Much has been written about redshirts, true freshmen, junior college players, and transfers. However, on the roster there are players that don’t fit the above description and have yet to be a consistent factor on game day.
Roster spots have been occupied; stat sheets have not. With defensive front seven question marks being tossed around like fall apples, answers could possible come from the below list. 2016 is a make or break year for the following:
Nico Firios, Linebacker
The 6’2, 242-pound linebacker redshirted in 2014. Last season he played in three games and registered one tackle prior to sustaining a season-ending injury. He did not participate in contact drills this spring. Attrition happens, it’s unfortunate but injuries are a part of the game. However, Firios hasn’t established a prolonged stretch of healthy practice in order to showcase his skills. This upcoming season, it’s imperative for the Florida native to make noise on special teams and contribute in the defensive rotation. If not, he’ll simply be passed over by talented and continually arriving rookies.
Adrian Middleton, Defensive Tackle
The pride of South Warren redshirted in his initial season in Lexington. Last year he played in four games and finished 2016 with eight tackles. Middleton has been healthy but played behind a talented group of upper classmen. The defensive tackle position is wide open and screaming for quality depth. While a much different situation than Firios, the same end result is sought. At 6’3, 302 pounds, he possesses the size and athletic ability to both stuff the run and rush the passer. It’s up to him to seize the opportunity. From all accounts, he’s a hard working football player that will maximize his skill set.
Tymere Dubose, Defensive Tackle
If ever there has been a player at UK that has all the measurables and athletic ability to play on Sundays, it’s Tymere Dubose. At 6’5 315 pounds, the sophomore from Youngstown has played in four games and recorded just one tackle. Off the field issues have occurred. He has to move past that while making his move onto the playing field. Dubose was injured and inactive for contact in spring practice. The University of Kentucky needs him to be the player that many, including me, thought he could be on the collegiate level. If Tymere gets serious about his trait, he has the potential to compete his way into the starting rotation.
Posts like this are not fun. I’m not calling out these student-athletes. All three are third-year sophomores and were key parts of the vaunted Class of 2014. I’m merely trying to make the point that due to critical depth concerns on the defensive front seven, impactful playing time opportunities are prevalent. However, it’s up to Firios, Middleton, and Dubose to take advantage of the situation. And as always remember: it’s not personal, it’s personnel.