The nose guard. Traditionally it’s a position given to the biggest man on the team, tasked to bust heads and clog up the middle of the field. That type of nose guard is no longer successful.
The best interior defensive linemen are still big guys, but they must be more agile and sudden in their movements. Along with size and athleticism, intelligence is placed at a premium.
“The days of just letting them go play; the game’s changed,” defensive line coach Derrick LeBlanc told KSR during training camp. “The old stigma that d-linemen aren’t very smart and they can’t think, I think those days are behind us. We’re doing a great job of teaching these guys how to play the game, and understanding offenses, what they’re going to get and anticipating plays.”
Just a few months after stepping onto Kentucky’s campus, Quinton Bohanna proved he can be the complete package the Cats have been looking for at nose guard.
With two seniors at the top of the depth chart, Bohanna beat them out to start in the final three games of his true freshman season. Even though he was younger and less physically developed, he moved better than anybody on the roster.
“The kid can move,” LeBlanc said. “He’s 6’5″ 350, and he runs like he’s 6’5″ 270. He can run. He’s a very athletic guy that adds movement to the middle where we didn’t have it before.”
Bohanna’s lateral movement did not need fixing, but he did need to bulk up and enhance his football IQ in the middle of the trenches. Gaining weight has not been a problem (“If he gets any bigger he’s going to be in trouble,” LeBlanc joked). Learning the nuances of the game might challenge some, but not Bohanna.
“Mentally he’s maturing. He’s a smart football player, which is kind of unusual for a kid that young. He understands football. He understands blocking schemes, and that’s helped him develop into an even better football player.”
Bohanna, referred to as simply “Q” by his coaches and teammates, attributes his expedited development to his coach and the experience he gained on the field as a freshman.
“I’m really happy with last year experience wise because I know what to expect. I got much better at identifying backfield sets, like running backs, so I know what’s coming, what block I’m going to get, and now I know how to play it,” Bohanna said. “It’s really a credit to Coach LeBlanc.”
Since he was thrown into the fire as a true freshman, Bohanna took a different approach in training camp. Instead of trying to prove something to the upperclassmen, he’s focused on strategy. If he’s smarter than the offense and knows what to expect, they will not be able to move him out of the way. That mature approach is paying off, almost too well.
“I don’t want him to hear this,” LeBlanc whispered with a smile on his face, “but it’s almost like you don’t even have to coach the kid. The kid is freaking coachable. What’s good about Q, you correct him and the next play is fixed. That’s a pleasure to have. The kid is coachable and very talented. He’s got the makings to be a great player.”
A perfect prototype for the modern nose guard, Bohanna has the quickness and intelligence to be successful. But at the end of the day, no matter how much the position changes, a nose guard must be able to bust some heads in the middle of the trenches. Bohanna doesn’t mind it one bit.
“It’s fun,” he said. “I like it. It ain’t no problem with me. I think it shows what kind of man I am.”
He’s the kind of man Mark Stoops has been looking for, one who will change Kentucky’s defense in 2018.