Part five in an eight part series previewing the 2014 Kentucky Football Wildcats.
Defensive end Bud Dupree, the face of Kentucky football.
Za’Darius Smith 6-6, 263 Sr. Greenville, AL
Farrington Huguenin 6-4, 275 Jr. Columbia, SC
Jabari Johnson 6-1, 276 Jr. Stone Mountain, GA
Mike Douglas 6-4, 288 Sr. Largo, FLA
Reggie Meant 6-4, 286 Fr-RS Cape Coral, FLA
CJ Johnson 6-3, 299 Jr.-JC Columbia, SC
Melvin Lewis 6-4, 320 Jr-JC Compton, CA
Christian Coleman 6-3, 288 Sr. Milan, TN
Jacob Hyde 6-2, 333 Fr-RS Manchester, KY (Clay County)
Alvin “Bud” Dupree 6-4, 264 Sr. Irwington, GA
Jason Hatcher 6-3, 242 So. Louisville, KY (Trinity)
* A quick note on the depth chart. Although I may well not know what I’m talking about, as at least one well-meaning gentleman suggested in the comments section, it is not because I have left true freshman off of the depth charts in these previews. I have used the depth charts provided in the UK Media Guide. At this point, the true freshman, even those competing for playing time, are not listed.
Despite Mark Stoops’ unprecedented injection of talent into the Kentucky football program over the last two years, the Wildcat roster still contains positions in which the disparity between Kentucky’s talent and the talent trotted out by the conference heavyweights is enormous. Defensive end is not one of those positions. Seniors Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith would be at home wearing any jersey in the SEC, though Kentucky fans are certainly supportive of their choice to wear blue. Dupree, one of the few blessings bestowed upon the Stoops staff by the previous regime, has finished in the top ten in the conference in sacks in each of the past two seasons. His career totals include 173 tackles, 16 sacks and 24.5 tackles for loss. Za’Darius Smith is Dupree’s perfect compliment at the opposite defensive end. Smith’s signing with Kentucky as the top ranked junior college defensive end in 2013 was one of the initial indications that the current Kentucky staff means business when it comes to procuring legitimate talent. Smith started every game in 2013, finishing with 59 tackles and 6 sacks. Both Smith and Dupree could be in NFL training camps at this very moment, but chose to return to lead the Kentucky defense in 2014. Jason Hatcher is the heir apparent to Dupree. As a true freshman in 2013, the one-time USC commit produced 2 sacks and 3 tackles for loss in limited action. Look for Hatcher to not only spell Dupree at defensive end, but also to showcase his speed and diversity at the linebacker position. Even in the final year of eligibility for Dupree and Smith, the future of the defensive end position remains bright, as the Cats boast three highly-regarded true freshman defensive ends in Tymere Dubose, Lloyd Tubman and Denzil Ware. These three talented players had cumulative offers from Michigan State, West Virginia, Vanderbilt, Penn State, Nebraska, Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Ohio State, Ole Miss, Texas and more. The staff would prefer to redshirt all three, and should be able to do so if the core group can avoid injury. If the need arises, Louisville Seneca’s Lloyd Tubman appear the most likely to play immediately.
While the defensive end position carries the star power, the defensive tackle position, aside from a certain true freshman behemoth discussed below, is somewhat more understated. Yet despite the lack of name recognition to the casual fan, the defensive tackle position appears to be stocked with an impressive cast of exceedingly large humans. Mike Douglas is a senior who has logged 33 appearances for the Cats and three starts. Having now acquired the requisite bulk to play defensive tackle in the SEC, Douglas will provide veteran leadership along the interior of the line. While Douglas provides the most experience, players without game experience at Kentucky may hold the most promise. Kentucky’s coaches have raved about Reggie Meant since his arrival in 2013. Despite their intrigue with his athleticism and tenacity, Kentucky’s coaches were able to fight the urge to throw him into the action as a true freshman. Their reward one season later is a stronger Meant with a much better grasp of DJ Eliot’s defense. Knowing that tackle was a position of need in 2014, the Cats also mined the fertile junior college circuit for immediate contributors. Melvin Lewis and CJ Johnson were both highly-regarded junior college players with great size. Lewis redshirted in 2013 to improve his physical conditioning. Johnson enrolled in January, thus giving him the Spring to learn the defense. Both will play major minutes on the interior of the Kentucky defensive line in 2014. And then there is Matt Elam. Like most others, I firmly believed that Elam, the 6-7, 375 pound true freshman from Elizabethtown, would redshirt in order to get in better shape. If you’ve listened to any of the chatter coming out of Fall Camp, that will not happen. Though he will likely be unable to log more than 15-20 snaps per game, his power and sheer girth should have a dramatic impact in his limited action.