If Mark Stoops and DJ Eliot had a hallmark for their defenses at Florida State it was a dominant defensive line and big defensive backs. So it came as no surprise when the front four became a priority in recruiting. Right off the bat Kentucky’s staff landed a national recruit in Za’Darius Smith to play defensive end. If Kentucky’s defense is going to hold up in the SEC this season, the defensive line will have to lead the way. Here are the names to know:
- Za’Darius Smith (SR)- Smith is the guy plastered on billboards across the Commonwealth and one of the leaders of a very young defense. During his transition year from JUCO Smith amassed six sacks and another six hurries. A traditional 4-3 defensive end, Smith passed up an opportunity to enter the draft in order to return for one more season in Lexington. Expect his numbers to increase across the board.
- Alvin “Bud” Dupree (SR)- Unquestionably the top player on the defense, if not the team, Dupree is an athletic freak who will play end in four-man fronts and play linebacker in others. After leading the team in sacks a year ago with seven, Dupree also turned his back on the NFL for a senior year at UK. He is the heart of the defense and the Cats only proven playmaker. As Dupree goes in 2014, so will the Kentucky defense.
- Jason Hatcher (SO)- Kentucky’s second big recruiting get on the line, the Cats flipped Hatcher from Southern Cal. He played behind Dupree and Smith as a freshman and demonstrated toughness and playmaking ability. This year he will back up Dupree as the hybrid end/jack backer. He has had some disciplinary issues, so getting his head straight is a priority.
- Jabari Johnson (JR)- The former linebacker has bulked up to 276 lbs and played a little defensive tackle last year. Injuries have sapped what was a promising middle linebacker career. Johnson is too slow to play linebacker now but too short to be an effective defensive end. He is unlikely to earn playing time this season outside of special temas.
- Denzil Ware (FR)- The on-again off-again commit signed with the Cats in February. He enrolled in the Summer and has had a good Fall camp. However it would currently be in Ware’s best interest to redshirt this season. If Kentucky switches to a 3-4 defense full time Ware would make an excellent outside linebacker.
- Farrington Huguenin (JR)- Huguenin has long been a sleeper prospect that has impressed each of the last two coaching staffs. More of a traditional 4-3 end like Smith, he played in all 12 games last year backing him up. Up to this point he has been a solid contributor, nothing more.
- Lloyd Tubman (FR)- Tubman was a late flip from Penn State. It appears to have paid big dividends as he has drawn comparisons to Dupree in Fall camp and certainly has the impressive physique. Originally thought to be a likely redshirt, Tubman has played his way into the rotation during Fall practice. The only thing that may hold him back is a shoulder injury he is recovering from.
- Tymere Dubose (FR)- Dubose is a guy that Kentucky was in on early but became coveted as the recruiting cycle dragged on. Ohio State was interested late but his coach (Vince Marrow’s brother) turned them away. The reports from camp seem to indicate that Dubose will redshirt his freshman season to develop and adjust to the speed of the college game.
- Mike Douglas (SR)- After playing as a situational rusher the past two seasons, Douglas has become a valued part of the rotation. He is listed as a starter currently and will likely start in some sets. A bit undersized, the former defensive end can get after the passer from the inside. Kentucky could be in trouble if they are asking him to stop the run often however.
- Melvin Lewis (JR)- The other projected starter, Lewis was a late Summer JUCO transfer that redshirted last season after arrived to camp late. The year off allowed him to get in shape (an area he admitted that needed work) and adjust to his new surroundings. Lewis certainly has the size that Kentucky needs in the middle of their defense.
- Matt Elam (FR)- What UK fan doesn’t know Elam? The bally-hooed recruit has lived up to the hype in Fall camp, even if he isn’t in game shape. The coaches have already made it clear that they need Elam to give them some quality snaps this season and they believe that he can. Besides conditioning , he needs to work on technique, he can’t just bull-rush everyone at this level.
- Adrian Middleton (FR)- Another true freshman from Kentucky, Middleton is a bit of a tweener between tackle and end. The good news is that he will likely redshirt this season and be allowed to develop his body. He’ll be a good one in time, but may not be ready at this point, which is fine because the team doesn’t need him this year.
- Jacob Hyde (FR)- After he redshirted last year, Hyde is ready to be a member of the rotation. After showing up with a fair amount of baby fat, Hyde has trimmed down and is the strongest player on the team. Much like Elam, he will have to work on his technique to be effective at this level.
- Cory Johnson (JR)- The junior college transfer has all of the tools to be a major contributor this season, but is still adjusting to this level of play. He has as much talent as any tackle of the team but is unpolished. He’ll be in the rotation, but how much remains to be seen.
- Christian Coleman (SR)- It seems like a millennia ago that Coleman had an exciting freshman season that had fans expecting an NFL future from him. But he is still in Lexington and still has that kind of talent, if the light ever comes back on. Injuries have derailed a rising career and Coleman has spent some time in the coaches dog house.
- Regie Meant(FR)- Another redshirt freshman from last year, Meant was a true sleeper. A two-star in a class full of highly-rated players, Meant was all the rage on the scout team last year and has at times been listed as the starter this season. Expect him to be a big factor in the rotation at tackle.