Part six in an eight part series previewing the 2013 Kentucky Football Wildcats
Avery Williamson performing the Lord’s work by smiting a Vol.
Linebacker “Depth” Chart
Kory Brown 6-0, 203 Jr., Moncks Corner, SC/East Central CC
Miles Simpson 6-2, 225 Jr., Independence, KY (Simon Kenton)
Tre’ Dunn 6-2, 222 Jr., Harrodsburg, KY (Mercer County)-walk on
Avery Williamson 6-1, 238 Sr., Milan, TN
Tyler Brause 6-4, 238 Jr., Sycamore, OH
Khalid Henderson 6-1, 218 So., Mableton, GA
Josh Forrest 6-3, 233 So., Paducah, KY (Tilghman)
Malcolm McDuffen 6-3, 220 Jr., Hopkinsville, KY (Christian County)
For a program that has perennially struggled to put competitive defenses on the field, Kentucky has actually produced a number of talented linebackers in recent years. Players like Wesley Woodyard, Danny Trevathan, Braxton Kelly and Micah Johnson have each performed at all conference levels during their time with the Cats. In his first full season as a starter in 2012, Avery Williamson had as impressive of a season as any of these former greats. Kentucky’s middle linebacker recorded 135 tackles last season, which ranked second in the conference and seventh nationally. In addition, he registered three sacks, broke up four passes, caused two fumbles and intercepted a pass. There were times in the dismal 2012 season in which Williamson seemed to be the sole line of resistance between opposing ball carriers and the Wildcat end zone. Indicative of this was the Vandy game, in which Williamson recorded a superhuman twenty tackles. (Or one tackle for every patron in the stands that day.) Beyond his impressive on-field credentials, Williamson has also been consistently identified by coaches as Kentucky’s best leader regardless of position.
After Williamson, the Wildcat with the most experience at the linebacker position is Miles Simpson, a redshirt junior. Simpson, who has logged 22 career games in the blue and white, made eleven starts last season at the hybrid safety/linebacker spot employed in former defensive coordinator Rick Minter’s 3-4 defense. Despite being slowed by a myriad of nagging injuries in 2012, Simpson performed well for a first time starter, accumulating 70 tackles for the season. Despite the starting experience, Simpson finds himself looking up at Junior Kory Brown on the current strongside linebacker depth chart. Brown backed up Simpson at the hybrid position last season, playing in 8 games and recording 11 tackles. Brown was a highly regarded recruit out of East Central Community College, rated the number 3 Junior College Safety by 24/7, but that potential was unrealized in his first season at Kentucky as he adjusted to a new position. With a year at linebacker under his belt, and another year removed from a knee injury suffered in junior college, Brown appears ready to contribute. Early word from camp indicates that Brown and Simpson will likely split time at the strongside position based on situation and opponent. At 6-2, 225, Simpson is a bit beefier, and may play more in obvious run situations. Brown is smaller and faster, and Kentucky will look to utilize these traits in passing situations and against spread offenses.
Khalid Henderson showed promise as a true freshman thrust into action last season. He played in all 12 of Kentucky’s games, recording 26 tackles. While that production doesn’t sound overwhelming, consider the fact that Danny Trevathan managed just 5 tackles his freshman year. (and 369 his last three.) Though a Trevathan-esque jump may be asking a lot, it certainly appears that Henderson has potential. As a senior at Pebblebrook High School in Georgia, he was rated the number 19 outside linebacker nationally by ESPN. Barring injury, Henderson is a virtual lock to start at weakside linebacker when the Cats open the season against Western. Sophomore Josh Forrest and junior Malcolm McDuffen will provide depth at the weakside position, and have the versatitltiy to provide depth at the other linebacker positions as needed. Junior Tyler Brause, who began his Kentucky career as a quarterback, is the backup to Williamson in the middle.
For those of you who have been waiting breathlessly every Tuesday and Thursday to read these previews, you know by now that a consistent theme of most position groups on the Kentucky roster is a lack of depth. Although much of the collective hand-wringing of the fan base has been focused on the secondary and the wide receivers, there is no position with more depth concern than the linebacking corps. Like many spots, Kentucky has some talent at linebacker, just not enough of it. And unfortunately, that situation will not be immediately remedied as Kentucky has exactly zero linebackers in the incoming freshman class.
Avery Williamson could play middle linebacker for any team in the SEC. Unfortunately, Kentucky cannot clone him. (I checked. It’s against NCAA regulations.) In addressing the media after Tuesday’s practice session, Defensive Coordinator DJ Eliot stated simply that Williamson was “miles ahead” of Kentucky’s other linebackers. Though the coaches won’t go this far, Williamson is the single most indispensable player on the Kentucky roster. If he can stay healthy, and Henderson, Brown and Simpson continue to progress, the Kentucky linebackers can be successful in the new 4-3 scheme. If the customary attrition associated with playing football in the SEC begins to mount, on the other hand, the Kentucky offense better show up ready to score early and often.