There are lots of stories, like this one from the Herald-Leader today, that make much of the fact that Kentucky's defense last year was what held us back in a great many games. Part of the narrative for this year's version of the Gridiron Cats is that they need dramatic improvement defensively, as we won't be able to count on the SEC leading +15 turnover margin again. That would certainly seem to be truth.
So today, we are going to look at the leader of our defense for the 2007 season, first-year defensive coordinator Steve Brown. Brown was promoted to the job from defensive back coach after Mike Archer left the Wildcats to pursue other opportunities.
Who is Steve Brown? Well, Brown played defensive back for Rich Brooks at Oregon between 1979 and 1982 and made first team all-Pac-10 as a senior. He was drafted in the 3rd round of the NFL draft by the Houston Oilers, where he played until 1991. He then joined Coach Brooks as a defensive assistant for the St. Louis Rams, where he eventually wound up in charge of the entire secondary. Interestingly enough, Brown has a Super Bowl ring to his credit with the Rams in 2000.
Brown has been the defensive backs coach at UK since 2003, so he is by now intimately acquainted with practically everything about our defense. His qualifications for the Defensive Coordinator position are impeccable, with college and professional playing experience, virtually all of it under the current Kentucky head coach.
The big question is, can he convert a defense that was last in the SEC to something significantly better? If so, the Cats have a chance to do a lot more than pull an upset or two this year. But given the talent in this league, unless Brown is able to field the college football equivalent of the Steel Curtain, it is hard to imagine UK getting more than 9 wins.
Where are Brown's biggest problems? UK is fortunate to have a very strong linebacking corps which figures to be stronger yet if Micah Johnson delivers on his 5-star promise. The secondary isn't as strong, but with the late-season improvement of Trevard Lindley and the loss of only one secondary starter, there is virtually no doubt it will be much improved barring injury. Our depth in the linebacking corps and secondary are also decent.
But the D-line is another kettle of fish. We could have the best secondary and linebackers in the entire SEC, but without a decent line, we could still wind up near the bottom of the SEC in total defense. With all the speed the SEC has, you cannot concede an SEC-caliber quarterback 8-10 seconds to throw the football. Receivers always have an advantage, and if you give the speedy SEC wide-out's enough time, they will get open.
But that says nothing about the dynamic backs we will be facing, from Heisman candidate Darren McFadden of Arkansas to Ole Miss' BenJarvus Green-Ellis, if our D-line does not mature quickly, we will have problems on defense regardless of how well the secondary and linebackers play. Because of injuries to two probable starters, our line depth will be weak unless some of our younger players are able to step up and serve capably.
Of course, we could always help our line out from the linebackers and secondary by blitzing a lot, but that carries its own set of risks, depending on who you send. Brown may wind up forced to look at this option, but we'll have to wait and see how the line shakes out once practice begins.
So this is the knotty problem facing our new DC. Normally, we could be optimistic with our linebacking corps and improving secondary, but in the past when UK has had success, we have had a solid if unspectacular defensive line. Brown may be able to cobble one together out of chewing gum and bailing wire, but if he does, he should be a candidate for defensive coordinator of the year.