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Kentucky Football Spring Preview: Defensive Line

Adrian Middleton (Picture by 247Sports)

B.L.U.F. (Bottom Line Up Front) The Kentucky defensive line must become more disruptive and productive. 101, 10.5, and 6. These numbers represent the Cats’ returning defensive linemen’s combined productivity from 2017: 101 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, and 6 quarterback sacks. Defensive tackle Adrian Middleton was the group’s leading tackler with 25. He was followed by reserve defensive end Calvin Taylor Jr.’s 22 stops. The 6’9, 300-pound Taylor Jr. also experienced a solid bowl performance vs. Northwestern by registering 3 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and 1 quarterback sack. Nose tackle Quinton Bohanna fortified the interior of the line-of-scrimmage but was limited by injury late in the season. It’s safe to say that minus Bohanna, the 2017 Kentucky nose tackle play was less than desirable for coordinator Matt House.

Kentucky finished 2017 ranked 8th in the SEC after allowing 175.31 rush-yards per game. This number is somewhat deceiving given that several opponents from last year were more pass heavy than reliant upon the run-game. It also finished 8th in the conference with 30 quarterback sacks. The organic three within the 3-4 defense (DE, NT, DT) produced 6 of those 30 sacks. This number can be concerning but not overwhelmingly so given the team’s strength and emphasis are at linebacker. The Cats’ defensive line quarterback sack leader was TJ Carter with 3. UK also ranked 12th in the league with 63 total tackles for loss. 10.5 of the 63 came from returning defensive linemen. Now this is one is concerning. Tackles for loss is a “Havoc” category that is non-negotiable in terms of upgrading. One of the defensive linemen’s main roles is to occupy blockers in order for the linebackers to run free to make tackles or chase the quarterback. Bohanna excelled in this function.

UK operates a “multiple” defense. This means that it can present a 3-4 or a 4-3 front. Outside linebackers Denzil Ware and Joshua Paschal become defensive ends when aligned with their hands in the dirt or in a three-point stance. The outside linebacker/defensive end hybrid position contributed 10 combined sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. Ware and Paschal can be dynamic which lessens the microscope on the lack of production from the traditional DL positions. Regardless of schematic construction, late-season yardage totals surrendered against Tennessee, Ole Miss, Georgia, Louisville, and Northwestern highlighted the Cat’s need to progress along the defensive line-of-scrimmage. Let’s dig deeper:

The Departed

Nose tackles Matt Elam and Naquez Pringle completed their eligibility in 2017.

Matt Elam

  • 2017 statistics: 8 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 pass breakup, 1 forced fumble.
  • Season-high 4 tackles and a tackle for loss in a win over Southern Miss.
  • Career numbers: Played in 45 games, started 10. 50 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 3 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble.

Naquez Pringle

  • 2017 statistics: 16 tackles, 0.5 tackle for loss, 1 quarterback hurry.
  • Career numbers: 12 starts. 55 tackles, 1 quarterback sack, 2.5 tackles for loss.

Projected Starters

90 Defensive EndTJ Carter 6’4, 265 Junior

  • 2017 statistics: 18 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 3 quarterback sacks, 1 pass breakup, 2 quarterback hurries.
  • Started all 13 games.
  • Had a career-high of 4 tackles including his first quarterback sack in a win over Tennessee.
  • Played in 14 games, started 14.

99 Defensive Tackle-Adrian Middleton 6’3, 298 Senior

  • 2017 statistics: 25 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 1 quarterback sack, 1 pass breakup.
  • Career: 68 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 1 quarterback sack, 1 pass breakup.
  • Best season came in 2016: 35 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss.
  • Must be noted that new weights listed on the team’s official website shows a significant gain for Middleton.

95 Nose Tackle -Quinton Bohanna 6’4, 340 Sophomore

  • Played as a true freshman.
  • 2017 statistics: 14 tackles, 1 pass breakup.
  • Extremely high ceiling. Has added 20 lbs. of good weight.

Picture by 247Sports

Rotational Defensive Linemen

Some rotational players could change positions or play multiple roles along the defensive line. This is similar to the linebacker group. Hate to be repetitive, but Taylor Jr. and Dubose’s performance in Nashville was encouraging. Phil Hoskins played after rehabilitating a shoulder injury and has gained the weight he lost in the process. Kordell Looney got his feet wet and should experience growth in 2017. Kengera Daniel has yet to experience consistent success. The senior has all the tools to be a pass rush specialist.

20 DE Kengera Daniel 6’5, 235 Senior

  • 2017 statistics: 6 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 quarterback sack.
  • Career statistics: 10 tackles, 1 quarterback sack, 1 tackle for loss.

98 DT/NT Tymere Dubose 6’5, 315 Senior

  • Strong game in the Music City Bowl: 2 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss.
  • 2017 statistics: 4 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss.

92 DT/DE Phil Hoskins 6’5, 306 Junior

  • 2017 statistics: 2 tackles, 1 quarterback hurry, 1 fumble recovery.
  • Added over 10 lbs. in the offseason.

59 DT Kordell Looney 6’3, 297 Sophomore

  • 2017 statistics: 10 tackles, 1 tackle for loss. 

91 DE Calvin Taylor Jr. 6’9, 300 Junior

  • 2017 statistics: 22 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 quarterback sack, 1 quarterback hurry.

The Redshirts

The entire BBN is eager to watch Abule Abadi-Fitzgerald in action. I’m in that group by the way. The sky is the limit for the redshirt freshman but I would caution to be patient. He’s new to the game and still figuring things out. Chris Whittaker is the “wildcard” at both linebacker and defensive line. His new weight (down 30 lbs.) suggests a potential position change or the Florida native could be used as a designated pass rusher. His progress will be interesting to track.

96 DE/DT Abule Abadi-Fitzgerald 6’6, 281 Redshirt Freshman

  • Has added over 20 lbs. during a redshirt season.
  • Extremely high ceiling. Coaches bragged on the former basketball player during the fall.

97 DE Chris Whittaker 6’3, 227 Redshirt Freshman

  • Reportedly weighed 260 lbs. upon arrival to campus. Now listed at 227.
  • Will be interesting to see which position Whittaker plays during spring practice.

Incoming Freshmen

Davoan Hawkins 6’4, 275 Freshman

  • Key line-of-scrimmage player for Florida state champion Chaminade-Madonna High School.
  • Played multiple positions. Extreme high motor.
  • Can’t really explain, but I have a hunch that this kid seems to have the “it” factor to be special.
  • Not an early enrollee. Will not factor in spring practice.

Jerquavion Mahone 6’3, 300 Freshman

  • Late pickup for the early signing period out of Manchester High School, Georgia.
  • Former basketball player. Three-year starter along the offensive and defensive line.
  • Registered 64 tackles, 22 tackles for loss, and 7 quarterback sacks as a senior.
  • Not an early enrollee. Will not factor in spring practice. 

Marquan McCall 6’3, 350 Freshman

  • Will push for immediate playing time.
  • 4-star prospect. Number one ranked guard in the Midwest. The nation’s 135th rated overall player.
  • Regarded as a technician.
  • Not an early enrollee. Will not factor in spring practice.

What does all this mean?  

Non-negotiable: Kentucky must become more dynamic along the defensive front. The Cats will sport one of the top linebacker groups in the conference; however, this strength will be voided if the defensive line doesn’t create more disruption and apply more pressure in the opponent’s backfield. All eyes will be focused on the QB competition next week. As for me? I’ll be camped by the defensive line. Non-negotiable.


Article written by Freddie Maggard

Former University of Kentucky Quarterback and Andy Griffith Fan Club President

1 Comment for Kentucky Football Spring Preview: Defensive Line

  1. BLUEsky
    8:27 pm February 27, 2018 Permalink

    Thanks for the FB articles Freddie. Keep em’ coming 🙂