A Step in the Right Direction

Returning eight starters and 17 of the top 22 players on the depth chart, the Wildcat defense is expected to be stronger than ever at any point in the Rich Brooks era.

Most of the talk around Kentucky's football team the last two seasons centered around the great offense, and explosive players such as Andre' Woodson, Keenan Burton and Rafael Little. On the other side of the ball, the defense has largely been ignored. The Wildcats finished near the bottom of most statistical categories in the 2006 season, but last year under Steve Brown, there was a lot of improvement made. Still a young group, the defense went from giving up over 450 yards per game to giving up under 400. The biggest difference was going from 269 yards through the air, to 206 yards through the air. A lot of that credit can be given to the defensive backs.

"Our back four is one of the best in the league," said Jeremy Jarmon, the All SEC defensive end. Kentucky returns three of the four starters in the defensive backfield, along with it's top three reserves. Lead by All SEC corner Trevard Lindley, there should be additional improvement in the passing game in 2008 as well. "I know going against (Lindley) in practice will prepare me to go against the best," said senior receiver Dicky Lyons Jr. Joining Lindley in the defensive backfield are returning starters, Paul Warford and Marcus McClinton. Other players who's seen signifcant action are safeties Ashton Cobb and Calvin Harrison. Cornerbacks Shomari Moore and David Jones also return.

The defense does lose it's unquestionable leader in linebacker Wesley Woodyard, but Rich Brooks feels good about his returnees at linebacker, including coaches all conference selection, Braxton Kelley. "Braxton Kelley has been the starter for two years in the middle. He has moved outside to Wesley's spot. He was uncomfortable the firt two days. Now he looks like he's been there for years," said coach Brooks. "I feel better about our linebackers now than ever before, even without Wesley," Brooks finished.

And with good reason. While Woodyard lead the conference in tackles last season, Kentucky does return all other significant contributors to the group. Seniors Braxton Kelley and Johnny Williams, juniors Micah Johnson and Sam Maxwell, and a host of young talented players who'll also see action this season will make up the linebacker depth-chart.

Across the defensive line, the Wildcats return three starters and several top reserves as well. Jeremy Jarmon leads the way at defensive end and former defensive tackle, senior Ventrell Jenkins will be the other bookend. In the middle, the Wildcats return junior starter Corey Peters and senior Myron Pryor. "Our front four is one of the best in the conference," said Jarmon. Other backups who should see significant action are sophomore defensive tackles Shane McCord and Ricky Lumpkin. At defensive end, Antwane Glenn, Josh Minton, and Nii Adje Oninku will see action this season.

With all the returnees, Kentucky expects another jump in the defensive categories. "We now have what I would call quality all-SEC type defenisve players," said Rich Brooks. "We've got guys that belong in this league on defense. And we haven't had that at every position in the last five years," said Brooks. "I believe we have people lining up on 11 positions ondefense that can start at a lot of schools in our league, and I'm talkinga bout a lot of big-name schools. So I think that this now has a chance to be cearly the best defensive team that I've had," Brooks continued.

"Finally we are old enough and responsible enough to know what we're doing on defense," said Jarmon. With the offense not expected to be as polished as in the the past two seasons, the defense will have to step up for the Wildcats to make their third consecutive bowl trip. "I believe that thisyear you're gonna see a significant step on the defensive side at the University of Kentucky," said Rich Brooks.

AllWildcats Top Stories