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Kentucky Football: Pass-Rushers Apply Within

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Pass-rushers are needed, but not the only kind you had in mind.

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Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports

I'm not sure if you've heard, but the football team is trying to develop a pass rush after last season's failings. Mark Stoops talked about it on March 7th. Transfer De'Niro Laster was hoping to help fill that role on March 28th. Around the same time, Denzil Ware and Josh Allen both spoke publicly on the topic. You couldn't ignore the leitmotif wearing earplugs.

The stats are widely known at this point. UK was last in the league in sacks and next to last in tackles for loss. Hence the earned media glare. Potentially compounding the issue is the departure of the top five players with the most sacks. That goes for five of the top six in tackles for loss.

Which leads me to my point: There's been a lot of focus on developing edge rushers (i.e. outside linebackers), and while not meretricious, interior rushers are just as important - if not more so - given current offense's quick passing games. Laster, Ware, and Allen are getting asked questions about the pass rush, but their brethren on the interior are going unnoticed. That's too bad because they are the ones at the tip of the spear for stopping quick throws.

Quick-Throw Offenses

First, a bit of background. Offenses today increasingly try to throw the ball within a few seconds of the snap. Last season, the New England Patriots threw the ball on average within 2.35 seconds of the snap. Short routes and quick deliveries out of Shotgun are the evolutionary responses to faster defensive linemen. Offensive linemen are happy because they don't need to hold protection as long. Slot receivers are happy because linebackers are now trying to defend them. Quarterbacks are happy because they are taking less damage.

This offensive philosophy has migrated and become ingrained in the SEC. It's a staple of Butch Jones' offense at Tennessee. Will Muschamp hired his last offensive coordinator at Florida again at South Carolina because he believes in its principles. Even tradition-bound Alabama shifted when Nick Saban hired Lane Kiffin. The spread, and its quick-passing tenet, is all over the league.

The Motley Crew

Thanks to the laws of geometry, it's the interior defensive linemen who have the shortest distance to the quarterback. The extra time it takes edge rushers to get to the quarterback is often just enough lag for the quarterback to get to his release; however, his window becomes smaller if an interior linemen comes crashing down on him. Timing, vision, and nerves can also be disrupted by folding the pocket just so:

melvin lewis

The coaches know this too. They will move them around when UK is in nickel to maximize match-ups. Look how much Cory Johnson was moved around to optimize an interior pass rush:

defensive alignments 1

defensive alignments 2

defensive alignments 3

Conclusion

Jimmy Brumbaugh has done a fantastic job developing players on the defensive line. Mike Douglas, Donte Rumph, and Farrington Huguenin showed tremendous improvement even if that still wasn't enough for individual recognition among most. The improvement was more pronounced in players like Melvin Lewis, Cory Johnson, and Za'Darius Smith.

Brumbaugh's track record bodes well for the current group that had higher floors than the aforementioned. Higher pedigrees should bring higher expectations. The interior players can't only be run-stoppers for a defense to be better than average. Players like Courtney Miggins, Alvonte Bell, Tymere Dubose, Kengera Daniel, and Regie Meant must also incite backfield panic too.

They haven't been in the spotlight yet, but their role is critical against our time's prevalent offensive schemes.