Part five in an Eight part series previewing the 2006 Kentucky Wildcat Football Team.
Wildcat starting front four: White, Pryor, Mills, Oninku
Kentucky’s defense was not very good in 2005. And now, let’s take a break from Extreme Understatement Theater, to bring you the numbers. The Cats finished dead last in the Conference in rushing defense, passing defense, and scoring defense last season, giving up a Mumme-esque 34.1 points per game. In light of these numbers, there is clearly plenty of blame to be divided amongst the entire defensive unit. However, with opposing backs slicing untouched through the line of scrimmage (4.9 yards per rush), and opposing quarterbacks appearing lonely in the pocket (a mere 16 sacks for the season), it is fair to say that the primary culprit for Kentucky’s defensive woes in 2005 was the defensive line.
Of course, the struggles of the 2005 Kentucky defensive front were not entirely of their own making. The bizarre string of injuries that decimated the Cats last season hit no group harder than the defensive line. In fact, the only truly memorable moment for the 2005 defense was the one in which every defensive lineman on the field sported a cast. Though not exactly a recipe for defensive success, the image of four Kentucky players facing an SEC offensive line with a grand total of four usable hands certainly provides a nice visual metaphor for Kentucky football in the probation era.
With the doom and gloom of the past as a backdrop, there is realistic optimism on the horizon. With the possible exception of the offensive line, no group should prosper from the additional scholarships more than the 2006 defensive line. The clearest illustration of this is last season’s Louisville game. By the time Lamar Mills suffered a knee injury in the second half of, Kentucky went with senior 240 pound walk on Richard Gray at tackle for the rest of the game. It was not a tough call. He was the only remaining tackle. Now, with the infusion of players returning from injury along with what could be Kentucky’s best defensive line recruiting class in school history, the Cats at least have the depth to compete.
Nii Adjei Oninku
, 6-1, 245 So. Dayton, OH (Northeast)
Played in all 11 games as a redshirt freshman in 2005 and logged five starts. Compiled 24 tackles but failed to register a sack. Considered a “high motor” player, but somewhat undersized. Poor man’s Sweet Pea Burns at this point in career.
, 6-3, 260 Sr. Middlesboro, KY (Middlesboro)
More career starts (27) than any other active Wildcat. Spent first two years of his career at linebacker before starting 7 games at defensive end last season. 108 career tackles and 4.5 sacks. Should make progress in second year at position.
, 6-1, 300 So. Louisville, KY (Eastern)
Played in all 11 games in 2005 as a true freshman. Tallied 13 tackles and 2 sacks despite battling through nagging issues with leg cramps. Had dominant Spring, drawing comparisons to UK legend Dewayne Robertson by coaches. Already one of team’s strongest players as seen by 700 pound squat.
, 6-1, 285 Sr. Slidell, LA (Archbishop Rummel)
Missed all but opener in 2005 with knee injury. Career includes 24 games played with 12 starts. Has amassed 83 tackles and 3 sacks.
, 6-3, 258 Jr. Radcliff, KY (John Hardin) - Former running back had breakout Spring at end. Great athlete as exhibited by 645 pound squat and 380 pound power clean. Will battle for starting role.
, 6-4, 250 Jr./JC Miami, FLA (Mendocino College) — Third team Junior College All American in 2005 by JC Gridwire. Had 89 tackles and amazing 16.5 sacks in 2005.
, 6-3, 250 RSFr Collierville, TN (Houston) Has suffered two substantial injuries in short career. Injured shoulder in 2005 KY v. TN All Star Game which forced redshirt, then injured knee in 2005. If healthy, 4.71 speed off edge should aid pass rush.
, 6-3, 265 Jr. Columbus, GA (Carver) - 14 career games played at linebacker and end. Was beginning to see significant time last season prior to hand injury.
, 6-5, 275 Jr. Woodstock, GA (Etowah) - Played tight end until early in 2005 season. Had 13 catches in 2004. Imposing size should allow Scott to be used as a run-stuffing end.
, 6-3, 250 FR Somerset, KY (Southwestern) - Rated #12 weakside D-End nationally by Rivals. In senior season, recorded 89 tackles including 27 for a loss and 11 sacks. Would have undoubtedly seen action as a true freshman in the past, but with added depth, is a redshirt candidate.
, 6-6, 228 FR Gifford, FLA (Sebastian River) - Rated #13 weakside D-End nationally by Rivals. Has been timed at 4.54 in the 40. Only question is thin build. Coaches already praising his pass rush ability in Fall Camp.
, 6-4, 260 FR Clarksville, TN (Kenwood) - Amazing senior numbers include 101 tackles, 35 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. May ultimately grow in to a defensive tackle.
, 6-1, 282 Jr. Brodhead, KY (Rockcastle County) — Stout run stuffer who was among team lift leaders with 435 pound bench press and 640 pound squat. 21 career games played with 7 starts. 42 career tackles with 2 sacks.
, 6-2, 285 Jr. Hopkinsville, KY (Hopkinsville) — Rivals 2nd Team Freshman All American in 2004. Missed several games last season and had limited effectiveness in others due to dislocated wrist. May also see time at defensive end.
, 6-2, 280 So. Columbia, SC (Columbia) - Played in 8 games last season as an undersized true freshman. Managed 2 sacks. Now one of team’s strongest players, should thrive at defensive tackle.
, 6-0, 240 RSFr. Hopkinsville, KY (Christian County) — Walkon who was named scout team player of the week twice in 2005. Could factor as a reserve tackle or on special teams.
, 6-3, 278 Fr Louisville, KY (Central) — Rated among the top 25 tackles nationally. Senior season included 91 tackles and 15 sacks.
, 6-5, 300 Fr. Louisville, KY (St. X.) — 2005 1st team All State. Many feel he will ultimately play on the offensive line. Probable redshirt.
The Cats are clearly in the best shape they have been on the defensive line in the Rich Brooks era simply due to the quantity of players available. The biggest concern may be that the most athletically gifted players, particularly at the defensive end spot, are the young guys who lack experience. Look for the veterans to man the starting spots initially, but guys like Craigman, Paris and Peters won’t be held back for long. All in all, if the Cats can line up four guys who each possess two working hands to man the defensive line, things will be looking up in 2006.