Due to an ineffective offense leading to lopsided time of possession, Rick Minter’s first year as defensive coordinator may not have been much of a change, numbers wise, from previous seasons. But over the second half of the 2011 season, there is no question the Kentucky defense began showing improvement and began passing the look test. Despite losing three of the top four leading tacklers due to graduation, the defense looks to continue the natural progression expected in year two of a new system. For that to occur, the 2012 Kentucky defense will rely heavily on the most experienced position grouping on the team; the defensive line.
Defensive line coach David Turner begins his third year at Kentucky and his 26th overall in coaching, including 12th in the SEC.
The Kentucky defense will be multiple in their fronts and will vary from play to play, but the base defense will feature three down linemen. To run a successful 3-4 defense you have to have a nose tackle that demands a double team and can hold the point of attack, allowing your linebackers to roam and make plays. Minter and Washington feel they have those anchors in Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph.
After redshirting his freshmen season, Cobble was declared academically ineligible and thus had to two sit out two straight seasons to begin his career. He finally got back onto the field last year and, the now 6-0 331 pound junior, led all UK defensive linemen in tackles with 33, including three for a loss. Head coach Joker Phillips has raved about his transformation both on the field and in the classroom, calling Cobble not only a leader of his unit, but of the entire team.
Rumph has also had his share of ups and downs before finally seeing the playing field, as the 6-3, 315 pound junior signed with UK three times before finally gaining eligibility for the 2010 season. After registering 31 tackles a year ago, the coaching staff is expecting another step forward as Rumph has improved his conditioning and gotten stronger.
The third starting member of the defensive line is recently named permanent team captain, senior defensive end Collins Ukwu. Ukwu is the most experienced Wildcat upfront having played in 35 games, including 24 starts. Despite missing three games due to injury a year ago, he led all defensive linemen with 2.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. Ukwu has added close to 50 pounds since arriving on campus helping to make him more stout against the run, but still maintains the speed and athleticism to be a dangerous edge rusher.
When UK does go to a four-man defensive line, one of the first defensive ends onto the field will be senior Taylor Wyndham. Wyndham has been a part-time starter and solid contributor as a pass rusher throughout his career. Expect Minter to move him around on the field to utilize his athleticism and to create confusion.
Another defensive end expected to see a lot of playing time is redshirt freshmen, Farrington Huguenin. After signing with UK out of prep school then sitting out last year, Huguenin impressed coaches in the spring with his pass rush skills and has continued to make waves during fall camp.
Despite a solid redshirt freshmen season at end, Mike Douglas has been moved inside to the jumbo defensive end position that Donte Rumph plays. Douglas played in nine games a year ago, starting the last three. He registered 16 tackles, including a sack and two tackles for loss.
The surprise of fall camp has been the play of junior Tristian Johnson. After missing most of last season with a shoulder injury, Johnson had a good spring and has followed that up with a great fall. Coach Turner has repeatedly praised his intensity and consistent motor, forcing his way into the two-deep on the depth chart.
Unfortunately going the other way on the depth chart is Christian Coleman. After a solid true freshmen season in 2011 that included 21 tackles, Coleman was thought to be a building block for the defensive line along with Cobble and Rumph. However, the move of Douglas inside and the play of Johnson has knocked the sophomore down the depth chart and, according to Turner, Coleman has not responded with the effort the coaching staff would like. With that said, Coleman is extremely talented and is the biggest of all the reserve defensive linemen so expect him to play major minutes when the lights come on.
After mainly contributing on specials teams a year ago, sophomore Alvin Davis will be a key reserve as he will see snaps at end and tackle as defensive linemen will be rotated consistently to keep everyone fresh.
In a perfect world, the coaching staff would like to redshirt all three true freshmen defensive linemen, but injuries or ineffective play could force their hand on any of the group. Thomas Chapman, from Manual High School in Louisville, has the size to compete for playing time, but could use the year to add strength after missing his junior season in high school due to a knee injury. Patrick Graffree has gone from a relative unknown out of Elizabethtown, to being in the discussion for early playing time as he has impressed over the summer and in the fall with his work ethic. But as is the case with most freshmen, the year in the weight room will beneficial for him and his future. Langston Newton, brother of quarterback Morgan, is the final member the freshmen defensive line class. In addition to football, Newton was a standout track performer at Carmel High School in Indiana, winning the state championship in the shot put and discus throw his senior year. He is the least likely of the three to play this season, as a redshirt will allow him to concentrate full time on football and add another year between some of the younger defensive ends on the roster.
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