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Make or Break Year: Matt Elam

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In 2016, UK Defensive Tackle Matt Elam is poised to have his best season yet.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

There's an old adage in football: Games are won and lost in the trenches.

With most of Kentucky's production on the defensive line moving on, there's room for concern on that side of the ball. The Wildcats gave up 4.6 yards per carry last year with beasts like CJ Johnson and Farrington Huguenin towing the line.

With most of the returning snaps gone, where will the production come from?

Two words. Matt Elam. A name UK football fans are well aware of, this is truly a make or break season for the mammoth of a human being. Matt has had plenty of impact his first two seasons. His first meaningful reps came in the home game against South Carolina two years ago where he stepped in and helped slow down Mike Davis.

Since then, he largely (no pun intended) has faded into the distance.  Although we know that he isn't the only piece of the defensive puzzle, his play will be indicative of how the entire defense plays all year.

Little has been said about Elam this offseason, which may be a good thing. After his performance (or lack thereof) in the spring game, we can only hope and pray that Matt has caught the fire.

The good news is Matt has been doing all the right things this offseason in order to become the player UK needs him to be, according to head coach Mark Stoops.

"The kid works out and does everything right in our facility. He can go through every workout and he’s explosive, he runs well, he does a lot of good workouts, but he has to manage his weight to play at a high level," Stoops said. "We’ve worked hard at that. I don’t want to jinx him right now and tell you any weights or anything like that, but he’s looking a lot better and he’s been very serious in approaching that in the right way."

All Elam needs to do is learn to play on the other side of the line of scrimmage. As a nose guard, he won't put up huge stats, but he's not expected to. All he needs to do is eat up space so guys like newcomer Courtney Love can make plays.

"He is a great kid," Stoops said of Elam. "He wants to do well. He wants to play at a high level, I think he’s very capable of playing at a high level. We all have imperfections and he’s working extremely hard to get his under control and play the very best he can."

As stoops alluded to, Elam has the potential to play at a high level in the SEC. After all, Elam was a 4-star recruit with offers from all over the nation coming out of high school. Anyone who garners attention from Alabama can most certainly play.

I have a feeling that we just haven't seen it yet. Until this year. I'd be willing to bet that Elam can become the anchor the defensive line needs, freeing up space for the back 7.

If Kentucky is going to make a bowl, Matt Elam is certainly the biggest key to getting there.