Part five in an eight part series previewing the 2013 Kentucky Football Wildcats.
Kentucky’s new hope: Bud, Sizzle, Uncle Rumph and Za’Darius
Kentucky football is at a crossroads in 2013 that is perhaps unique in the history of the program. Never before has there been such optimism for the future. Between unprecedented recruiting success, long-awaited facilities improvements, and a coaching staff that appears on the verge of dragging the Kentucky program into the realm of legitimate SEC football competitiveness, long term expectations are at an all time high. That future optimism is tempered, however, by an almost universal sense that the immediate future is far less rosy. The Wildcats are predicted to finish last in the SEC East by the SEC media, as well as essentially every publication this side of Ladies Home Journal. Las Vegas has placed Kentucky’s over-under in wins for the season at just 3.5. Even Kentucky’s uber-confident coaching staff has sought to gently pull back the reigns on fan expectations entering the 2013 season by repeatedly pointing out the long term process of building a football program. These doubts about immediate success are more than legitimate. Kentucky has a young roster, and the returning veterans are coming off a 2-10 season that may have been even less competitive than that record indicates. Still, the Cats have the opportunity to exceed expectations in the upcoming season. If they are able to do so, it will be through the efforts of those rather large men pictured above and their teammates on what is undoubtedly Kentucky’s strongest position group, the defensive line.
Kentucky’s defensive line is the deepest and most experienced position group on the Wildcat roster. The Cats return 10 letter-winners on the defensive line. Those ten players have combined for 60 starts in their Kentucky careers. That experienced depth is supplemented by an infusion of talented newcomers. Kentucky returns three highly thought of scholarship freshmen who redshirted in 2012 and four incoming players, all of whom appear to have high level division one talent. But the strength of the defensive line goes beyond quantity of players. The Cats appear to have a collection of difference-making players on the defensive line the likes of which have rarely been seen in Lexington.
Alvin “Bud” Dupree 6-4, 252, Jr., Irwington, GA
Farrington Huguenin 6-4, 262, So., Columbia, SC
Jabari Johnson 6-1, 268, So., Stone Mountain, GA
Mister Cobble 6-0, 338, Sr., Louisville, KY (Central)
Mike Douglas 6-4, 288, Jr., Largo, FL
Thomas Chapman 6-4, 301, Fr.-RS, Louisville, KY (Manual)
Christian Coleman 6-3, 285, Jr., Milan, TN
Zane Williams 6-4, 275, Fr.-RS, Lexington, KY (Dunbar) walk-on
Donte Rumph 6-3, 320, Sr., St. Matthews, SC
Tristian Johnson 6-1, 265, Sr., LaGrange, GA
Patrick Graffree 6-4, 286 Fr.-RS, Elizabethtown, KY (Central Hardin)
Za’Darius Smith 6-6, 254, Jr.-JC, Greenville, AL/East Mississippi CC
TraVaughn Paschal 6-4, 242, Jr., Odenton, MD
Alvin Davis 6-4, 265, Jr., Jesup, GA
Langston Newton 6-4, 260 Fr.-RS, Carmel, IN
Jason Hatcher 6-3, 250, Fr., Defensive End, Louisville, KY (Trinity)
Jacob Hyde 6-2, 330, Fr., Defensive Tackle, Manchester, KY (Clay County)
Melvin Lewis 6-4, 290, Jr.-JC, Defensive Tackle, Compton, CA
Reggie Meant 6-4, 275, Defensive Tackle/End, Cape Coral, FL
If there was to be an NFL-style draft of the Kentucky football roster, it is likely that the first two selections would be defensive ends Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith. Dupree, who has started 15 consecutive games, is an established player in the SEC whose stellar play has been noted by the national media. During his sophomore season of 2012, he amassed 91 tackles, to include 12.5 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks. He was named a sophomore All American by College Football News.Com for his efforts. Dupree has bounced between linebacker and end during his first two seasons at Kentucky, but has transitioned seamlessly into the role of full time defensive end in Mark Stoops’ 4-3 defense at Kentucky. Smith, though he has yet to play a snap of division one football, has fans and coaches alike just as excited. Standing 6-6, with a powerful 254 pound frame, Smith is the prototypical Southeastern Conference defensive end. Ranked the nation’s number one Junior College strongside defensive end by ESPN, Smith accumulated 47 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks for East Mississippi Junior College in 2012. Based on his work in the Spring, it appears Smith is ready to wreak similar havoc on SEC backfields in 2013. Kentucky has been searching in vain for a pass rusher since the days of Jeremy Jarmon. (Arguably, the second greatest pass rushing KSR contributor behind Chris Tomlin.) Between Dupree and Smith, that search appears to be over.
To be successful as a unit, a defensive line needs not only explosive playmakers on the edge, but also a sturdy foundation in the middle. For Kentucky, that foundation is embodied by seniors Mister “Sizzle” Cobble and Donte Rumph. These two massive humans, who have combined for 57 games and 31 starts in the blue and white, provide 658 pounds of immovable object in the middle of the Wildcats defense. Cobble, who is a fireplug at just six feet tall, is set for a break out season after being slowed for much of 2012 with an illness. Rumph has been an outstanding defensive tackle at Kentucky when healthy. For his Wildcat career, he has produced 79 tackles and 5 sacks. Rumph is recovering from a shoulder injury, but according to defensive coordinator DJ Eliot at yesterday’s Media Day session, the big man should be ready to go for the opener against Western.
The Supporting Cast:
As indicated above, Kentucky has solid depth on the defensive line. Players like Mike Douglas, Christian Coleman and Tristian Johnson have all started games for the Cats. Johnson, one of the very few Kentucky lineman who can be legitimately called undersized, was a surprisingly active and disruptive force for the Cats in 2012, starting 9 games for an ailing Mister Cobble. Johnson made 27 tackles to include 1.5 sacks, and scored a touchdown on a fumble return against Samford. Sophomores Farrington Huguenin and Jabari Johnson and juniors TraVaughn Paschal and Alvin Davis have all seen game action for the Cats, and provide experienced depth in the Kentucky defensive line rotation.
Despite an abysmal 2012 season, the previous staff, to their credit, did not burn the redshirts of three highly regarded defensive linemen. Defensive tackle Thomas Chapman, who came out of Louisville’s duPont Manual High, was regarded by Rivals as the number 30 defensive tackle prospect nationally and number 2 overall player in the state of Kentucky. At 6-4 and 301 pounds, Chapman has the frame to be an outstanding backup defensive tackle this season, and a likely successor to Cobble or Rumph in 2014. Patrick Graffree and Langston Newton, brother of former quarterback Morgan Newton, also possess outstanding size for their positions, and will get their first taste of game action this season. Despite all of the experienced depth, Kentucky has two to three true freshman who will likely see game action. Jason Hatcher was a program-defining commit that Mark Stoops wrenched out of traditionally red Trinity High. This one-time Southern Cal commit was rated the number 8 defensive end nationally by Rivals. At yesterday’s Media Day session, Mark Stoops specifically referenced Hatcher as a newcomer that he expected to contribute immediately. Reggie Meant is another freshman who has drawn rave reviews from his off season work, and may pass more experienced payers based on his pure athleticism. Jacob Hyde is a country-strong mountain man from Clay County who would likely play as a true freshman in most years at Kentucky. The depth at defensive tackle may allow him the benefit of a redshirt this season.
Despite repeated assertions from the media that Kentucky’s defense will be gashed in 2013, Kentucky should field its most complete defensive line in recent memory. Led by two explosive defensive ends, who Mark Stoops has compared favorably to the highly-decorated ends he coached at Florida State, and two stalwart run-stuffing defensive tackles, Kentucky’s defensive line should more than hold their own at the line of scrimmage against even the best of SEC offensive fronts. If the line can perform at that level, it will undoubtedly raise the level of the entire defense. In doing so, the defensive line could hold the key to transforming 2013 from a transitional year, to a year of happy Saturdays for the Big Blue.