NCF Nation: Mister Cobble

Kentucky appeared to be set in the middle of its defensive line, but there’s some bad news coming out of spring practice.

Senior defensive tackle Donte Rumph suffered what coach Mark Stoops described as a significant injury during practice Monday, and Rumph likely will need surgery.

Stoops declined to be specific about the nature of the injury, but it sure doesn’t sound good. Rumph is expected to miss the rest of the spring, and at this point, his availability for the season could be in question.

“He may be out for a while,” said Stoops, adding that the 6-foot-3, 323-pound Rumph had been the Wildcats’ most consistent player on defense this spring.

“It’s a big loss.”

With Rumph and fellow senior Mister Cobble in the middle of that defensive line, the Wildcats felt pretty good about their interior.

Senior Tristian Johnson is the next man up at tackle, and junior Christian Coleman and redshirt freshman Patrick Graffree could also factor prominently in the rotation, especially if Rumph is out long term.

Stoops expects to know more on Rumph’s prognosis later this week.

Some better news for the Wildcats defensively is that they like what they've seen from junior Alvin "Bud" Dupree and junior college newcomer Za'Darius Smith at the ends. Dupree looks like a natural at end after playing a couple of different linebacker spots and hybrid roles in the old defensive scheme last season. Dupree had 12.5 tackles for loss, including 6.5 sacks, a year ago to lead the Wildcats.
New Kentucky coach Mark Stoops understands that he and his staff have a lot to do in the development department.

“There's not one position on our field that we don't need to improve,” Stoops said earlier this week.

But one area of the Wildcats' team that he doesn't have to worry too much over is the defensive line. What was once a group of underachievers entered the spring as Kentucky's strength, with a hunk of experience returning.

[+] EnlargeAlvin Dupree
Richey Miller/CSM (Cal Sport Media via AP Images)Junior Alvin Dupree played both linebacker and defensive end last year, but the coaches want him to focus more on end this spring.
The Wildcats will miss ends Collins Ukwu and Taylor Wyndham, but rising junior Alvin Dupree, who has really impressed Stoops and the staff so far, is working out at end more this spring, and junior college transfer Za'Darius Smith is expected to make an immediate impact at the other end spot.

Add that rising senior tackles Donte Rumph, Tristian Johnson and Mister Cobble are back, and the Wildcats will have a pretty talented defensive front to work with this fall. And in this league, you can never have too many bodies along that defensive line.

“You have to be good up front in this league, and I feel like we have a foundation there with those guys,” Stoops said.

It should be fun to watch Dupree adjust more to having his hand in the ground this fall. He played that hybrid linebacker/defensive end position in Rick Minter's defense last season and was one of the Wildcats' most active players. He was second on the team with 91 tackles and led Kentucky with 12.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks.

Teams might not have time to double-team him with Smith potentially lining up on the other side. Keeping him in this class and having him enroll early were huge for this staff. Early reports out of Lexington were that he was tearing things up in the weight room before spring practice started.

Smith has good size at 6-foot-6, 257 pounds and was productive as a pass-rusher and a run stopper during his juco days. He registered 11 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks last year, and the thought is that one of those end spots is his to lose.

As for tackle, Stoops feels pretty confident about what he has there. It took a while for Rumph and Cobble to come around, but they made strides in 2012. Rumph, Johnson and Cobble combined for 11.5 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. For this defense to improve, those numbers have to increase in 2013, but if they continue to trend up, their play should take some pressure off of a younger linebacker corps.

It should also help the Cats be tougher against the run this fall. Kentucky surrendered 161.7 rushing yards per game last season and 4 yards per carry. Opponents also scored 25 rushing touchdowns against the Cats, which tied for second most in the SEC last year. Kentucky gave up 150-plus yards in 10 of 12 games last year.

With a more defensive-minded coach running things and more reps under these players' belts, the hope is that the Cats are tougher against the run. And they'll have to be because teams just don't survive in this league if they can't stop the ground game.

Wildcats to lean on defensive line

July, 18, 2012
HOOVER, Ala. -- The strength of Kentucky’s team this season should be right where you want to be stout in the SEC.

The defensive line.

Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said Wednesday the Wildcats will lean hard on their defensive front, and he’s expecting big things from the inside duo of Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph. They’re both juniors, and they’re both well over 300 pounds.

More importantly, Phillips thinks they’re poised to be every-down difference-makers after showing it in flashes last season.

“The light has come on for both of those guys,” Phillips said.

The Wildcats also have some depth up front. Senior Collins Ukwu returns at end after starting 24 games over the past three seasons. The 6-foot-5 Ukwu is now up to 260 pounds after arriving at Kentucky weighing around 210.

“Everybody knows that you win games in this conference by winning up front,” Ukwu said. “We know it’s on us to set that tone in the defensive line, and we’re ready for that challenge.”

The other thing that helps is that this will be the Wildcats’ second season in Rick Minter’s system. They were more aggressive a year ago and forced more turnovers.

“We’ve been in the film room even more this summer, and there are some talented young guys, too, like Bud Dupree, Farrington Huguenin and Mike Douglas who will make an impact,” Ukwu said. “We need to be the main piece to this defense.”

SEC postseason position rankings: DL

February, 7, 2012
We turn our attention to defense today, specifically the top defensive lines in the SEC during the 2011 season.

Year in and year out, strong defensive line play is what separates the SEC from other leagues, so there’s no shame in finishing in the bottom half of these rankings.

You can see our preseason rankings here.

Now onto our postseason rankings:

[+] EnlargeBarkevious Mingo
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireEnd Barkevious Mingo, 49, and tackle Michael Brockers, 90, led a stout LSU defensive line.
1. LSU: The Tigers overwhelmed teams this season up front with numbers, power and speed. They had the luxury of running fresh guys in and out of the game and not dropping off one bit. Michael Brockers was one of the top interior linemen in the league, while Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo combined for 28.5 tackles for loss, including 17 sacks, off the edge. Finding a better collection of defensive linemen anywhere in college football would be difficult.

2. Alabama: Even Nick Saban said before the season that Alabama didn’t have that dominant difference-maker up front this season in the mold of a Marcell Darius, but it didn’t matter. The Crimson Tide’s play up front was still dominant. Nose guard Josh Chapman courageously played through a torn ACL and plugged the middle, and nobody got any push against the Alabama front when it came to running the ball. The Tide led the country in rushing defense with opponents managing just 2.4 yards per carry.

3. South Carolina: The Gamecocks’ specialty was rushing the passer, and they ended the season with six sacks against Nebraska in the bowl game. Senior defensive end Melvin Ingram was a consensus All-American with 10 sacks, but he had plenty of good players around him. Freshman defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is next in line for All-America honors. He tied for the lead in league games with five forced fumbles.

4. Georgia: Not only were the Bulldogs one of the best defensive lines in the league, but they were also one of the most improved. Junior college newcomer John Jenkins made a huge difference at nose guard, and junior end Abry Jones had a breakout season with seven tackles for loss and 20 quarterback hurries. The Bulldogs were a lot bigger up front this season, too, which comes in handy when you’re playing a 3-4.

5. Florida: The Gators could have used some more depth in their defensive line, but they held up surprisingly well this season despite getting very little help from their offense. Sophomore Dominique Easley emerged as one of the more active defensive tackles in the league before tearing his ACL against Florida State, and Sharrif Floyd played both inside and outside for the Gators. With just about everybody back, Florida should have one of the top lines in the SEC next season.

6. Vanderbilt: A few eyebrows might be raised to see the Commodores ranked in the top half of the league when it comes to defensive line play, but look at the numbers. In SEC games, Vanderbilt held opponents to an average of 111 rushing yards per game, which was fourth in the league. Senior defensive end Tim Fugger might have been the most underrated player in the league with 13.5 tackles for loss, including eight sacks. Junior tackle Rob Lohr wasn’t too far behind with 11.5 tackles for loss, including five sacks.

7. Mississippi State: It wasn’t the best start to the season for Mississippi State’s defense, but the Bulldogs closed with a flurry thanks in large part to the way they played up front the last half of the season. Tackle Fletcher Cox led the charge down the stretch and led all SEC interior linemen in league games with 12.5 tackles for loss. Cox’s running mate inside, Josh Boyd, also did his share of damage with eight tackles for loss.

8. Arkansas: Coming into the 2011 season, the Hogs looked like they had one of the deepest defensive lines in the SEC. But star defensive end Jake Bequette was plagued by a nasty hamstring injury early in the season, and his sidekick on the other end, Tenarius Wright, broke his arm in the fourth game against Alabama. Bequette still responded with seven sacks in seven SEC games, and Wright also returned late in the season. The Hogs’ weakness was stopping the run. It was a problem all season long.

9. Auburn: The Tigers had some decent sack numbers, but that’s where it ends for them up front defensively. Sophomore defensive end Corey Lemonier was second in the SEC in league games with 8.5 sacks, but the Tigers were carved apart up front more times than not. They allowed more than 200 rushing yards per game to SEC foes, and had a terrible time getting off the field on third down. Auburn was painfully young up front defensively this season, but everybody returns in 2012.

10. Tennessee: The Vols had trouble getting to the passer this season, and they also weren’t especially good at stopping the run. That’s a combination that’s difficult to overcome for any defense. They finished with just 10 sacks in SEC games, which was 11th in the league, and they also gave up an average of 178.8 rushing yards per game to league foes. The Vols were hurting at tackle, which is why Malik Jackson played inside. He led the team with 11 tackles for loss.

11. Kentucky: As a whole, Kentucky improved defensively under first-year coordinator Rick Minter, particularly when it came to forcing turnovers. The Wildcats collected 16 in eight league games. They still need to get better up front after allowing an average of 203.8 rushing yards per game to SEC opponents. They also managed just 13 sacks in eight SEC contests. This is a big offseason for guys like Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph.

12. Ole Miss: One of the biggest blows for the Rebels was senior defensive end Kentrell Lockett not being able to make it all the way back from his knee injury. Ole Miss was left without any finishers up front and also couldn’t stop the run. In SEC contests, the Rebels gave up an average of 256.5 rushing yards per game, which ranked them last in the league and was 50 yards more than the 11th place team.
If there's one area where Kentucky coach Joker Phillips knows his team must master during Thursday's season-opener against Western Kentucky, it's the rushing defense.

Last season, the Wildcats surrendered 184 yards on the ground and two touchdowns to Western Kentucky running back Bobby Rainey. Though Kentucky came away with a near 40-point win over the Hilltoppers, seeing Rainey run all over his defense is not something Phillips would like to see again.

"I'm not sure exactly what the team did. I mean, you cannot allow a team to rush for that many yards on you," Phillips said. "Rushing yards demoralize you. You've got to stop the run. When people are able to line up and run the ball on you, it's a slap in the face. Last year was a slap in the face the way they ran the ball on us."

[+] EnlargeJoker Phillips
Mark Zerof/US PresswireJoker Phillips is intent on improving a run defense that ranked 11th in the SEC last season.
On the season, Kentucky's rush defense didn't fair much better. The Wildcats ranked 11th in the SEC, giving up 177.1 yards per game and allowed a league-high 30 rushing touchdowns.

"We've got to stop the run," Phillips said. "To stop the run, sometimes you have to commit to getting enough people in the box to stopping the run, which sometimes hangs guys in the secondary out to dry. Those guys have got to compete like the dickens outside because we've got to try to commit extra people to the line of scrimmage."

Phillips is hoping the new defensive looks, brought in by new defensive coordinator Rick Minter, will help improve a struggling run defense. The multiple schemes and different blitzing packages have players pretty excited, and the hope is that this unit is more aggressive, especially up front.

What will also help is getting their big guys to be more consistent. There isn't a lot of experience on Kentucky's defensive line, but the coaches see potential. Two players who need to shed the underachiever label are interior linemen Donte Rumph and Mister Cobble.

Both were expected to be major contributors and both have yet to make their presences really known to opposing teams.

Phillips complimented Rumph's play in the last few days, and reiterated that in order for Kentucky to disrupt backfields, Rumph and Cobble, who combine to weigh almost 660 pounds, will need to make much bigger impacts up front.

"For us to stop the run, you have to have some big guys inside," he said. "These guys like to go to extra offensive linemen in their run game, extra tight ends. You'll see six offensive linemen, you'll see three tight ends at times. They want to run the ball. They do a really good job of it.

"We'll have some different packages. We'll try to match big versus big. Donte is a huge key to that. He and Mister Cobble are a big key to that."
Today we look at the big uglies that cause all the mayhem in the trenches. The SEC consistently spits out nasty defensive linemen and this year has more of an athletic feel.

Here's how the teams stacked up:

1. South Carolina: The Gamecocks return a defensive line that would make any offensive line shutter. Plus, incoming freshman Jadeveon Clowney comes in as the top high school player in the country and could be one of the best ends in the league this fall. Devin Taylor leads the group at end and was second on the team with 7.5 sacks as a sophomore. Helping on the outside is Melvin Ingram, who plays inside on passing downs, and led South Carolina with nine sacks a year ago. Senior Travian Robertson, who came off injury to get four sacks last year, is solid in the middle as well.

[+] EnlargeDevin Taylor
Dale Zanine/US PresswireDevin Taylor made a habit of harassing quarterbacks last season.
2. Arkansas: The Razorbacks might have the best pass-rushing group Arkansas has seen in a while. Things revolve around defensive end Jake Bequette, who was one of the more unheralded players in the league last year, despite having seven sacks. On the other side of the line is Tenarius Wright, who will make up the second part of a formidable outside duo in Fayetteville with his speed and athleticism. In the middle, there are plenty of options. Byran Jones and DeQuinta Jones missed spring due to injury, but will be back this fall and there’s a wealth of depth behind them. Junior college transfer Robert Thomas might be the best and most athletic option in the middle is primed to break out.

3. LSU: There are some questions about the experience the Tigers bring back, but no one will question the talent and athleticism in Baton Rouge. Sam Montgomery is back at defensive end, after suffering a serious knee injury. He hasn’t played much, but the coaches believe he’s got what it takes to be a top end in this league. Kendrick Adams started 11 games last year at end, while Lavar Edwards filled in for Montgomery. Ego Ferguson redshirted last year, but should get a ton of playing time in the middle this fall. He is already one of the most athletic tackles in the SEC. Don’t forget about five-star early enrollee Anthony Johnson, who made very strong impressions on his coaches this spring and will be in the rotation inside.

4. Florida: This unit was criticized for lacking toughness last season, but will be full of that and even more athleticism in 2011. Jaye Howard is returning from spring ankle surgery and is already considered a top defensive tackle prospect in next year’s NFL draft. Alongside him are youngsters Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley. Floyd was the most consistent of the much-ballyhooed freshman class last fall, while Easley struggled with attitude problems. Easley has rebounded and both excelled this spring. Omar Hunter is finally healthy and will share time with Floyd at noseguard and senior William Green will occupy an end spot. This group is even better when Ronald Powell lines up at end in the 4-3.

5. Alabama: On paper, there are a few questions with this group, but it’s hard to drop Alabama very far on this list. The 3-4 scheme will have senior Josh Chapman at noseguard. Chapman started 12 games in the middle last fall, totaling 31 tackles, including 3.5 for loss. Damion Square will compete for time on the outside, and since returning from his ACL injury, he’s gained a lot more playing confidence and could be a budding star in the league. Junior college transfers Quinton Dial and Jesse Williams will compete for time on the line as well, while sophomore Ed Stinson will stay at end after starting last season at Jack linebacker.

6. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs have arguably the top returning tackle tandem in the SEC. Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd are the behemoths in the middle who combined for 53 tackles, 13 for loss and five sacks last year. Finding any sort of inside running game against Mississippi State will be extremely tough. Developing a pass-rusher is the next step for the Bulldogs’ staff. Sean Ferguson occupies one side, but the other is still up for grabs. Trevor Stigers and Shane McCardell battled for the spot this spring, but neither has really pushed ahead.

7. Georgia: There is a lot of talent in Athens, but there could be a lot of movement on the line. JUCO transfer John Jenkins is the big -- and we mean big -- name up front and he’s yet to play a down in the SEC. He arrives with a ton of hype, but is perfect at noseguard in Todd Grantham’s 3-4. DeAngelo Tyson moves to his natural position outside after playing noseguard last year. Kwame Geathers played in the middle this spring, but could be usurped for Jenkins this fall and move outside. Abry Jones is still maturing after moving to end and recording 34 tackles including 3.5 for loss last season and had a 16-tackle performance against Georgia Tech.

8. Auburn: The Tigers must replace three starters this season. Inside, Auburn is talented but inexperienced with Kenneth Carter and Jeffrey Whitaker having 13 combined tackles from a year ago. There’s less concern on the outside with lone returning starter Nosa Eguae on one side and sophomore Corey Lemonier on the other. Eguae might have more experience with 11 starts, but Lemonier appears to be more athletic and should be near the top of the defensive end pool this year. After that, the Tigers are young across the board.

9. Tennessee: The Volunteers’ line will grow with senior Malik Jackson running things in the middle. He had 48 tackles and five sacks a year ago and some think he’ll be even better this fall. A lot will also be expected from incoming JUCO transfer Maurice Couch. He’s pretty athletic at 6-foot-4, 327 pounds and he’ll be greatly needed, considering the dismissal of Montori Hughes. Jacques Smith has All-SEC potential and will hold one of the end spots. After that, Tennessee has some young, but encouragingly talented bodies at each position.

10. Ole Miss: Some of the best news of the spring coming out of Oxford was the return of Kentrell Lockett at defensive end. Lockett was granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA and will not only be the Rebels’ top lineman but possibly their best defensive player. After that, the questions roll in with four tackles gone and youth coming in. Tackle Justin Smith has yet to really emerge as the All-SEC talent he was expected to be and Ole Miss is smaller up front. JUCO transfer Gilbert Pena could add some size in the middle. Gerald Rivers returns to get time at end, but has played in just 15 career games in two years.

11. Vanderbilt: This was supposed to be a strength for the Commodores last year until injuries hit. Still, Vanderbilt returns three starters. Experience is there, but this unit has to continue to improve, especially in the pass-rushing department where the Commodores had just 20 sacks in 2010. Rob Lohr led Vanderbilt with four sacks a year ago and had 35 tackles. T.J. Greenstone is coming off of injury and will line up inside. Tim Fugger was one of the Commodores' most consistent players at end, playing in every game and registering three sacks and four forced fumbles.

12. Kentucky: End Collins Ukwu and tackle Luke McDermott return with the most experience on Kentucky’s line. Ukwu improved not only on the field but in the weight room this spring and is expected to be a more consistent pass-rusher. McDermott is a walk-on currently ahead of Donte Rumph, who has the talent to be one of Kentucky’s top defenders, but has yet to fully buy in to the program. The coaches are also waiting for tackle Mister Cobble to finally break out of his funk and be a regular contributor. The rest of Kentucky’s linemen have some developing to do and are inexperienced.