting, and a slew of young backups, things might take a while before they get a little better.
The secondary can't be any worse than it was last year, and it won't be. All the green players who got toasted so often last year are now veterans, even if they do need more seasoning. The speed and athleticism is there, but now there has to be a little bit of consistency and far more done to keep the big plays and big passes in check. This will be one o the team's strengths next year. Next year.
Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters
Both kickers return, but they could stand to be a bit better. Sophomore Lones Seiber hit 11 of 19 field goal attempts with two kicks blocked. He has decent range, able to connect on anything inside 50 yards, but he needs to be more consistent.

Junior punt Tim Masthay averaged 39.2 yards per kick with 13 put inside the 20. He has a good leg and gets fantastic hang time. While his net average isn't all that great, he doesn't allow much on returns.

Watch Out For ... a tremendous year from the coverage teams. After allowing just 3.6 yards per punt return and 18.4 per kickoff return, the attention will once again be on the details. Doing the little things right, like kick coverage, helps make an average team a winner.
The return game. Rafael Little is one of the nation's elite punt returners averaging a whopping 22.6 yards per try. Not to be outdone is kick returner Keenan Burton, who averaged 24.7 yards per return. UK was first in the nation in punt returns and tenth in kickoff returns.
: Seiber on bombs. It's nitpicking for the loaded special teams, but Seiber has to be more consistent overall and he's not going to hit too many from beyond 40. Again, nitpicking.
If Lones Seiber can get his field goal percentage to around 75% and if Tim Masthay can average over 40 yards per kick, the UK special teams will be among the best in the country. It would help if returners Keenan Burton and Rafael Little could stay healthy.
Rating: 8.5


Related Stories
2007 Kentucky Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 30, 2007
2007 Kentucky Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 30, 2007
2007 Kentucky Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 30, 2007

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