Quarterback Sacks and Tackles for Loss — two statistical categories that defined DJ Eliot’s 2015 defense. In the Southeastern Conference, Kentucky ranked last in both categories. Nationally, the Cats finished the season 109th in QB Sacks and 122nd in TFL’s. By numbers alone, the emphasis will be on plays made across the line of scrimmage.
Kentucky’s Week One Projected Defensive Starters
- Freddie: Matt Elam or Naquez Pringle
- Nick: Matt Elam
- Freddie: Regie Meant
- Nick: Courtney Miggins
- Freddie: Courtney Miggins
- Nick: Kengera Daniel
- Freddie: Jason Hatcher
- Nick: Denzil Ware OR Jordan Bonner
Strong Outside Linebacker
- Freddie: Jordan Bonner
- Nick: Jason Hatcher
Weak Inside Linebacker
- Freddie: De’Niro Laster OR Kash Daniel/Jordan Jones
- Nick: De’Niro Laster OR Jordan Jones
- Freddie: Courtney Love
- Nick: Courtney Love
- Freddie: Black McClain
- Nick: Blake McClain
- Freddie: Derrick Baity
- Nick: Derrick Baity
- Freddie: Chris Westry
- Nick: Chris Westry
- Freddie: Marcus McWilson
- Nick: Marcus McWilson
- Freddie: Mike Edwards
- Nick: Mike Edwards
With a solid secondary, the front seven is fluid, with Courtney Love’s spot as the starting middle linebacker as the only certainty. Freddie and I are both torn with how they will handle the Will linebacker. Jordan Jones has been a Stoops favorite and Kash will compete, but De’Niro Laster will be on the field somewhere, we’re just unsure of exactly where.
Laster could also start at outside linebacker, where Jordan Bonner and Jason Hatcher can be starters. However, who knows what Hatcher we’re going to see during his Senior season, and it’s hard to immediately rely on a Junior College linebacker that doesn’t arrive to campus until the Summer (a la Ryan Flannigan).
On the defensive line, I really have no read on who will play where or who could start. Here are the five that will play — Matt Elam, Courtney Miggins, Regie Meant, Naquez Pringle and Kengera Daniel (with Kordell Looney as a wild card).
As you see above, my lineup includes two moves that are likely not to happen. In other words, high risk but potentially high reward personnel decisions. Moving De’Niro Laster to the inside frees a spot for pass rush specialist Jordan Bonner. But, with late arriving junior college players such as Bonner, early season effectiveness is questionable at best. Secondary factor, will Bonner add weight and move to defensive end? Rolling the dice on these two adjustments. If position moves are not applicable, Jordan Jones and Kash Daniel will compete for the inside linebacker spot accompanying Courtney Love. Nose Tackle also offers an interesting position competition, but the actual player on the field will be based upon situation more so than overall effectiveness. Will Naquez Pringle develop into a pass rush specialist as Matt Elam remains a 1st and 2nd down defender?
Modern day defense is situational. When you see three to four defenders on the sideline at the ready to substitute, they are doing so to match offensive personnel substitutions and down/distance situation. Thus, defensive personnel rapidly fluctuates. With a plethora of skilled defensive backs, depth is finally available for competition as well as strategic situational substitutions. Secondary rotations will be rampant.
With defensive line limitations, influencing opposing quarterbacks will have to emerge from the linebackers and safety/nickel positions. Going into 2016, the front 3’s ability or inability to rush the passer are my number one concern. Nickel defenders Blake McClain and Kendall Randolph will have to hold off talented newcomers. As for the safeties, UK has the deepest and most talented collection in recent history. A designated hybrid S/LB type of player has to emerge and produce three to five QB sacks.
And as always, remember it’s personnel, not personal.