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'08 Kentucky Football: Defensive Line

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This is the eighth in a series of posts which will break down the '08 football 'Cats.  Today we break down the defensive line.

If a positive-minded nickname had any influence over the performance of an athlete, I would anoint the Kentucky defensive front four the "Promise Keepers."  Not that the UK defensive line hasn't at times performed well, they have, but consistent results have eluded this group as of yet.  Last year for example UK gave up only 101 yards rushing ( on 27 carries ) to UL. In another solid effort, they held South Carolina to only 86 yards rushing ( on 36 carries ), and they played very well against Tennessee, allowing the Vols only 3.3 yards per carry, and zero rushing touchdowns.  But those solid efforts have matching, less than stellar performances to balance out the good vibrations:

  •  Versus Kent St., UK gave up 324 yards ( on 59 carries ) on the ground, and two rushing touchdowns. 
  •  Darren McFadden and Felix Jones looked like Gale Sayers' evil twins running through holes big enough for "Big Mama", AND her house.  McFadden ran for 173 yards, and Jones 133 yards on only 12 carries. 
  •  LSU's ground attack netted them 261 yards on only 50 carries, good for 5.2 yards per carry.  They also scored three rushing touchdowns. 
  • In the season ending win versus Florida State, the Seminoles ran for 204 yards on 33 carries ( 6.2 yards per carry ), and two rushing touchdowns. 

"Jekyll and Hyde", a "mixed bag", "up and down", a "roller-coaster"; choose your favorite cliché.  The fact is that UK's front four must play better, consistently better, in order for UK to enjoy the record-setting season most feel they can accomplish in 2008. 

Last year UK's defensive front accounted for 21 of the 24 total sacks achieved by the defense; that number needs to go up, significantly.  Pressuring the quarterback and winning the penetration battle should be points of emphasis this fall for defensive line coach Rick Petri; a lack of pressure contributed to UK's opponents converting 45% of third downs, and a lack penetration resulted in allowing nearly 2,500 yards rushing for Kentucky's opponents.  Coach Brooks echoes those thoughts with this comment:

"I think this can be the best defense we've had since I've been here.  Overall, we made some progress last season, but we didn't make the strides we needed to make against the run or on third-down."

UK's defensive line lost only part-time starter Dominic Lewis and his 37 tackles, along with back-ups Travis Day,  J.D. Craigman, and Jamil Paris ( all three had single digit tackles ).  The returning players possess both talent and experience.  They are lead by an All-SEC performer, and it's time they fulfilled their collective potential.

Coach Brooks seems to agree.  He had this to say when asked about his defense improving:

"We need that to happen this year if we want to be viable, because the best teams in this league have great defenses.  And we haven't been a great defense.  We've been improving, getting better.  But I believe that this year you're gonna see a significant step on the defensive side at the University of Kentucky."

We all hope the belief that Brooks has in his defense is rewarded with consistent, solid performances.  And it all starts up front, with ...

The Promise Keepers

Jeremy Jarmon 6'3", 277 lb end, junior -- 2nd Team All-SEC ( coaches ) in '07, 2nd Team preseason All-SEC in '08,  UK"s Co-Most Outstanding Defensive Player in '07.  Jarmon has played in 26 career games, with 19 starts.  He has 92 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 3 fumble recoveries, 6 pass break-ups and 13 sacks in his UK career.  Jarmon is considered one of the best pass rushers in the SEC, and he's also on the preseason watch list for the Ronnie Lott Award, given annually to the nations best defensive player.

Last year Jarmon had 62 tackles ( fourth on the team ), and 9 quarterback sacks.  He had a personal best 10 tackles in the LSU game, and had a huge game-preserving sack in the victory over Vanderbilt.  He also had 2.5 sacks versus Vanderbilt and South Carolina. 

When asked about not making 1st Team All-SEC, Jarmon sounded driven:

"I can better prepare myself in the weight room, better prepare myself out there conditioning on the field and better prepare myself in the film room to make sure that I can top those stats that I produced last year, or cause mere havoc that I caused last year, to almost guarantee that I find my way onto first team."

Jarmon will start at one end position.

Myron Pryor 6'1", 310 lb tackle, senior -- The former Eastern High School star is a two-year starter for UK at defensive tackle.  He's played in 35 games, with 23 starts.  He has 82 career tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 7 sacks, and 4 fumbles caused. 

He caused all four of those fumbles in his sophomore year, which ranked him in the Top 10 in the country in that category. 

Prior will start at one of the tackle spots. 

Corey Peters 6'3", 290 lb tackle, junior -- The Central High School product was voted the Most Improved Defensive Player in '07 by the coaching staff.  He has played in 24 games with 14 starts. Peters has 61 career tackles ( 43 in '07 ), 6 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks in his career ( 2.5 sacks in '07 ).  

Peter's came to UK highly touted. rated him one of the top-25 defensive tackle prospects in the nation.  Peters will start alongside Pryor at the other tackle spot.

Ventrell Jenkins 6'2", 285 lb end, senior -- Jenkins has played in 33 career games with two starts.  He has recorded 59 tackles, with 12 tackles for loss, and 7 sacks in his career.  Jenkins had a big game versus UL last year; he went for 6 tackles and a sack.  He recorded two sacks versus LSU in '07.  He has a current streak of at least one tackle in 15 straight games.   

Jenkins has played at the tackle spot for most of his UK, but made the switch to end in the spring.  The coaches were impressed enough with his performance that he will be starting opposite Jeremy Jarmon at the other end position. 

The back-ups

Ricky Lumpkin 6'4", 289 lb tackle, sophomore -- He's played in 7 games with one start.  He's credited with 18 tackles, 1 sack, with 2 tackles for loss, and 1 fumble recovery.

The talented, but often injured tackle is looking forward to making an impact in '08.  Lumpkin has endured three surgeries; one the summer before his arrival in Lexington, and two last year.  His hip has been the recipient of all of the attention, but Lumpkin sounds like he's ready to rumble in '08: 

"I'm just feeling good that I can finally play football at 100 percent.  There's no pain.  Now I can have fun, learn stuff, and get yelled at for doing something wrong while I'm in a left-handed stance.  I can do squats now.  I think I'll be healthier, stronger, and just better all-around."

Lumpkin has been the talk of practices when he's healthy.  He's considered to be a ball-hawk, and an all-around wild-man when it comes to flying around the ball, and pursuing.  If he stays healthy he will be a warrior on the defensive front.  He'll start the season backing-up Pryor and Peters at the tackle position. 

Shane McCord 6'2", 271 lb tackle, sophomore -- McCord has played in 5 games ( 3 tackles ), all as a true freshman.  McCord came to UK as the #60 rated tackle prospect by Scout, and the #27 prospect in Georgia. 

McCord played well last year, especially toward the end of the year.  The coaches love his speed and strength, and I look for him to produce when he spells Pryor or Peters. 

Nii Adjei Oninku 6'1", 254 lb end, senior -- He missed all of last season due to a severe knee injury ( torn ACL, MCL, PCL ).  For his career Oninku has played in 23 games with 10 starts.  He has recorded 36 tackles and 2 tackles for loss.  In '06 he played in 12 games with 5 starts.  He posted 12 tackles.  Also in '06 he broke his hand versus Vanderbilt, but played the next week against Tennessee.

Oninku will be an excellent back-up to Jarmon and Jenkins on the ends.  He has a ton of experience, but more importantly, he has played well when called upon.  On top of the fact that he's one tough son-of-a-gun.

Others who may play

Josh MInton 6'3", 254 lb end, sophomore -- The Southwestern High School star had the misfortune of injuring his knee in the '07 Blue/White Game.  He underwent knee reconstruction, but is expected to provide depth to this years front line.  Minton was designated an All-America by SuperPrep and PrepStar.  Rivals had him rated the #12 weak-side defensive end in the nation.  He was the #5 rated prospect out of Kentucky by Rivals, and #3 by SuperPrep.

Chandler Burden 6'5", 290 lb end, true freshman -- Burden can play on either side of the ball, but he's getting a hard look on defense.  He runs a sub-5.0 in the 40, and was a Track and Field star in high school ( he won state titles in the shot put and discus throw ).

It hasn't taken Rich Brooks long to fall in love with the Oxford, Ohio native.  After only few days of practice the coach had this to say about Burden:

"He's been very impressive, we just need to get him to understand more about what he's doing, but physically he's a force out there."

If Burden takes instruction and learns the playbook, I wouldn't be surprised to see him earn some playing time this year.

May play if injuries occur

Austin Moss 6'0", 250 lb end, junior -- Moss has played tackle for UK, but he now makes the move to end.  He's played in 6 games, and recorded 3 tackles.  The former walk-on is the brother of former UK basketball player Ravi Moss.

Greg Meisner 6'1", 233 lb end, redshirt freshman -- Meisner injured his shoulder prior to last season.  The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review tabbed Meisner as one of the top-25 prospects in Pennsylvania.  He played in high school  for his father, NFL veteran Greg Meisner, Sr.. 

Charles Mustafaa 6'3", 258 lb tackle, redshirt freshman -- He suffered a knee injury prior to last season.  His father, Najee played football at Georgia Tech, and enjoyed a seven year NFL career.  Mustafaa is also a cousin to the late UL basketball great Derek Smith.

Luke McDermott 6'1" 256 lb tackle, redshirt freshman -- The Trinity High School product played very well in the spring.  So well in fact that he was rated the #2 tackle behind Corey Peters.  McDermott is a walk-on.

Joe Scott 6'1", 280 lb tackle, redshirt freshman -- The Central High School alum is a former walk-on.  He was selected for the All-South Region team by PrepStar.

B. J. Wiedemann 6'1", 242 lb end, sophomore -- The former John Hardin player is also a former walk-on.  He's played in one game at UK.

Antwane Glenn 6'4", 270 lb tackle, redshirt freshman -- He moved from end to tackle in the spring.  Glenn was an All-State selection in South Carolina.  His senior year he recorded 120 tackles.  As a sophomore in high school he was the Defensive Player of the Game in the state championship contest, where he accounted for 17 tackles, a forced fumble and one fumble recovery.  Glenn had shoulder surgery at the end of spring practice and isn't back to 100% strength just yet.

The True Freshman

Osaze Idumwonyi 6'1" 285 lb tackle -- He can play on either side of the ball.  He runs a sub-5.0 - 40.  He was rated the #12 center prospect in the nation by Rivals, and the #62 rated player in the state of Texas.  With center Jake Lanefski out with a broken hand, Idumwonyi will get a look at the center spot, also

Collins Ukwu 6'4", 220 lb end -- Ukwu is notable because of his combination of speed and strength ( he runs a 4.7 - 40 ).  He set a school career record at La Vergne High School ( TN ) with 43 tackles for loss.

Taylor Wyndham 6'4" 210 lb end -- He will get a look at defensive end, although he is also capable of playing linebacker.  He was rated the #47 strong-side linebacker prospect by Scout. 

As is true with any freshman lineman, all of the above players could be redshirted.

Final Analysis

The above mentioned group of players have the weight of high expectations on their shoulders entering the '08 football season.  Everyone from the head coach to the players are telling anyone who will listen that UK's defense will be much improved, continuing the journey toward respectability.  Fulfilling those prognostications with results on the field holds the key to UK's success this season. 

Everything is lined up for a successful season.  UK has experience, they have talent, they have All-SEC caliber players, and they have every motivation in the world.  Kentucky's defense has been the scourge of every Blue lovin' football fanatic since Jerry Claiborne called it quits nearly 20 years ago.  This is the year that changes ... but if it's not, put your favorite psychiatrist on speed-dial.

UPDATE: Sophomore wide receiver Kyrus Lanxter is scheduled to have the cast removed from his broken hand this Friday.  If everything goes well, as expected, his return will help offset the loss of the mono-ridden Aaron Boyd, who is out for at least six weeks.

Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!