On Tuesday I went over my projected offensive needs for Kentucky’s 2012 football recruiting class. I’m back today to cover the defense. The eventual transition into a 3-4 defense complicates analyzing the defensive prospects a little bit, but for this post, I’m going to assume that Kentucky is making the switch to a 3-4 during the 2011 season.
The Cats seem to have a perpetual need on the defensive line in every recruiting class and the 2012 group will be no different. With defensive coordinator Rick Minter openly stating that he’s going to transition Kentucky into a 3-4 alignment, the need is a little different. Kentucky has previously recruited smaller, quicker defensive ends that were pass rushing threats over past classes. The new defense will require the defensive ends to eat up blockers and generally requires what amounts to two undersized defensive tackles at the end positions. Assuming the defensive ends in the new defense will be no smaller than 250 pounds, and the nose tackle will be at least 290 pounds, I’ve moved some of the defensive players around. Essentially, the Cats will be playing with three defensive tackles along the front. Returning players that project well at defensive end would be senior Antwane Glenn, juniors Collins Ukwu and Luke McDermott, and sophomores Nermin Delic, and Patrick Ligon. The nose guard position is likely to be filled by sophomores Mister Cobble or Donte Rumph, but senior Mark Crawford or freshman Brice Laughlin could fill the role as well. I’m assuming freshman Michael Douglas and junior Taylor Wyndham join freshman Justin Henderson in his move to linebacker. That leaves freshman Alvin Davis and sophomore Tristian Johnson kind of in the middle. Davis could add some weight and play end, or could be moved to outside linebacker as well. Johnson could lose some weight and play outside linebacker, or stay where he is now and play as a shorter defensive end. The Wildcats added Christian Coleman, Shaq Love, and David Washington in the 2011 class as well. Coleman is almost assured to stay at defensive end, but Washington and Love could really play end or nose guard with the proper development.
Need level: 9
While the Wildcats have a lot of bodies right now, my projections above are assuming that certain players can gain weight and get strong enough to fill their new role. With senior Mark Crawford graduating after the 2011 season (if he makes it that long), the need for a true nose guard is sky-high. Kentucky should probably take 2-3 defensive tackle-types in this class with at least one weighing in at over 290.
Best bets: Robert Lewis & Javonte Brown
The state of Kentucky produces relatively few high level defensive tackle prospects each year. Robbie Lewis is possibly the best true defensive tackle in the class and hails from the extremely pro-Kentucky territory of Somerset. The Wildcats might have their hands full when attempting to get him though, as he’s received interest from some major programs. Brown is a true nose guard from Calhoun County high School in South Carolina. Here’s hoping he’s buddies with Donte Rumph, because he could really help bolster the nose tackle position. Current commit Thomas Chapman out of Louisville is already in the fold.
As complicated as the defensive line analysis was, this one is just as bad. It’s not really clear what variation of the 3-4 Coach Minter is going to instill at Kentucky, which makes projecting outside linebackers difficult. I’m going to assume he’s going to utilize two guys that have the skills to rush the passer on the outsides similar to what the Pittsburgh Steelers do with Lamarr Woodley and James Harrison, and that these guys are going to be more like undersized but athletic defensive ends. In this scenario, junior Taylor Wyndham, and redshirt freshmen Mike Douglas and Justin Henderson would join junior Ridge Wilson as outside linebackers. The 3-4 will provide some flexibility though, and senior Danny Trevathan, sophomore Jewell Ratliff, and redshirt freshman Malcolm McDuffen could all play on the outside as well. Incoming Recruits Alvin Dupree, Tim Patterson, Farrington Huguenin, Jabari Johnson, Demarius Rancifer, and D.J. Williams all figures to have a shot at playing on the outside as well.
Need level: 6
In the 3-4 defense, you can never have enough long and athletic pass rushers. With that in mind, Kentucky will probably add at least one guy that has the type of body necessary to play on the edge, and could possibly add as many as three.
Best bet: Tyler Knox
The defensive end from Myrtle Beach has the type of size and speed to play the outside linebacker position in the 3-4, where his skill-set would be more valuable than it would as a weak-side defensive end in a traditional 4-3. Kentucky has been in contact early and has already offered him a scholarship.
The guys that have the speed and size to play the two inside linebacker spots in the 3-4 is a little easier to gauge. Senior Danny Trevathan is going to start somewhere, and playing on the inside fits his natural skill-set better than playing as an edge rusher. Senior Ronnie Sneed and sophomores Avery Williamson and Qua Huzzie are also very likely to play on the inside. The wild cards could be sophomore Jewell Ratliff and freshman Malcolm McDuffen. Either guy could play on the inside or outside in the new scheme. The Wildcats also brought in a few freshmen in the 2011 class with the potential to play inside linebacker including Demarius Rancifer, Tim Patterson, Jabari Johnson, and D.J. Warren.
Need Level: 5
This is a little more complicated. A lot will depend on how current players adjust to the new scheme, and the need level could go as high as 10 or as low as 2. I’m assuming that Trevathan, Sneed, Huzzie, Williamson, Ratliff, McDuffen, and Rancifer all end up manning the inside spots here, but that assumption is certainly liable to be wrong. I would think UK is looking to take at least two true linebackers aft3er whiffing on several in the 2011 class.
Best bets: Tre Banks
Banks hails from Tee Martin’s hometown of Mobile Alabama and despite being a little undersized at 6’0 tall, looks like a difference maker. Kentucky has already gained a commitment from Josh Harris out of Maysville. Harris could play running back or safety in college, but most analysts seem to agree his best position will be linebacker.
The defensive backs will be similar to what they were in last years defense. Kentucky will return both starting corners in senior Randall Burden and junior Martavius Neloms. Behind them, the Cats return senior Anthony Mosley, junior Cartier Rice, sophomore Jerell Priester, and redshirt freshmen Dale Trimble and Eric Simmons. There has been some speculation of Priester moving to receiver and Simmons moving to safety, but until official word comes out, I’ll keep them at corner. In the 2011 class, Daylen Hall was added as a corner and Eric Dixon will probably start out as a corner. Several of the incoming players could also eventually find there way to the cornerback position, including Bookie Cobbins, Marcus Caffey, Nile Daniel, and Bubba Tandy.
Need level: 4
While Kentucky does lose two seniors this year, the Cats were also able to redshirt two corners last season and add (assuming Dixon sticks at CB) two more in the 2011 class. I’d
say UK will look to grab 2-3 cornerbacks, but can be picky here and only extend offers to the best prospects.
Best bet: Jonathan Reed
Reed currently plays at powerhouse Pike High School in Indianapolis and has excelled against the top competition in Indiana. He will probably be undervalued by recruiting services because of his height (about 5’8-5’9), but he has legitimate 4.4 speed and has the “it-factor” you look for in a corner. He might be tough to get out of Big10 country though.
This is where things get pretty dicey for the Wildcats. The unit will return bboth starters in seniors Winston Guy and Mychal Bailey, and two top backups in seniors Taiedo Smith and Josh Gibbs, in addition to returning sophomore Dakotah Tyler and redshirt freshman Miles Simpson. Kentucky also added highly touted freshman Glenn Faulkner who, as an Army All-American, will be expected to contribute sooner rather than later. He and fellow freshmen Ashely Lowery should provide an infusion of young talent to the secondary, and there’s always a chance that freshman recruits Eric Dixon, Josh Forrest, or Bookie Cobbins could play safety as well.
Need level: 10
I’m going to list the need for additional safety help at 10 for now, but if other players are moved from other positions, this could go down to about a 7 at the lowest. Despite adding Faulkner and Lowery, Kentucky needs to add at least one more safety, and should probably also add an ‘athlete’ or two that can play safety if needed.
Best bet: Bam Bradley
The competition will be stiff for Bradley, but he’s a guy that’s worth it. Miter still has some strong ties in the southern Ohio area from his days coaching at Cincinnati that could be put to use with Bradley. He has the size, speed and strength to play all over the defensive backfield and will be the type of versatile guy coach Minter can mold his defense around.