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August 7, 2014

UK looking for help from newcomers at DT

If there's one spot on the defense where Kentucky has a lot to replace, it's at defensive tackle.

With the departure of seniors Donte Rumph and Mister Cobble, the Wildcats lost eight years' worth of experience and a whopping 658 pounds of mass, collectively.

But even with those behemoths battling in the trenches, UK was still thin at the position last season, figuratively speaking.

"Last year we only played with three or four guys inside, and now we have the ability to have five or six," said defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh. "Having that experience we had last year, it was great. But now what we have to do is focus on all the young guys getting reps so we have more guys to choose from."

Brumbaugh isn't so worried about the experience gap for two reasons.

Number one? The Cats have much more depth and aren't quite as inexperienced as they may seem.

Melvin Lewis transferred to UK from Fullerton College (Ca.) last season. His late arrival to campus prompted the coaches to redshirt him, giving him ample time to watch and learn and be a scout team menace.

"I was able to catch up with the speed of the game and learn different techniques, because in junior college I didn't really learn defensive line techniques," Lewis said. "I just lined up in the gap and went. So it definitely helped me tremendously."

Redshirt freshman Regie Meant also sat out last season, and has similar sentiments about what that year did for him.

"I feel way ahead," he said. "I feel like I got better. I don't need to do as much thinking as I did last year. I'm a hundred steps ahead from where I was at last year.

"We did lose a lot of veterans. They were good guys, great players, but now it's my turn. I'm going to miss them, but now I'm ready to step up. It's my turn to play."

Brumbaugh praised Meant's attitude and demeanor.

"Regie is very focused," he said. "Regie is the kind of guy that's going to give you his all when he's out there, and that's what you really appreciate about him."

Throw in another JUCO transfer, Cory Johnson (who rose to online prominence this week when he told WLEX that his weight fluctuates wildly based on how many times in a day he poops), a South Carolina native who came to UK from ASA College in Brooklyn, N.Y., and the group doesn't look so green after all. But time, and live-action games, will tell.

Then there's senior Mike Douglas, who finished last season with 28 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, a sack and a fumble recovery and is ready to handle the torch passed to him by Rumph and Cobble.

"They helped me mature a lot," he said. "They always took care of me like a little brother. When I was getting mad in practice, they came and took care of me and said, 'This is how starters need to practice.' I feel like I do because that's how they taught me, and that's what I try to teach the young guys."

Brumbaugh said Douglas's presence in practice has already been important.

"It helps having an older guy in there because when I leave to go and drill another guy, he can talk to those guys and really help them."

Douglas plans to do whatever it takes to help the freshman along. Whether that's drawing out plays on the whiteboard or walking through techniques or even pulling guys aside in practice to talk them through a stunt, he's prepared to be a leader, along with his fellow upperclassmen.

"Me and Bud, and me and Z, all the upperclassmen, we've been together a couple years," he said. "So we all hold each other to a higher expectation. We don't let anybody get away with it. We hold ourselves to a higher expectation just because we've been here. We know what the speed is like, we know what the techniques look like, we know the expectation that coach Brumbaugh has set and we all have a standard that we've set for our d-line.

"So if we're not meeting that, how can we make the young guys meet that expectation if we're not?"

Douglas said the accountability in the program is the highest its been since he arrived in Lexington four years ago. The coaches' voices are no longer the only ones echoing across the fields behind the Nutter Training Center.

"At the end of the day, the coaches can yell all they want, but it's up to us to back up the coaches and be like, 'This is the way it is or you've gotta leave.' It's our team, really, and we're just really trying to get everybody on the right path, which we have been."

And here's a third possible reason not to worry: These dudes are big.

Lewis is listed at 6-4, 320, Meant a svelte 6-4, 286. Douglas is 6-4, 288. Johnson is 6-3, 299.

Meant said he can bench about 380 pounds and squat nearly 580 pounds. Fellow redshirt freshman Jacob Hyde can bench nearly 500 pounds, Meant said.

And not to be forgotten is the man, the myth, the mountain, Matt Elam.

Listed at 6-7 (but likely closer to 6-5 or 6-6) and 375 pounds, Elam is well-equipped to clog running lanes in the SEC. He's already caught the attention of his teammates and coaches, but what impact he'll have on the defense this season is still up in the air.

What Elam brings to practice, though, is plenty of competition. With so many options vying for playing time, everybody's on their toes -- like extremely large ballerinas.

"They won't let us slack at all," Lewis said. "The guys behind or the guys that are in rotation are equally good, so you just gotta go out every day and work your hardest because at any time your position can be taken."


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