Kentucky’s leading rusher, Boom Williams, declared for the NFL Draft. The Wildcat’s leading receiver, in terms of yardage, quit the team and has since transferred. Even with the need to replace its two most explosive offensive weapons, Kentucky’s two most pressing questions entering spring practice are its receiving corps and defensive line.
Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran is not a coach that tosses around unnecessary compliments. He, and other coaches, have bragged on the Cat pass catchers throughout 8 spring practices. That group has apparently answered the bell. Thus, one question remains: How and will the UK defensive line improve production and standing?
Production you say? 2016 defensive line starters DT Adrian Middleton, NT Naquez Pringle, and DE Courtney Miggins combined for 102 total tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 QB sacks, and just 1 QB hurry in 13 games.
In order for proper perspective take a look at these statistics. UK’s starting DT, NT, and DE averaged: 7.84 Tackles, 0.88 Tackle for Loss, 0.11 QB sack, and .07 QB hurry per game. These numbers emphasize desperation for improvement.
Two major components in UK’s 2017 defensive line projections are true sophomore defensive end TJ Carter and redshirt freshman defensive tackle Kordell Looney. I caught up with both after Thursday’s practice:
Question: Is there a big difference in former DL Coach Jimmy Brumbaugh and Derrick LeBlanc?
TJ Carter: “Coach LeBlanc and Coach Brumbaugh learned from the same coach, Coach P. Both great coaches. We’re working on more fast-pace, penetration style. I’m 280 right now, want to play at 285. Want to improve play vs. the run, stay on gaps. Improve pass rush, play technique better.”
â€¨Kordell Looney: “Coach LeBlanc wants us to move faster, get more in, in same amount of time. So get 10 minutes of work in 8 minutes. He just wants us to play faster. I’m 300-pounds right now. I want to weigh more, want to play at least 305 this fall. I need to work on everything. It just takes work and practice.”
Question: How is it playing for new defensive coordinator Matt House?
â€¨TJ Carter: “Coach House is emphasizing strain, run to the ball, always run to the ball. He always talks about strain-strain-strain.”
Kordell Looney: “Coach House has way more energy. Coach House is on your butt, he knows everything. Everything he says is strain-strain-strain.”
Question: What was it like to play DE in SEC as a true freshman and play against Georgia Tech?
TJ Carter: “Going through season, coming in, getting a couple plays during the season helped me get experience. When I got a chance against Georgia Tech it was playing against the hometown team (Carter is from Atlanta-Tech did not offer), felt like a great opportunity.”
Looney is behind DT Adrian Middleton on the current depth chart. TJ Carter is running with the 1st defense. Judging by coach and player comments, I can foresee both having breakout seasons. If UK is to be better along its defensive front; Matt House will need both to play at a high level.
Defensive line play in the Southeastern Conference is vital. Matter of fact, it can be argued that quality defensive play can separate contenders from pretenders. Kentucky’s DL is in dire need of improvement in order for the Wildcats to achieve its lofty goals in 2017.