2010 Kentucky Preview – Defense
Kentucky LB Danny Trevathan
CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Kentucky Wildcat Defense
Preview 2010 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: The defense lost five excellent starters, most notably linebackers Micah Johnson and Sam Maxwell and DT Corey Peters, but everything will be fine if there isn't a major rash of injuries. This is a very athletic, fast defense that should be more solid than spectacular. Three starters return to a promising secondary, but it lacks a lock-down, No. 1 corner and might have problems if the pass rush is as non-existent as it was last year. UK finished last in the SEC in both sacks and tackles for loss, and new head coach Joker Phillips isn't going to settle for another year without more plays in the backfield. The linebacking corps has tremendous upside and the line should be better against the run, but the production has to match up to the athleticism.
Star of the defense: Junior LB Danny Trevathan
Tackles: Danny Trevathan, 82
Sacks: DeQuin Evans, 6
Interceptions: Randall Burden, 2
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior DT Shane McCord
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Ronnie Sneed
Best pro prospect: Senior DE DeQuin Evans
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Trevathan, 2) Evans, 3) FS Winston Guy
Strength of the defense: Speed and Athleticism, Back Seven Experience
Weakness of the defense: Proven Pass Rush, Run Defense
Projected Starters: The pass rush was a problem all season long for the Wildcats, but senior DeQuin Evans more than did his part with a team-leading six sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss with 38 total tackles. The 6-3, 257-pound speed rusher was a superstar JUCO recruit and didn't disappoint after showing great potential as a pass rushing terror at Los Angeles Harbor College. Strong, he could do more against the run, but his worth is as a pass rusher who should get a plenty of attention as the best player up front.
Looking to solidify the other end spot is sophomore Taylor Wyndham , a promising 6-4, 238-pound pass rusher who started seven games last season and finished with 28 tackles with two sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. His development has been hampered by a shoulder problem that required offseason surgery, but he's expected to be ready to roll by the fall. When he's healthy, he's a flash into the backfield and he should develop as a key part of the line with so much attention paid to DeQuin Evans on the other side.
Trying to step in for Corey Peters at one defensive tackle spot will be 6-2, 292-pound Shane McCord , a career backup with came up with 13 tackles and a stunning interception to set up the game winning touchdown against Georgia. While he hasn't seen any starting time, the senior has been around long enough to know what he's doing on the inside and should be a steady performer against the run.
Senior Ricky Lumpkin started every game last season and now has to serve as the anchor of the front four. The 6-4, 292-pound veteran made 26 tackles and did nothing to get into the backfield, but that's no necessarily his job. While he's a good athlete with the potential to be an interior pass rusher, he has yet to show it off. The 2005 Tennessee Mr. Football hasn't been a disappointment, but he hasn't been the star the UK line has needed him to be. This is his time to be the main man.
Projected Top Reserves: Until Taylor Wyndham is ready at right end, 6-5, 258-pound sophomore Collins Ukwu will get a long look at the job after making 14 tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss. With a terrific burst off the line and the athleticism to cut quickly to get into the backfield and make something happen, he has the potential to become a dangerous factor in the end rotation. While he's a bit tall and rangy, he has a long frame that's tough to get around. While he has bulked up, he still has the frame to add ten pounds of muscle without losing any quickness.
Besides having a terrific name, redshirt freshman Mister Cobble has great size and strength for the interior. At 6-0 and 309 pounds, he's a bowling ball with great leverage for either tackle spot. After tearing it up as a scout teamer, he's ready to become one of the stars up front working in a rotation with Shane McCord at right tackle. Eventually, he'll be the anchor of the defense.
Junior Mark Crawford came up with a decent year as a backup making 16 tackles as a reserve, but he's expected to do far more. The former JUCO star from Coffeyville Community College is a good interior pass rushing prospect with a great motor who goes full-tilt all the time. While he'll be a reserve behind Ricky Lumpkin again, he could end up starting at the other tackle spot.
Redshirt freshman Tristian Johnson hit the weights hard over the last year and got up to 249 pounds on his 6-1 frame. With 4.7 speed and a linebacker mentality, he has the combination of raw skills to be a dangerous specialist in the rotation with DeQuin Evans. In a perfect world he'd be a 3-4 outside linebacker.
Watch Out For … the redshirt freshmen. Johnson might not make a ton of tackles, but he could become a game-changer whenever he gets his chance. Cobble is going to be a good one in the rotation. He could've played last season and was close to being used, but he kept his redshirt and now should be a terror for the next four years.
Strength: Bodies. It's not a plus to lose a star like Corey Peters from the interior, but Cobble, McCord, and Crawford are SEC-sized linemen with just enough talent to form a nice rotation.
Weakness: Pass rush. Evans is a good one, but the UK pass rush began and ended with him last year. The Wildcats finished last in the SEC in sacks and tackles for loss.
Outlook: A disappointment last year, the line will be a key focus of the coaching staff as Joker Phillips has made it his main defensive focus. After finishing 111th in the nation in sacks and 94th in tackles for loss, the UK line has to be more active. The team won't be able to win much this year if the line gives up 183 rushing yards per game again. However, last year was supposed to be a transition, and now there needs to be a payoff.
Unit Rating: 6.5
Projected Starters: Danny Trevathan went from being a little used freshman to a whale of an outside linebacker making 82 tackles (good for second on the team) with five tackles for loss. The 6-1, 225-pound junior will be the leader of the linebackers from the weakside and the star of the defense with great toughness and excellent range. Always a speedster, he showed he wasn't any sort of a finesse player when he played most of the year with a broken wrist. While he didn't used his speed to get into the backfield or do anything against the pass, he made 14 tackles against Auburn and ten against Alabama as part of a steady, consistent campaign.
The biggest loss on the defense, and perhaps the team, is in the middle where heart-and-soul leading tackler Micah Johnson is gone. In steps Ronnie Sneed , a star on the scout team who has yet to do much on the field. At 6-2 and 223-pounds, the junior has is a bit thin and doesn't quite look like a typical middle linebacker, but he's a tough-as-nails player who has no problem mixing it up. Banged up last year with a shoulder problem, he's 100% healthy and could be the surprising new star of the defense, at least statistically. He has waited his turn, and he's more than ready to be a major playmaker after coming up with 14 stops last year.
6-1, 220-pound senior Jacob Dufrene has been a backup throughout his career, but he got a start in the bowl against Clemson on the outside and now will get the call on the strongside as the full-time starter. He only made nine tackles with two tackles for loss, but he was active and has been a fantastic special teamer. A good tackler in practices, he's ready to put all his experience, having seen plenty of game action over the last three years, into use.
Projected Top Reserves: Redshirt freshman Qua Huzzie had a great spring, and while he's not going to push Ronnie Sneed out of a job in the middle, he's expected to be a major factor as one of the team's top backups. Only 5-10 and 210 pounds, he's not built to be a linebacker, but he can stick and will never miss an open field tackle. Out last year with a shoulder problem, he's back and ready to pursue now that he finally gets to log in some playing time. With his high motor, he'll be all over the field.
6-3, 230-pound Ridge Wilson was used as a true freshman on special teams but didn't see too much defensive action. Now he's going to get a chance to be in the hunt for the starting strongside job bringing more size than Jacob Dufrene on the outside. Fast with 4.6 speed, and big, he has the raw skills to be a disruptive force.
Built like a safety, the 6-2, 217-pound William Johnson can move. Mostly a special teamer, the sophomore finished with six tackles. Having bulked up a little bit, he'll try to be a part of the weakside rotation now that he'll be able to take more of a pounding. With his range, he has the potential to be a good playmaker in short bursts.
Watch Out For … Sneed. While he won't be Micah Johnson, he has the experience and he has the size to be one of the team's leading tacklers for the next two years. If he can be a disruptive force who can get into the backfield on a regular basis, he'll earn all-star honors.
Strength: Quickness. This might not be the most talented linebacking corps in the SEC, but everyone can move. Getting around the ball isn't going to be a problem, but now the corps has to use its athleticism to make more big plays.
Weakness: Run defense. Even with Micah Johnson and even with all the speed and athleticism, the linebackers still had problems against good running teams. If the linebackers aren't going to get into the backfield, then they have to be stronger against the run.
Outlook: The numbers and the tackling stats will be there, but the key will be the ability to make plays behind the line and be difference makers in open space. If Sneed can be close to as good as Micah Johnson in the middle, and if Trevathan can keep progressing and improving, the linebackers will be fine. They might not be special, but they'll be better than just serviceable.
Unit Rating: 7
Projected Starters: With injury issues at the other corner spot last year, the steady play of Randall Burden for all 13 games was a major bonus. The 6-0, 187-pound junior finished the year with 36 tackles and two interceptions with eight broken up passes as teams tried to stay away from Trevard Lindley. While he struggled a bit early on, he got better and better as the season has gone on and now he's expected to be the team's No. 1 cover-corner. He's not going to push anyone around and he's not the most physical defender, but he's good in coverage and cuts on a dime.
Taking over the full-time starting corner job again after filling in and starting three times in the middle of the season is Paul Warford , a 5-10, 206-pound senior who did a nice job in place of Trevard Lindley. After missing all of 2008 with a broken collarbone, he came back to make 32 tackles with six broken up passes to pick up where he left off a few years earlier when he made 41 tackles with two picks in 2007. Experienced, he has seen more than his share of SEC battles and won't have any problems with the added work.
Junior Winston Guy is back at his free safety spot after making 50 tackles with a sack and five broken up passes. At 6-1 and 208 pounds, he has good size and decent range, but he has to do more when the ball is in the air and has to be a bigger difference maker. Great against the run, he gets around the ball carrier in a hurry and is always the second man in on stops. A star on kickoff returns early in his career averaging 29.1 yards per try when he had his chance, he has the quickness and speed to go along with his size.
The one new starter to the foursome is Taiedo Smith , a 6-0, 185-pound junior who takes over for Calvin Harrison, who finished fourth on the team with 68 tackles at strong safety. Versatile and smart, Smith started out his career as a corner before moving to free safety he could move wherever needed. Even though he's thin and isn't a huge hitter, he's tough enough to handle himself at strong safety. A jack-of-all-trades defensive back last season, he made 20 tackles. Experienced, it's almost like he's a returning starter.
Projected Top Reserves: 6-1, 188-pound sophomore Martavius Neloms saw plenty of action as a reserve and with one start at corner against South Carolina. Showing great promise as a true freshman, he has good size and tremendous speed as a Tennessee state championship-level sprinter, and after getting his feet wet making 14 tackles with a broken up pass, he's ready to become a top nickel and dime defender as well as a backup behind Randall Burden.
Former wide receiver Anthony Mosley hasn't seen much action over his first two seasons, but the 6-0, 170-pound junior is expected to be a backup corner who gets to see the field as a nickel and dime back. With 4.36 speed and great athleticism, he has the ability to stay with any SEC receiver, but he has to prove he's a tackler and a real, live, football player.
Redshirt freshman Dakotah Tyler is the future at safety. The 5-11, 205-pound speedster is learning what to do after moving over from running back, but he has unlimited range, great athleticism, and surprising hitting ability (at least in practices) with sub-4.4 speed and phenomenal leaping ability. He's like a corner with unlimited range at free safety, and he's smart enough to be the quarterback of the secondary in the near future.
Looking to make an impact right away is JUCO transfer Josh Gibbs , a talented strong safety with excellent ball-hawking skills and good toughness. At 5-10 and 190 pounds he's not all that big, but he moves well and is a willing tackler.
Watch Out For … Warford. Back to form after being off his game for a few years getting fully healthy, he appears ready to become a playmaker now that he'll get more work. He might not be the SEC's best corner, but he'll be reliable.
Strength: Speed. This is a fast group with athletic veterans who can all move with SEC receivers without a problem. The backups are faster than the starters.
Weakness: The run defense. The pass defense stats are a big misleading. UK was technically fine against the pass, but the stats are skewed because everyone spent so much time running on the porous front seven. Florida only threw for 133 yards … and ran for 362. Most teams that really wanted to throw, did.
Outlook: Three starters return and the fourth slot is manned by a strong veteran in Smith. The backups might be green and might be in need of work, but what they lack in football ability and experience they make up for with raw, blazing speed. The secondary will be a plus, and it could quietly be among the SEC's most productive if there's more of a pass rush and if everyone stays healthy.
Unit Rating: 7.5
Projected Starters: Junior Ryan Tydlacka has been a solid punter averaging 40 yards per kick and put 20 inside the 20 and forced 27 fair catches, and most importantly, he became more consistent. Now he'll take over as the full-time placekicker, taking over for Lones Seiber who hit 11-of-16 shots. Tydlacka got a few chances in 2008 hitting 3-of-6 chances, and he has the leg to try a couple of deep shots.
Running back Derrick Locke and Randall Cobb combined to be two of the nation's best kickoff returners with Locke averaging 27.8 yards per try and Cobb averaging 26.5 yards. Cobb is also a special punt returner averaging 12.8 yards per try with a score. These two are devastating whenever they have the ball in their hands.
Watch Out For … Tydlacka to be more than fine as the placekicker. It's almost always a positive when there are two specialists, but Tydlacka should be able to handle the work. There will be a few others who'll get a shot at the placekicking gig, like sophomore Patrick Simmons , but Tydlacka has the leg to be a weapon.
Strength: Locke and Cobb. UK might have the best pair of returners in America with Locke and Cobb always productive and always dangerous. Opposing teams have to do whatever they can to keep the ball out of their hands.
Weakness: Proven placekicker. Okay, so Tydlacka should be alright, but Kentucky can't afford to give away any close games if it wants to play in a bowl game. The Cats need someone who's able to show he can connect in the clutch.
Outlook: The return game will be phenomenal and Tydlacka is a nice punter who'll be among the best in the hunt for All-SEC honors. The punt coverage team should be great again and the kickoff coverage will be more than fine. The special teams, if the field goal kicking is consistent, will be among the best in the league.
Unit Rating: 8
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