Part five in an eight part series previewing the University of Kentucky Football Wildcats.
Time is running out. Hours of preparation have been spent in thankless obscurity. The day of reckoning is fast approaching. At this realization, emotions are equal parts exhilaration at the dawn of a new season and panic at the work yet to be completed. Rich Brooks and the Wildcats? Well, I guess they may be feeling that as well, but I was referring to my commitment to complete my position by position analysis prior to kickoff. With that in mind, I contemplated simply cutting and pasting the offensive line preview, switching out a few names, and seeing if anyone would notice. Ultimately, I decided against it, but the storylines in the trenches on both sides of the ball are strikingly similar. Some solid talent, very questionable depth.
With one noted exception, the star power on Kentucky’s defense emanates from the guys standing at the snap rather than those with a hand in the dirt. Preseason honors have been bestowed upon linebacker Wesley Woodyard, safety Marcus McClinton, and cornerback Trevard Lindley. While these players may be the subject of flowery prose from the preseason magazines, Kentucky’s ability to extract itself from the bottom tier of defenses nationally will depend on improvement from the big men up front. As with the offensive line, the Cats’ d-line does not have to be dominant. It simply needs to provide enough resistance to permit Kentucky’s talented back seven to make plays.
Jeremy Jarmon 6-3, 268 So., Collierville, TN (Houston)
Jarmon became a big play force for the Cats down the stretch last year totaling 4 sacks and 6.5 tackles for a loss in his 30 total tackles. Also added four pass break ups, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. May be the rush end UK has lacked since Dennis Johnson’s senior season.
Austin Moss 6-0, 250 So., Hopkinsville, KY (Christian County)
Looking to stake a claim for the Moss’s as greatest walk-on family in UK history, Austin, brother of Ravi, has been moved from tackle to end to provide depth at an injury depleted position. Registered a sack in limited time last season.
Corey Peters 6-3, 290 So., Louisville, KY (Central)
Forced into action last season as a true freshman, Peters came up with 18 tackles, including two for a loss and a sack against UT in Knoxville. Should be significantly improved after his first off-season program.
Ricky Lumpkin 6-4, 289 RS-Fr., Clarksville, TN (Kenwood)
Former “Mr. Football” from his classification in Clarksville, Tennessee, Lumpkin has, by all accounts, been a star on the practice field both during his redshirt season and in camp. Will likely be the third defensive tackle.
Ventrell Jenkins 6-2, 285 Jr., Columbia, SC (Columbia)
Cat fans received an early Christmas gift when it was announced last week that Jenkins would be able to play early this season, possibly even by game one, after it was initially thought he would miss much of the year with a shoulder injury. Jenkins has not shown the ability to be a star in his two years at UK, but he has provided a dependable reserve, which Kentucky desperately needs in the middle. Recorded 18 tackles and a sack in 2006.
Myron Pryor 6-1, 300 Jr., Louisville, KY (Eastern)
Pryor had a dominant 2006 when he was able to stay on the field. Recorded 42 tackles, 6.5 of which were for a loss, and led Kentucky with 5 sacks. He also forced four fumbles, recovered one, and had an interception in Kentucky’s win against Ole Miss. Has again been hobbled somewhat in camp, but should be 100% for the opener. Aside from Andre’ Woodson, no player’s presence is as singularly crucial to the Cats’ success as Myron Pryor.
J.D. Craigman 6-4, 280 Sr., Miami, FL (Senior)
Craigman was somewhat disappointing as a highly regarded junior college defensive end in 2006. Recorded only 3 tackles, and 1.5 sacks. He has now bulked up to play defensive tackle, where it is hoped his strength and frame will be more of a commodity.
Shane McCord 6-3, 280 Fr., Hartwell, GA (Hart County)
It remains up in the air whether or not McCord will see the field this season, although the return of Ventrell Jenkins makes it less likely. Will likely redshirt if the Cats suffer no significant injuries on the interior in the early season.
Dominic Lewis 6-3, 261 Sr., Radcliff, KY (John Hardin)
Solid, if unspectacular, player who looks to get comfortable at the defensive end position in his second season there. Recorded 30 tackles and 2 sacks in 2006 after move from running back.
Jamil Paris 6-6, 229 So., Gifford, FL (Sebastian River)
Undoubtedly Kentucky’s most explosive player on the defensive line, Paris has been timed in the 4.5s in the forty. Still probably needs 15 pounds added to his frame to be a full time player at defensive end, but should provide Kentucky with a good speed rush in passing situations.
Travis Day 6-3, 265 Sr., Columbus, GA (Carver)
I may be mistaken, but it seems as though Travis Day was brought in by Bear Bryant’s staff at Kentucky, and has been here ever since. Day has never been a real impact player for Kentucky, but he gives the Cats the luxury of a player who has played both end and tackle, and can give solid snaps at either spot.
Out with Injuries / Redshirt
Josh Minton 6-3, 250 Fr., Somerset, KY (Southwestern)– out for season, knee
Nii Adjei Oninku 6-1, 248 Jr., Dayton, OH (Northmont)– out for season, knee
Antwane Glenn 6-4, 235 Fr., Pacolet, SC (Broome)– likely redshirt
Grey Meisner 6-2, 240 Fr., Greensburg, PA (Hempfield)– likely redshirt
Charles Mustafaa 6-3, 231 Fr., College Park, GA (Westlake)– likely redshirt
With all of the positive vibes still floating around the Kentucky Football Universe from last season’s eight-win joyride, it is easy to gloss over some of 2006’s ugly defensive numbers. Kentucky was the Conference’s worst run defense by a comfortable margin last season, giving up 185 yards per game on the ground. Along the way, Kentucky surrendered an embarrassing 363 yards rushing to Louisville on opening day and an unthinkable 351 yards on the ground to perennial powerhouse Louisiana Monroe. Kentucky was not appreciably better against the pass, due in large part to an inconsistent pass rush. Although not singularly to blame, the defensive line probably bears the lion’s share of the responsibility for these inflated numbers. Kentucky’s line appeared to be perpetually knocked off of the ball at the snap on running plays and seemed to have a difficult time shedding blocks once engaged. In passing situations, the Cats had no one that required a double team, at least from the outside, and therefore required a blitz to provide any level of discomfort to opposing quarterbacks. Why, then, will this year be any different?
It all starts with Myron Pryor. The tackle will enter his second full year as a starter in hopes to improve on his already stellar production from 2006. If he can shake the issue of nagging injuries, he will be a rock inside for the Cats. Jeremy Jarmon appears to be the most likely candidate to be a full time disruption from the edge. Jarmon was a fixture in the opposing backfield in the latter part of Kentucky’s schedule and seems to have the tools and temperament to be an outstanding every-play end. Peters and Lewis should provide steady, if unspectacular, work as the other starters.
That is where that unpleasant depth issue comes into play. Of the players currently running second string on my unauthorized and highly unofficial depth chart, you have one walk on, one redshirt freshman, one player in a new position who has made exactly three more tackles than yours truly, and one guy who is built more like a small forward than a defensive lineman. Bear in mind that these guys are currently unable to break into a rotation that was statistically one of the nation’s worst in 2006. Nonetheless, Kentucky still has more bodies available than it has had at any point in the Brooks era, and if the key contributors can stay upright for the duration of the Cats’ labyrinth of a schedule, the defense should improve significantly.