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Kentucky Football Achilles Heel: Defensive Front

There is no question the front seven is UK's biggest weakness. How will the Cats manage through it?

Mary Ann Chastain/Getty Images

By now it has been pretty well established that UK's defensive line and linebackers are the biggest areas of concern as the season looms ahead. The concern is justified after the 2015 Cats allowed 27.4 points/game (12th in SEC), registered just 17 sacks (last in SEC) then face replacing six starters – all up front.

When Stoops looks at his roster for help, experience is as rare as virtue in a whorehouse. Earlier this year we had DE Jason Hatcher and DT Regie Meant but they have been dismissed due to off the field issues, and both were being counted to play major roles this year.

Below is a table listing the linebackers on UK's roster. Although we're very short on experience, we're not exactly devoid of talent. Several players have the ability and measurables to develop into SEC caliber linebackers this year, specifically Allen, Bonner, Brown, Daniel, Firios, Jones, Laster, Love, and Walker.

That gives Stoops/Eliot nine bodies to meld into a second level force, and several do have some experience, just not at UK. It may be a bumpy ride early in the year for this group, but the potential is undeniable. Note: Linebacker positions are a guesstimate since players have been working at several positions. Also, there are many hybrid positions.

LINEBACKERS

Player

Stars

Year

UK Tackles

Remarks

Josh Allen (OLB)

2

SO

4

2015 -Played in all 12 games

Jaylin Bannerman

3

FR

Will likely redshirt '16

Elijah Barnett

NR

FR-RS

Father played at UK(all-time sack leader)

Logan Blue

NR

SO

Jordan Bonner (OLB)

3

SO-TR

Played one year JUCO - #10 JUCO LB

Eli Brown (OLB)

4

FR-RS

Four stars – yes, he's good

Alex Brownell

NR

FR-RS

Kash Daniel (ILB)

4

FR

Pushing for playing time this year

Nico Firios (ILB)

3

SO-RS

1

Played 3 games last year before injury

Spencer Foy

NR

SO-TR

Played 3 games for UL, 2nd year at UK

Jordan Jones (OLB)

3

SO

10

Played in 8 games, early enrolee in '15

De'Niro Laster (ILB)

3

SO-TR

Played 9 games for Minnesota in '14

Courtney Love (ILB)

3

JR-TR

Played 12 games for Nebraska in '14

Drew Schlegel

NR

FR

Father played at UK (team captain)

Roland Walder

3

FR

Will likely redshirt '16

Kobie Walker (OLB)

3

SO-RS

Two years in system, strong fall camp

Boogie Watson

3

FR

Will likely redshirt '16

The biggest concern on the defense lies at the first level where the DTs and DEs face the brunt of the opponent's running game and work to disrupt the passing game and UK is severely lacking depth. Below is a table of our defensive ends and tackles listed together. As a group they need to make up a minimum of three positions two deep but really should cover four positions as some situations will require a four-man front. Needed – eight SEC players. Are they there?

DEFENSIVE ENDS/TACKLES

Player

Stars

Year

UK Tackles

Remarks

Alvonte Bell (DE)

3

JR-TR

Could start as part of 3-4

T.J. Carter (DE)

2

FR

"..is a guy that will play" - Stoops

Kengera Daniel (DE)

3

SO

1

Likely 2nd -played 3 games in '15

Denzil Ware (DE)

4

SO-RS

39

Started 11 games in '15 – Monster year?

Ja'Quize Cross (DL)

2

FR

Likely redshirt

Kevin Kirby (DL)

NR

FR

Likely redshirt

Tymere Dubose (DT)

3

SO-RS

1

Played in four games in '15

Matt Elam (DT)

4

JR

23

Needs breakout year

Kordell Looney (DT)

3

FR

Likely redshirt

Adrian Middleton (DT)

3

SO-RS

8

Likely 2nd

Courtney Miggins (DT)

2

SR-TR

12

Can also play DE

Naquez Pringle (DT)

2

JR-TR

Pushing for 2nd

Calvin Taylor (DT)

2

SO

Converted from O-Line

Zane Williams (DT)

NR

SR

As can be seen, all is not lost. We actually have a bit more experience along the line compared to linebackers, but the depth is the bigger question; especially at DE where we only have four DEs on the roster and one is a true freshman. Before total panic sets in, Courtney Miggins is listed as a DT, but he backed up Huguenin at DE last year and will likely start at DE this year while moving inside only if needed.

Like most coaches, Stoops would like to redshirt freshmen, particularly those at the line but Carter's practice has impressed the staff and he may be pressed into service if necessary. In other words, count on seeing him a lot.  In the middle of the line, Meant is hard to replace, but Stoops at least has options with good things being said about both Dubose and Middleton. Key in the middle will be the conditioning of Elam.

The more he can play and play with good technique the better the overall defense will be. Elam reliably plugging the middle will go a long way in stabilizing the entire offense. If we have to control the middle without Elam with Middleton, Dubose, Looney and  Pringle, our offense better be putting up a lot of points. Are they bad players? Certainly not, just inexperienced and that makes for a very uncertain early season.

It's times like these I'm glad we have a defensive minded coach to coach up the players and put the players in a position to succeed with the best possible scheme. For now I'll take small comfort in Stoops when addressing the conundrum - "I do feel like we’re getting where we need to be; when you’re piecing 3-4 inside linebackers together that can play at a winning level for you, four outside linebackers, and we need six or seven D-linemen," he said. "We’re getting to that point."  Please coach, get to that point soon, very soon.

UPDATE: Depth chart for Southern Mississippi game