SEC: Mister Cobble

Kentucky season preview

August, 12, 2013
8/12/13
10:30
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Today, our SEC preview shifts to the Kentucky Wildcats.

Coach: Mark Stoops (0-0)

2012 record: 2-10, 0-8 SEC

[+] EnlargeMark Stoops
University of Kentucky AthleticsMark Stoops will be looking to develop some players in his first season at Kentucky.
Key losses: RB CoShik Williams, WR La’Rod King, OG Larry Warford, C Matt Smith, DE Collins Ukwu, DE Taylor Wyndham, S Martavius Neloms, S Mikie Benton

Key returnees: QB Jalen Whitlow, QB Maxwell Smith, RB Raymond Sanders, RB Dyshawn Mobley, DT Mister Cobble, DT Donte Rumph, DE Alvin Dupree, LB Avery Williamson

Newcomer to watch: Junior college transfer Za'Darius Smith had a great spring and summer and should be able to make an immediate impact at defensive end this fall.

Biggest games in 2013: Western Kentucky (in Nashville), Aug. 31; Louisville, Sept. 14; Florida, Sept. 28; Missouri, Nov. 9; at Vanderbilt, Nov. 16; Tennessee, Nov. 30

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: The Wildcats might have three quarterbacks competing for the starting job, but figuring out who will catch passes from any of them is still a mystery. There is a lot of potential at receiver, but there isn't any real production or consistency coming back. Junior Demarco Robinson and sophomore Daryl Collins were expected to break out in 2012, but combined for just 45 catches and 468 yards with no touchdowns. Highly recruited freshman Ryan Timmons and junior college transfer Javess Blue will have every opportunity to be fixtures at receiver this fall.

Forecast: Stoops has quite the task in his first season with the Wildcats. The good news is that the defensive-minded coach will have a lot of talent and experience to work with along his defensive line. Past coaches waited and waited for defensive tackles Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph to reach their potential. Now, it seems like both are ready to do that and more this fall. Helping them out will be Alvin "Bud" Dupree, who is one of the league's best pass-rushers and moved from linebacker to end when the Wildcats went from a 3-4 scheme to a 4-3. Having Za'Darius Smith and freshman Jason Hatcher at the ends should make this line even more athletic this fall.

There are mixed reviews at running back. Even with the loss of Josh Clemons for the second straight year, the Wildcats have senior Raymond Sanders and sophomore Dyshawn Mobley, who is returning from hernia surgery. Both had good springs, but with Clemons' injury and the departure of Justin Taylor, both have to remain healthy because there isn't much depth at all.

There's a three-headed quarterback battle that carried into camp. Sophomore Jalen Whitlow left spring with the edge, but he still has to beat Maxwell Smith, who began last season as the starter before injuries took his season, and classmate Patrick Towles.

Players have to step up at receiver and tight end, and the Wildcats are thin at linebacker after Dupree's move to the defensive line. Three starters from the secondary are gone; Kentucky is getting some help, but it's coming in the form of the 2013 signees.

Stoops knows he has a lot of issues to work through in his first season, and while a bowl game could be a lofty goal, there's no doubt the Wildcats will be more competitive in 2013. Stoops certainly wants to win this fall, but a lot of the season will be devoted to development for the future.
The SEC prides itself on having all that talent in the trenches, and the defensive lines in this league just continue set this conference apart from everyone else. Here's how all 14 lines rank in the SEC heading into the 2013 season:

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsThe whole nation may be familiar with Jadeveon Clowney, but there's even more power on the South Carolina defensive line.
1. South Carolina: There's more to South Carolina's defensive front than man-beast Jadeveon Clowney. While his 21 career sacks and 35.5 tackles for loss are great, he gets good help from a solid helping of depth, beginning with starters Kelcy Quarles (defensive tackle) and Chaz Sutton (end). Quarles might be one of the most underrated linemen around and should improve on his 3.5 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss from last year. Sutton was a backup last year, but still registered five sacks and seven tackles for loss. Tackle J.T. Surratt saw action in just 10 games last year, but moves into a starting role this year. Gerald Dixon and Gerald Dixon Jr. provide good depth at tackle and end.

2. Florida: Sure, the Gators lost All-American Sharrif Floyd and Omar Hunter, but Florida rotated enough guys in last year to have good experience coming back across the board. Star lineman Dominique Easley will play at his more natural position at tackle this year, but will move outside at times. He led Florida with four sacks last year and was consistently disruptive all year. Florida is loaded at end with sophomores Dante Fowler Jr. and Jonathan Bullard returning. Ronald Powell, who is coming off of two ACL injuries will rotate with Fowler at the hybrid linebacker/end "Buck" position, while Damien Jacobs and Darious Cummings will help out at tackle.

3. Arkansas: While Arkansas featured one of the league's worst defenses last year, the Razorbacks were solid up front. Arkansas returns one of the best defensive end combos in senior Chris Smith and junior Trey Flowers. They combined for 15.5 sacks and 26 tackles for loss last year. Inside, you have seniors Byran Jones and Robert Thomas. Jones has started 29 games in his career and had 52 tackles last year. Thomas steps into a starting role this fall after recording five tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks last year. The Hogs have young reserves, the staff is excited about guys like JaMichael Winston, Brandon Lewis, Darius Philon, DeMarcus Hodge and Deatrich Wise Jr.

4. LSU: The Tigers lost a lot up front, but this team is used to reloading along the defensive line. Tackle Anthony Johnson has the meat and ability to be one of the best at his position, and excels as both a run-stopper and pass-rusher. He'll be helped by junior Ego Ferguson, who has all the talent to be successful but is still looking to reach his full potential. The staff is expecting big things from end Jermauria Rasco, who might be a better pure pass-rusher than Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery before him. Danielle Hunter and Jordan Allen should do more at end, while incoming freshman Tashawn Bower could see immediate playing time. Also, keep an eye on freshman Christian LaCouture, who played his way into the two-deep this spring at tackle.

5. Ole Miss: There are depth issues at defensive tackle, but the Rebels are stacked on the outside. C.J. Johnson should be back from the broken leg he suffered this spring, and has All-SEC talent at end. Fellow end Cameron Whigham only had 1.5 sacks last year, but started 11 games. Channing Ward got a lot of action this spring with Johnson out and has the chance to have a true breakout season. All eyes will be on freshman Robert Nkemdiche, who was the No. 1 recruit in the 2013 recruiting class and is physically ready to play right now. Tackle Issac Gross should be healed from his spring grown injury and will get good help from junior college transfer Lavon Hooks.

6. Alabama: Right now, Alabama is still searching for the elite players it's used to having up front. This unit wasn't as consistent as Nick Saban would have wanted this spring, but there is a lot of potential in the trenches, starting with the versatile Ed Stinson, who can line up inside or out and recorded 8.5 tackles for loss and three sacks last year. Jeoffrey Pagan could be fun to watch at the other end spot. He was a big-time recruit a few years ago and will get a lot more time to shine this fall. Brandon Ivory has to replace Jesse Williams at nose guard, but showed good flashes this spring. LaMichael Fanning will also help at end. Alabama is young here, but will continuously rotate again in order to keep guys fresh.

7. Vanderbilt: End Walker May is the star of this very talented group. He isn't the biggest at his position, but he's a relentless worker and is exception at getting to the quarterback on passing plays. Junior Kyle Woestmann came on very strong during the second half of the 2012 season, registering six sacks in the final five games. Then there's sophomore Caleb Azibuke, who grabbedd 4.5 sacks last year, had a great spring and is extremely athletic. With two starters departing, depth is an issue inside, but tackle Jared Morese, who started six games last year is back after being kicked off this team this spring for violating team rules. Juniors Barron Dixon and Vince Taylor both played in 13 games last year. The Commodores also had to move offensive lineman Adam Butler to defensive tackle this spring.

8. Kentucky: There is a lot of experience, starting with seniors Donte Rumph, Mister Cobble and Tristian Johnson at defensive tackle. Rumph, who is coming off of a spring shoulder injury, is the best of the bunch and recorded six tackles for loss and four sacks last year. Cobble is finally starting to reach his potential, and should improve on his three tackles for loss and two sacks from last year. Johnson started nine straight games to end last season. Alvin "Bud" Dupree has nine sacks in the last two years and is moving from linebacker to end this year. Helping him will be junior college transfer Za'Darius Smith, who had an exceptional spring. Incoming freshman end Jason Hatcher will also get a chance to play immediately.

9. Georgia: The first order of business is finding a suitable nose guard to replace the massive John Jenkins. Right now, it looks like that will happen by committee. Junior Mike Thornton left spring as the starter there, but has just one career tackle. Redshirt sophomore Chris Mayes is next in line, but hasn't recorded any stats during his career. Freshman John Atkins enrolled early this spring and junior college transfer Toby Johnson, who could be the best of them, is recovering from an ACL injury. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham cross-trained all his linemen and was very pleased with Sterling Bailey's improvement, along with senior Garrison Smith, who started eight games last year. Junior Ray Drew is also getting more comfortable up front.

10. Mississippi State: It's not like Mississippi State doesn't have the talent or potential up front, but his group really struggled to get to the quarterback last year. Senior end Denico Autry struggled through the first part of last season, but played strong down the stretch, which is really encouraging to the staff. End Preston Smith was a backup last year, but still led the Bulldogs with 4.5 sacks. The staff seems pretty excited about tackle P.J. Jones, who made some big plays late for this team last year. Of course, having vet Kaleb Eulls back helps and it looks like he's permanently moving inside. End Ryan Brown didn't blow up the stat chart last year, but had a good spring and should see plenty of playing time this fall.

11. Missouri: This unit was probably the Tigers' strongest last year, but it lost its best player in tackle Sheldon Richardson. Mizzou has to replace him by committee, and Gary Pinkel seemed pleased with his tackles this spring. Matt Hoch had a very good spring and while he isn't the same player as Richardson, he figures out ways to get to the ball and started 12 games last year. Lucas Vincent will line up at nose guard, but injuries limited him to just three tackles last year. Redshirt freshman Harold Brantley has a lot of potential at tackle and should see good time this fall. The Tigers are pretty solid outside, with Kony Ealy and Michael Sam returning. Ealy is just waiting to break out, while Sam led the team with 4.5 sacks last fall. Shane Ray provides good depth at end, while tackle Marvin Foster played in 10 games last year.

12. Tennessee: The Vols have to figure out how to move around all those pieces up front with the defense moving back to a traditional 4-3 look. Big-bodied Daniel McCullers is the top player along the line, but he has to be more disruptive up front. He has to be more than just a space eater. Senior Jacques Smith should move down to end from linebacker, while fellow seniors Marlon Walls and Daniel Hood should push for starting time at end and tackle. Senior Maurice Couch is another player with a ton of talent, but has to be more consistent inside. Junior Jordan Williams should also move down after playing a hybrid end/linebacker position last year.

13. Auburn: The Tigers just weren't good enough up front last year, ranking 11th in the SEC in sacks (22) and 12th in tackles for loss (66). Now the best player -- end Corey Lemonier -- is gone. A handful of vets return, but this group has to be tougher and more consistent. Senior ends Dee Ford and Nosa Eguae lead things up front, but only accounted for 8.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks last year. Eguae will have his hands full trying to fend off Kenneth Carter, who moved from tackle to end this spring. Jeffrey Whitaker, Angelo Blackson and Gabe Wright lead the inside game, but only Blackson had more than five tackles for lass last year (a team-high seven).

14. Texas A&M: The Aggies lost quality starters like Damontre Moore and Spencer Nealy and the injury bug devastated this unit during the spring. No one will replace Moore's 21 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks, but A&M needs multiple guys to step up. Julien Obioha started 12 games as a true freshman last year, but has to stay healthy this fall, as he's the key to the entire line. He also has to generate a better pass rush. Tackle Kirby Ennis started 11 games last year, but ran into legal trouble before spring practice and was suspended, but is expected to return. Youngsters Alonzo Williams, Tyrone Taylor and Tyrell Taylor will be thrown into the mix this fall, but expect plenty of growing pains. Gavin Stansbury and Alonzo Williams have showed flashes here and there, but will have to much more consistent this fall.
Every year, players come and go in college football. With the turnover teams can either grow or take steps back.

It's time to check out Kentucky's strongest position and weakest position heading into the 2013 season:

Strongest position: Defensive line

New coach Mark Stoops really lucked out when it came to his defensive line. The Wildcats have the pieces in place up front to cause some real discomfort for opposing offenses. The foundation up front could help mask the issues the Wildcats have at linebacker and in the secondary due to inexperience. Inside, Kentucky has starters Donte Rumph and Tristian Johnson return, along with the talented Mister Cobble, who showed vast improvement last year and this spring. Rumph registered four sacks and six tackles for loss last year, while Cobble and Johnson combined for 3.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. Two starters are gone outside, but Alvin Dupree is moving from linebacker to end. He was Kentucky's best pass-rusher last year (12.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks) and could be even more of a threat to passing games with his hand in the ground. Dupree is All-SEC material. And he'll have help from junior college transfer Za'Darius Smith, who registered 47 tackles, 11 for loss and 6.5 sacks at the juco ranks last fall. He had a very good spring and should come in and make an immediate impact. Freshman Jason Hatcher should also help on the outside as well.

Weakest position: Secondary and/or pass-catchers

The Wildcats are really hurting to find a consistent receiving threat now that La'Rod King is gone. Demarco Robinson and Daryl Collins will be in their third years this fall, and while they have big-play potential, they just haven't been able to live up to that potential. Yes, the quarterback play hasn't been great, but there comes a point where players have to step up and figure out a way to make plays. Both players were held under 300 yards last year. It doesn't help that three seniors are gone, making this a very young group overall. Only four players return with any experience from last year, with only Robinson catching more than 20 passes. Freshman Ryan Timmons has a chance to play right away, along with juco standouts Javess Blue and Steven Borden, who was on campus this spring.

As for the secondary, the Wildcats lost three starters and safety Ashely Lowery is working his way back onto the field after his horrific car accident. Both cornerback and safety are littered with youngsters, which means that incoming players will have a pretty good shot at getting valuable playing time. Regardless, the secondary is going to be younger and more inexperienced than Stoops would like in his first year. Sophomore corners J.D. Harmon (two interceptions), Cody Quinn (five pass breakups) and Fred Tiller (two pass breakups) are the only returners with any stats at corner. There is a little more experience at safety, but not much. Getting senior Dakotah Tyler back from his knee injury will be big, but he's only played sparingly for the Cats during his career.
2012 record: 2-10
2012 conference record: 0-8 (seventh, Eastern Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB Jalen Whitlow, QB Maxwell Smith, RB Raymond Sanders, RB Dyshawn Mobley, DT Mister Cobble, DT Donte Rumph, DE Alvin Dupree, LB Avery Williamson

Key losses

RB CoShik Williams, WR La’Rod King, OG Larry Warford, C Matt Smith, DE Collins Ukwu, DE Taylor Wyndham, S Martavius Neloms, S Mikie Benton

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Raymond Sanders* (669 yards)
Passing: Maxwell Smith* (975 yards)
Receiving: La’Rod King (488 yards)
Tackles: Avery Williamson* (135)
Sacks: Alvin Dupree* (6.5)
Interceptions: J.D. Harmon* (2)

Spring answers

1. Stout defensive line: New coach Mark Stoops has to be very happy with the foundation he has along his defensive line. There has always been potential with guys like Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph, but they've never truly put things together. However, the entire line impressed this spring and should be driving force for Kentucky’s defense. Rumph missed most of spring with a shoulder injury, but should be fine this fall. Having Dupree at end in the new 4-3 scheme now provides the Cats with a top-notch pass-rusher. Add junior-college transfer defensive end Za'Darius Smith, and Kentucky should certainly hold its own up front this fall.

2. Comfort at running back: Stoops is still searching for more playmakers on offense, but he was pretty happy with what he saw from his running backs this spring, especially senior Raymond Sanders and Dyshawn Mobley. Sanders has been around for a while, but he’s battled health issues. Mobley did well last season as a freshman, but really stepped up this spring. Josh Clemons is back from his 2011 knee injury and showed flashes of his old playmaking self at times this spring.

3. Offensive line feeling fine: The Wildcats might have lost two mainstays up front in Larry Warford and Matt Smith, but it sounds like the line did well without them around. Redshirt freshman Zach Myers spent the spring in Matt Smith’s spot, and both tackles -- Kevin Mitchell and Darrian Miller -- return. However, Mitchell worked inside this spring and the very large Jordan Swindle spent the majority of his time at right tackle with the first-team line.

Fall questions

1. Whitlow’s time?: The Cats have a three-headed quarterback competition on their hands, but it sounds like Jalen Whitlow, who was a true freshman last year, has the edge heading into summer workouts. He moved past Maxwell Smith (last year’s starter before injuries ended his season early) and Towles after having the most impressive outing during the spring game. Whitlow really showed a lot of improvement this spring and is probably the most athletic of the three. Still, Stoops has said competition will continue this fall.

2. Searching for a go-to receiver: La'Rod King is gone, so the coaches are searching for someone to be a consistent target for whichever quarterback wins the starting job. There were only six scholarship receivers on the team this spring and there isn’t a ton of experience there. Demarco Robinson returns with 28 catches from last year and has shown that he’s an explosive player, but he has to be more consistent going forward. Daryl Collins is next in line and has shown playmaking flashes as well, but caught just 17 passes last year.

3. Help at linebacker and the secondary: The Cats are thin at linebacker and throughout the secondary. Kentucky lost three starters in the secondary and Dupree moved to defensive line this spring. Avery Williamson will provide an anchor at middle linebacker and Miles Simpson is back on the outside, but there isn’t a lot of experience at linebacker, and Stoops didn’t sign any in his first class. Junior starting safety Ashely Lower's recent car accident has his status for the season unknown, and there isn’t much experience in the secondary. Help is on the way in terms of numbers with the 2013 class, but the youth back there will likely have to deal with a lot of growing pains this fall.
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.

Opening spring camp: Kentucky

March, 18, 2013
3/18/13
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Schedule: The Wildcats opened spring practice Monday morning, and will conclude the spring with their annual Blue/White Spring Game on April 13, at 7 p.m. ET at Commonwealth Stadium.

What's new: The entire coaching staff is new in Lexington. Former Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops replaced Joker Phillips as the Wildcats' head coach. Neal Brown takes over as Kentucky's offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, while D.J. Eliot left FSU with Stoops to become the Wildcats' defensive coordinator/linebackers coach. Derrick Ansley is Kentucky's new cornerbacks coach and Jimmy Brumbaugh takes over as the new defensive line coach. Tommy Mainord will coach wide receivers, while Vince Marrow will coach up the Wildcats' tight ends. Bradley Dale Peveto will coach the safeties and be the special teams coordinator. John Schlarman will coach Kentucky's offensive line, while Chad Scott coaches running backs.

On the mend: Running back Josh Clemons missed all of last season with a knee injury that he suffered halfway through the 2011 season and could be limited this spring. The amount he works out this spring will depend on well his knee responds. Rising senior safety Dakotah Tyler will miss spring ball while he recovers from a knee injury he suffered last year. Freshman cornerback Shawn Blaylock also suffered a knee injury last year and is still recovering as well. Tight end Anthony Kendrick will also miss spring practice with a foot injury.

On the move: Junior Alvin Dupree played both linebacker and defensive end last year, but the coaches want him to focus more on end this spring. With a new staff, position changes are expected to develop as practice continues and the new staff gets to see how players look on the field.

New faces: The Wildcats welcomed in three early enrollees. Junior college transfers Za'Darius Smith (defensive end) and Steven Borden (tight end) joined true freshman quarterback Reese Phillips.

Question marks: With wide receiver La'Rod King gone, Kentucky is in desperate need of someone stepping up to be the go-to guy in the passing game. King wasn't a game-changer, but he was the team's most reliable offensive weapon in 2012. Youngsters Demarco Robinson and Daryl Collins will be looked at first, and while both have big-play potential, they both have a lot of room to grow on the field. The Wildcats also looking for someone to take over at the running backs spot. The good news is that a handful of players come back, but finding that No. 1 guy is a priority. The Wildcats also lost three starters in the defensive backfield. Replacing do-it-all safety Martavius Neloms will be particularly hard for the Wildcats to do, but there are young options for Kentucky's new staff.

Key battle: With injuries derailing Maxwell Smith's second year as the Wildcats' starting quarterback, all eyes will be on this position. Along with Smith, who needed ankle surgery last year, Kentucky will have two rising sophomores competing this spring in Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles, who both saw time last year. Smith enters the spring as the starter, but he will have to hold off the two youngsters, who gained valuable experience last year. Plus, this is a new staff, so Smith's spot from a year go isn't guaranteed. With the heavy amount of passing Brown wants out of his offense, figuring out the quarterback situation is the top priority for the Wildcats this spring.

Breaking out: Really, anyone at wide receiver is a candidate to break out because the Cats expect to sling the ball around a ton this spring. Robinson was a candidate to break out last year, but fell short of expectations. Collins has the potential too with his playmaking ability, but he also he still has a lot of room for improvement. The same can be said at the tight end position as well. Stoops was very excited about the offseason reports he got about Za'Darius Smith in the weight room and with Collins Ukwu gone, he's expected to start right away. Offensive tackle Jordan Swindle was a backup last year and the previous staff really raved about him. Two starters are gone up front so he could get a shot to move around and help even more this spring. Also, keep an eye on young running backs Dyshawn Mobley and Justin Taylor.

Don't forget about: The Cats' strength could be the defensive line this year. Bringing in Za'Darius Smith was big, but Kentucky also returns rising senior defensive tackles Donte Rumph, Mister Cobble and Tristian Johnson. Rumph and Cobble finally started playing up to their potential last season, and are expected to be even better this fall. Stoops and Eliot have to be pretty excited about working with this group.

All eyes on: With a team that has struggled as much as the Wildcats have over the last two years, everyone will be watching to see how players respond to a new coaching staff. Stoops brings in a more defensive-minded philosophy, but he certainly understands how important it will be to get the offense off the ground. Brown's high-flying pass attack has fans excited, but players have to buy into the new scheme and have to get comfortable with it this spring. It's all about finding the right level of comfort in Lexington this spring.

Jimmy Brumbaugh named UK's DL coach

December, 18, 2012
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Mark Stoops' coaching staff at Kentucky is taking more shape, as he announced the hiring of Jimmy Brumbaugh on Tuesday as his defensive line coach.

“I’m glad to be part of Coach Stoops’ vision for the Kentucky program,” Brumbaugh said. “Watching his defense this year, and knowing his attention to detail, is exciting.

“I’m glad to be part of the Big Blue Nation. When you think of the tradition of the SEC, and having played at Kentucky [during the 1995 season], I’m glad to be here and have the opportunity to be in this one-of-a-kind league.”

Brumbaugh, who was an All-SEC defensive tackle at Auburn, arrives in Lexington after spending a year at East Mississippi Community College, where he served as the defensive line coach and the strength and conditioning coordinator. In 2011, Brumbaugh coached defensive tackles at Syracuse and coached the Orange's entire defensive line in 2010.

Outside of his time as a player at Auburn, Brumbaugh brings some SEC experience with his two years as the assistant strength and conditioning coordinator at LSU in 2006 and 2007. Brumbaugh got his start as a defensive line coach at Louisiana Tech in 2008.

“I think Jimmy will do a tremendous job in player development,” Stoops said. “It’s of major importance to teach defensive line play at the level of expectation that Coach Eliot [defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot] and I have.

“When I talked with Jimmy, he blew me away with his organization and plan of how he teaches and develops the defensive line.”
Brumbaugh will have the pleasure of coaching two very talented defensive tackles in Donte Rumph and Mister Cobble, who combined for 61 tackles and six sacks this season. Both have shown tremendous upside with their play and have the potential to be very solid players in this league. It's a good base for Brumbaugh to start with.

Video: Kentucky's X-factor

August, 24, 2012
8/24/12
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video
Chris Low discusses the Kentucky X-factor, defensive tackle Mister Cobble.
Schedule: The Wildcats' first practice is on Saturday, and their first day in pads is on Aug. 8. They open the season at Louisville on Sept. 2 and the game will be televised on ESPN at 3:30 p.m. ET.

Returning starters: Four on offense, five on defense and the place-kicker on special teams.

Star power: Wide receiver La'Rod King didn't get a ton of publicity last year, but he was easily Kentucky's most consistent offensive weapon in 2011. He was 11th in the SEC with 598 yards on 40 catches. He also had seven touchdowns.

New faces: Quarterback Patrick Towles was the biggest get of the 2012 class for Kentucky. He was a Parade All-American and has a chance to push both Maxwell Smith and Morgan Newton for time this fall. He might possess the most skill at the quarterback position. The Wildcats also welcome in five freshmen offensive linemen. Kentucky has to replace three starters from last year and is in need of depth up front. Also, keep an eye on running back Justin Taylor, who was originally committed to Alabama.

Don’t forget about: Kentucky's staff has been waiting for defensive tackles Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph to step up in the middle of that line. Last year, they combined for 64 tackles, but just six tackles for loss, including two sacks. But the staff feels much more confident in the two big guys up front, after both had very good springs this year. Joker Phillips said this summer that he thinks Cobble could be poised for a big year and should be even better at stopping the run.

Big shoes to fill: Linebacker Danny Trevathan wasn't just a leader, he was the heart and soul of Kentucky's team. He led the league in tackles the past two years and was easily the team's best player last year, regardless of position, and it will take a lot to replace what he did on and off the field. So far, the Wildcats' staff is still searching for the right player to take over his spot at weakside linebacker. Malcolm McDuffen and Demarius Rancifer battled there this spring, but neither did enough to earn a lot of confidence from their coaches. Kentucky might have to look at a true freshman here as well.

Key battles: The Wildcats are replacing two starting cornerbacks and four linebackers. Avery Wilson returns with the most experience at linebacker and sophomore Alvin Dupree seems to have wrapped up hybrid linebacker/defensive end, but everything else is up for grabs. McDuffen and Rancifer will continue to battle for the weakside spot, along with incoming freshman Khalid Henderson. Miles Simpson, Josh Forrest and junior college transfer Kory Brown will compete for the hybrid linebacker/safety spot. With Marcus Caffey being ruled ineligible, the staff will now look to Eric Simmons and Eric Dixon to help out Cartier Rice.

Rising star: King needs help at the receiver position, and the staff thinks it might have found some in redshirt freshman Demarco Robinson. He had a tremendous spring and hauled in nine catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game. He's versatile enough to line up all over the field and could be a solid deep threat in the Wildcats' offense.

Bottom line: This is a crucial year for Phillips. After Kentucky made a bowl game for five straight years, the Wildcats fell a win short in 2011, causing Phillips' seat to get a little warmer. The one saving grace was the fact that Kentucky ended a 20-plus-year losing streak to rival Tennessee. But Kentucky has to show progress this fall or Phillips' job security could come into question. The offense was the SEC's worst last season, but the staff feels it has more playmakers and should be more explosive this time. The defense has a lot of key players to replace and could go through some growing pains with all that youth. If Kentucky wants to get back to a bowl, it has to start the season 3-0. That means beating Louisville in the season opener.

Wildcats to lean on defensive line

July, 18, 2012
7/18/12
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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 East post-spring notes

May, 8, 2012
5/08/12
3:00
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Now that you've seen some SEC West notes delivered by the SEC office, here are some SEC East notes for your viewing pleasure:

FLORIDA
  • Florida returns 10 starters on defense where the Gators ranked eighth nationally in total defense (299.5 yards per game) in 2011. The Gators ranked second in the nation in third-down defense in 2011, holding opponents to 48-for-176 (.273).
  • Florida returns 14 of its top 15 tacklers for the 2012 season, including leading tackler senior linebacker Jon Bostic, who tallied 94 total tackles, 10 tackles for a loss and three sacks. Also returning for the Gators are their second and third leading tacklers, junior safety Matt Elam who recorded 78 tackles, a team-leading 11 tackles for a loss and a team-high-tying two interceptions, and junior linebacker Jelani Jenkins who totaled 75 tackles and a team-best six pass break-ups.
  • Last year marked Florida’s FBS-leading 32nd-straight season with a winning percentage of .500 or higher. With the win over Ohio State in the Gator Bowl, the Gators have had 24 consecutive winning seasons, the longest active streak in the country. Additionally, with the trip to the Gator Bowl, Florida made its 21st straight bowl appearance, which ranks first in the SEC and second nationally.
GEORGIA
  • Sophomore outside linebacker/defensive end Ray Drew and redshirt freshman receiver Justin Scott-Wesley are splitting time between track and football. Drew has competed in three discus competitions during the outdoor season, taking second and third in separate competitions. Scott-Wesley competed indoors and already ranks in the top 10 on the school’s 60-meter dash list.
  • The Bulldog defense returns nine starters and 12 of the 14 leading tacklers after posting a No. 5 national ranking in 2011. All-American junior outside linebacker Jarvis Jones and All-American senior free safety Bacarri Rambo headline the unit.
KENTUCKY
  • The line should be a strength of the UK defense in 2012. All three regular starters return, senior end Collins Ukwu and junior tackles Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph. Senior end Taylor Wyndham, a starter when Kentucky goes to a four-man line, also will be back.
  • Junior linebacker Avery Williamson continued his improvement in the spring and is expected to anchor the defense at middle linebacker. He led all players in the spring game with eight tackles, featuring two tackles for loss and a sack. He made 49 tackles last season as a reserve and is ready to step into a leadership role.
  • The Wildcats did not appear to have any major new injuries in the spring. Six players sat out the contact portions of spring drills, including quarterback Morgan Newton, tailback Josh Clemons, wide receiver Gene McCaskill, offensive lineman Tyler Davenport, Ukwu and linebacker Jabari Johnson. All six are expected to be ready to go in time for preseason practice.
MISSOURI
  • Mizzou comes to the SEC after seven consecutive winning seasons under coach Gary Pinkel, who will be in his 12th year on the Tiger sideline. Mizzou has won 48 games in the past five seasons, which ranks as ninth-most in the nation from 2007-11 among BCS-AQ conferences. Mizzou is one of only six schools from BCS-AQ leagues to have won a minimum of eight games in each of the last six seasons (2006-11).
  • Pinkel enters the 2012 as the eighth-winningest active coach in the FBS ranks, with his 158 wins. In 21 years as a head coach (1991-2000 at Toledo, 2001-present at Mizzou), Pinkel has a 158-91-3 overall record (.633). With an 85-54 mark in 11 seasons at Mizzou (.612), Pinkel stands 3rd alltime in wins, trailing only College Football Hall of Famers Don Faurot (101 wins from 1935-42, 1946-56) and Dan Devine (93 wins from 1958-70).
SOUTH CAROLINA
  • The Gamecocks will open the 2012 season on a four-game winning streak. They had not finished a season with four consecutive wins since 1958 prior to last season’s finish, which included wins over Florida, The Citadel, Clemson and Nebraska.
  • Connor Shaw is the first Gamecock quarterback in the last 40 years to win eight of his first nine starts.
  • The Gamecocks have signed the last four “Mr. Football” winners in the state of South Carolina -- Stephon Gilmore (2009), Marcus Lattimore (2010), Jadeveon Clowney (2011) and Shaq Roland (2012).
  • The Gamecocks are a perfect 8-0 over the last two seasons over their top four rivals -- division foes Florida, Georgia and Tennessee, and in-state rival Clemson.
TENNESSEE
  • Tennessee is slated to open a new training center this summer. The 145,000-square foot building includes an amphitheater-style team room, coaches offices, position meeting rooms, a dining hall, players' lounge, a 7,000-square foot locker room, a 22,000-square foot, multi-level weight room as well as a new training room and hydrotherapy area.
  • For just the fourth time in school history, Tennessee will enter October with five games under its belt (2006, 1995, 1990). In the previous three campaigns, the Vols won at least nine games, highlighted by a 1990 SEC Championship.
  • Eight of Tennessee’s opponents earned a bid to play in a bowl game last season: NC State (Belk), Florida (Gator), Georgia (Outback), Mississippi State (Music City), Alabama (National Championship), South Carolina (Capital One), Missouri (Independence) and Vanderbilt (Liberty). All but Georgia and Vanderbilt were victorious.
  • For the second consecutive year, Tennessee’s opponents compiled an overall record of 81-71 the previous season. Seven of Tennessee’s opponents had winning records in 2011: NC State (8-5), Florida (7-6), Georgia (10-4), Mississippi State (7-6), Alabama (12-1), South Carolina (11-2) and Missouri (8-5).
VANDERBILT
  • Among the most impressive offensive players during spring practice for the Commodores were redshirt freshmen Josh Grady and Kris Kentera, both recruited out of high school as possible quarterbacks. Grady, from Tampa, Fla., impressed as a wide receiver and wildcat quarterback during the Black & Gold Spring Game. Kentera, from Colorado Springs, Colo., has athleticism and excellent hands and made a strong case for playing time this fall at H-back.
  • For the second straight spring, the Commodores were limited with potential offensive linemen. During the spring game, only eight linemen participated. The limited numbers allowed three young prospects to showcase their talents to the staff: sophomore center/guard Spencer Pulley and Joe Townsend, and redshirt freshman guard Jake Bernstein.
  • The Commodores introduced a "rover" position on defense during spring drills. Junior Karl Butler was one of Vanderbilt's defensive standouts during the spring working exclusively in the hybrid linebacker-safety role.

Checking in on the Kentucky Wildcats

April, 19, 2012
4/19/12
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LEXINGTON, Ky. -- I spent part of Wednesday at Kentucky’s Nutter Training Center and had a chance to visit with coach Joker Phillips, both of the Wildcats’ coordinators, Randy Sanders and Rick Minter, as well as a handful of players.

Here’s some of what I came away with:
  • Phillips really likes his past two recruiting classes, and said patience has been the key. “We do our homework, do it the right way and stay the course, and we’ve had some very good players fall to us,” Phillips said.

  • Minter faces a tough task after coming in last season and putting a charge into the Wildcats’ defense. They created nine more turnovers than they had the year before, and ended the season playing their best football. But five of the top seven tacklers are gone, including stalwarts Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy, both of whom finished with 120 or more total tackles.
  • Even though Kentucky’s losing six starters on defense, Minter has been impressed with the way some of the younger players have come on this spring. Sophomore Alvin “Bud” Dupree has a huge upside at the Wildcats’ hybrid linebacker/end position. He started the last three games a year ago. Sophomore Ashley Lowery would be a fit at the hybrid linebacker/safety spot (Guy’s old position), but the Wildcats need him at safety. Minter said sophomore Miles Simpson is currently holding down that spot and doing a good job. The entire staff is excited about Marcus Caffey’s development at cornerback. He came in as a heralded running back, redshirted last season, and told the coaches in December that he would like to play defense. Minter loves having Caffey’s physical approach at the cornerback position.
  • The strength of Kentucky’s defense should be up front, where senior end Collins Ukwu, and junior tackles Donte Rumph and Mister Cobble all return. “Those three are SEC-type football players, particularly the big heavyweights in there. They can play with a lot of guys,” Minter said of the 315-pound Rumph and 331-pound Cobble. “And then we’re cultivating younger players who are beginning to fill out. Farrington Huguenin (a redshirt freshman defensive end) is really going to be a good football player. He just got here, but I’m really high on him. As he grows and develops in the weight room, you’re going to see a legitimate defensive end in the SEC. Christian Coleman is just getting started, and it’s going to take him another year or so. But all defenses are dominated up front, and we have an outside linebacker like Bud Dupree with a big upside. So we can put a front four out there that can compete with a lot of teams.”
  • Sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith has impressed his coaches and his teammates with the way he’s thrown the ball this spring. He still has to hold off senior Morgan Newton once preseason practice resumes, but it’s Smith’s job to lose at this point. Newton is still recovering from a shoulder injury and not participating through the spring.
  • One of the things that plagued Kentucky last season was an inconsistent passing game, and it wasn’t all on the quarterback play. Senior receiver La’Rod King said he’s seen more playmakers emerge this spring, and is determined to be more of a leader. King has caught 12 touchdown passes over the past two seasons, including seven a year ago. “We’ve got to do it in every game, and can’t have those games where we don’t show up,” King said.
  • Until Kentucky had its streak of bowl appearances stopped at five straight years last season, the Wildcats were one of only five teams in the SEC to go to at least five bowl games in a row. The other four teams in that group were Alabama, Florida, Georgia and LSU.

We’ll have more on the Wildcats in the coming days, so stay tuned to the SEC blog. They finish up spring practice this Saturday with their annual spring game.

SEC postseason position rankings: DL

February, 7, 2012
2/07/12
11:40
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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.

SEC lunch links

August, 31, 2011
8/31/11
12:46
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Some SEC linkage on a Wednesday:

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