Preparations needed to be made to replace Jeremy Jarmon, but nobody expected to have to replace him before his senior season. This has forced into action some prospects who may not have otherwise played as many snaps this season. Baptism by fire appears to be the appropriate phrase.
Expected to make a big impact on the defensive line is DeQuin Evans. Evans is an outstanding pass rusher who has picked up sacks in each of the Wildcat scrimmages during fall camp. Evans speed and power combine to make him a likely candidate to start in his first year out of the junior college ranks.
The only defensive end on the roster who has had game action is Chandler Burden. Burden is among the strongest prospects on the team and will likely be one of the starters on the defensive line. His play during the spring gave the staff a good idea that Burden could be counted on to be a major player as a sophomore. Burden could also inside as a tackle due to his tremendous size and strength.
Collins Ukwu has been one player that has made massive strides with his body since he arrived at Kentucky. Ukwu came in weighing under 210 pounds and is now up to 260 pounds. Even with the added weight, Ukwu has maintained his speed and is one of the top pass rushers on the team. He is expected to compete for a starting role and get plenty of playing time.
Another prospect who has transformed his body since arriving at Kentucky is Taylor Wyndham. Wyndham was a high school linebacker who added close to 35 pounds of muscle once he arrived on campus, however after being sick for a few weeks during the summer, he lost 10 pounds. Still, Wyndham has shown ability as a pass rusher and with added strength can be a factor in the running game as well.
After dealing with shoulder problems as a redshirt freshman and as a true freshman, Greg Meisner is expected to contribute as a sophomore. Meisner's quickness on the line can be an asset although he needs to add bulk to his 240 pound frame.
If the defense has any weaknesses, it's the defensive end position. The Wildcats will need several young players to step up and contribute like veterans. Expect this group to struggle early, but to improve dramatically as the season passes.
While the outside of the defensive line returns very little experience, the defensive tackles, led by senior Corey Peters returns quite a bit of experience.
Peters has played in 37 games in his career, starting in 27 of them. Peters shows great technique at beating blockers and bringing down ball-carriers in his area. His quickness and skill level make him one of the best tackles in the SEC and at this point he has become Kentucky's most dependable defensive lineman.
Although he's battled injuries throughout his career, Ricky Lumpkin is still expected to compete for a starting spot at tackle. Lumpkin has three starts to his credit with 18 appearances. There have been times where he was unblockable during practice. If he can stay healthy, it will mean big things for Kentucky's interior defense.
Another junior college prospect on campus now is Mark Crawford. With three years to play at Kentucky, Crawford is expected to provide an immediate impact that increases over the next three seasons. His activity level and work ethic on the field make him valuable to the defensive line as a backup and future starter.
One prospect with a lot of potential is Shane McCord. There have been times where McCord appeared destined to be a starter for the Wildcats, however he's never been able to put together everything. While somewhat undersized, he has the quickness to beat bigger interior players. There has been some talk of him moving to defensive end.
Luke McDermott, a walk-on, has become one of the surprise players on the roster. After working to added strength, he has earned a shot at playing time as a sophomore. McDermott's effort and energy has helped him overcome his lack of size.
This is a fairly balanced unit with experience and youth. Like most positions, injuries could play a big part in the production. If Peters and Lumpkin can remain healthy for the majority of the season, the interior of the Wildcat line will be in good shape.