Part six in an eight part series previewing the 2010 Kentucky Football Wildcats: Linebackers
Danny Trevathan with Kentucky's only tackle vs. Mississippi State.
Penn State may not yet be ready to relinquish the title of "Linebacker U," but Kentucky has quietly put some fairly stout linebackers on the field themselves in recent years. Guys like Wesley Woodyard, Johnny Williams, Braxton Kelly, Micah Johnson and Sam Maxwell
have each played at All-Conference levels and have all spent at least some time in the NFL. Going into 2010, however, there is real question as to who will fill those shoes. The Kentucky linebackers appear to have some speed and athleticism, but aside from lone returning starter Danny Trevathan
, the Cats have a grand total of one start and 25 tackles at the linebacker position. How quickly the newcomers can be assimilated into the defense may go a long way toward determining Kentucky's defensive prowess in 2010.
Weak Side LB:
Danny Trevathan 6-1, 223 Jr. Leesburg, Fla. (Leesburg)
Ryan Mosby 5-11, 206 Fr-RS Heath, Texas (Rockwell-Heath)
Strong Side LB:
Jacob Dufrene 6-1, 211 Sr. Cut Off, LA (John Curtis Christian)
Ridge Wilson 6-3, 240 So. Louisville, KY (Central)
Chris Agomuo 6-2, 200 So. Mason, OH (Mason)
Ronnie Sneed 6-2, 230 Jr. Tallahassee, Fla. (Florida)
Qua Huzzie 5-10, 219 Fr-RS LaGrange, GA (LaGrange)
Antonio Thomas 6-1, 235 Jr. Cowpens, SC (Broome)
Danny Trevathan broke into the starting line-up last season and did not disappoint. Despite playing the season one-handed due to a broken wrist, Trevathan registered 82 tackles from his weak side linebacker position.
This productivity led to him being voted Kentucky's most improved defensive player by his teammates following the season. Trevathan brings outstanding speed to the position and will likely be the Cats primary blitzer from the linebacker position. That speed, a year of experience and the doubling of functional hands at his disposal, should lead to a break-out season in 2010.
FALL CAMP BATTLES
Two of the three linebacker positions appear to be up for grabs in fall camp.
In a mild surprise, junior Ronnie Sneed
was named the starter at middle linebacker following spring drills over highly regarded redshirt freshman Qua Huzzie
. Sneed has the edge in experience, having played in 17 games as a reserve over the last two seasons, primarily on special teams. Huzzie, who redshirted in 2009 after suffering a shoulder injury, carries the more impressive credentials as the all-time leading tackler in the history of UK's triple-A affiliate, LaGrange High School.
For a point of reference, the 2010 Cats will feature four former Grangers on the defense. Former Cats Wesley Woodyard and Braxton Kelly also starred for LaGrange.
The starting position at strong side linebacker is also in dispute, with little-used senior Jacob Dufrene currently holding on to the spot over sophomore Ridge Wilson.
Wilson has the advantage in every measurable category. The Louisville Central product is not only two inches taller and 30 pounds heavier than Dufrene, but also has a significant speed advantage. Dufrene, however, is a senior who has played in 36 games as a Wildcat and understands his role in the defense. This knowledge and experience has given him the nod to this point, but his hold on the position is tenuous. When the proverbial light comes on for Wilson, he will be formidable.
The rookie class includes five linebackers, all of whom share a common characteristic. They can all run. Linebacker has traditionally been a position that a true freshman can step into and play immediately. It appears very likely that at least one freshman will find his way into the rotation.
Assuming they make it academically, the most likely candidates are Jabori Johnson from Stephenson High School in Stone Mountain, Georgia and Avery Williamson from Milan, Tennessee.
Trevathan will admirably man one outside linebacker position. If Joker's assurances of a more attacking defense are more than hyperbole, look for Trevathan's name to be called in blitzing situations frequently.
The battles for the other two positions will rage throughout camp and likely spill into the first portion of the season. Huzzie and Wilson will ultimately nail down the positions as their talent will overcome their more experienced challengers.
If that is indeed the lineup, it may be Kentucky's fastest linebacking corps ever.
This speed should provide significant improvement in covering backs and tight ends, an area that has been an enormous issue in the past. Still, it makes precious little difference how quickly the linebackers arrive at a ball carrier if they don't bring him down when they get there. The coaches and fans will learn together whether the linebackers can accomplish that task starting on September 4th.
Next up: Defensive Backs
Part five: Defensive Line
Part four: Offensive Line
Part three: Receivers
Part two: Running Backs
Part one: Quarterbacks