In 2017, Kentucky’s defensive line was the weakest unit on the team. Halfway through the spring of 2018, it’s safe to say that will not be the case this fall.
The unit received excellent reviews following Saturday’s scrimmage. When Mark Stoops opened his doors to the media this morning, the praise was validated. The linemen are more mobile and explosive than ever before, in part to some new additions.
“There’s good competition there. I like the way we’re improving,” Stoops said after today’s practice. “Across the board, we definitely have more depth.”
Josh Paschal spent his first season at outside linebacker. Now the team’s greatest physical freak is creating explosive plays out of a three-point stance. Adrian Middleton has matured at defensive tackle, while JUCO transfer Phil Hoskins has emerged as a disruptive threat.
“He’s a big guy that’s quick, sudden and powerful. I like the way he plays,” Stoops said. “I think he has great energy for the game. He plays loose in certain ways where he’s going to be a bit unpredictable, but he’s going to make plays.”
How unpredictable? Defensive line coach Derrick LeBlanc described Hoskins as “a rolling ball of butcher knives.”
The new additions will certainly help, including Marquan McCall. The highest-ranked recruit in the 2018 class, he is expected to contribute at nose this fall. However, they may not need him to relieve Quinton Bohanna right away, thanks to Tymere DuBose.
Considered the top NFL prospect in the class of 2014 by Freddie Maggard, DuBose failed to live up to the hype in his first four years. Plagued by issues off the field and in the classroom, his Kentucky career almost ended last spring when Stoops sidelined him to focus exclusively on his schoolwork.
“It was time to give him real tough love. We always try to give him tough love, press them, push them and pull them, but that was it. It was cut bait time at that point. I think he knew it, so I’m proud of the way he responded.”
DuBose grew up, but it took a little bit of time. By season’s end, he was able to contribute in the final two games and make three tackles in the Music City Bowl. DuBose’s transformation is Stoops’ proudest accomplishment as a head coach.
“I’m proud of Ty. He’s come a long way. He’s grown up. He’s serious about it. He wants to do it. That’s our job. We gotta drag guys for a while, and eventually they get it. You hope it clicks and it kicks in. It certainly has for him.
“I can’t wait to see him walk across the stage and graduate because that will be one of the most fantastic things in my coaching career. As a head coach, to see him do that, will be one of the most special things that I’ve been a part of because he’s come a long way.”
See all of the praise Stoops sent the D-Line’s way.
Everything is clicking for Kentucky’s defensive line.
“Things are looking pretty good,” Hoskins said. But exactly how good? “I’m not going to say anything,” he held back, “but we got rid of a lot of distractions. We’re a lot more focused in the meetings and everything else like that. I feel as a unit we were here,” he held his hand up to his chest. “Now we’re up here,” he raised his hand to his chin, “and we’re trying to get way up here,” he held his hand over his head.
Don’t believe Hoskins, take it from Mark Stoops.
When asked if it is the first time he’s felt good about his defensive line, he responded: “Yeah, I think that’s fair to say. We’ve had some really good players with some guys that did some really good things for us, but as far as overall depth, yes.”