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Kentucky staff bullish on 'Bully'

Nose Tackle Marquan McCall forced the Vanderbilt quarterback out of the pocket in last season's meeting between the Cats and Commodores.
Nose Tackle Marquan McCall forced the Vanderbilt quarterback out of the pocket in last season's meeting between the Cats and Commodores. (Jeff Drummond/Cats Illustrated)

Implementing a new offensive scheme has been both exciting and challenging at times for Kentucky's Liam Coen.

Making the latter half of that equation a reality for the Wildcats' first-year offensive coordinator has been senior defensive tackle Marquan McCall.

"He's the type of kid who can wreck a period if he wants to," Coen said. "A big impact guy who, when he's on, can cause a lot of chaos.

"He's been causing problems, both in the run and the pass. It hasn't been fun for me. (Laughs) In some ways, it's like watching a guy like Aaron Donald with the Rams. We couldn't have him practice against our offense because he would truly wreck every play. Marquan has some of those traits when he gets going."

After waiting his turn and learning the ropes from NFL Draft prospect Quinton Bohanna the last three years, McCall appears to be poised for a breakout season. The 6-foot-3, 357-pound native of Detroit -- affectionately known as "Bully" to his coaches and teammates -- has generated quite a buzz on the defensive side of the ball through Kentucky's first five spring football practice sessions.

"I'm trying not to go all-in right now," UK defensive coordinator Brad White said, "but Marquan's playing at a high level, and we need to just keep it there. It's one of those where you don't want to heap too much praise too early, but he's got a chance to be a force for us."

McCall has played in 31 games during his UK career. Last season, he earned three starting assignments and played well when Bohanna was nagged by injuries. He recorded a career-high six tackles against Missouri and finished with 22 stops -- a good number for a position not known for its tackle production -- as well as one sack and one tackle for loss on the season.

Weight has been a frequent topic of discussion when it comes to McCall maximizing his talent. He has played in the 380 range at times but has shed "significant" pounds entering spring practice, according to the staff. UK has declined to comment on his current weight, but he is reportedly moving better than ever.

"There's not a lot of humans who are moving at that size the way that he can," Coen said. "I don't know how much he exactly weighs right now, but it's a lot of mass moving at you at you fast."

Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops has seen a new sense of urgency and maturity from the former 4-star prospect.

"I’m really excited about the way Marquan has come back and just his attitude and what he’s done this winter, academically, what he’s doing in the weight room. I really like his mindset right now, and if he continues to grow, he has an opportunity to be an impact guy. I just want to encourage him to stay consistent with what he’s doing because he’s off to a really good start."
— UK head coach Mark Stoops

If McCall takes his game to a new level this season, it could be a big key for Kentucky's 3-4 defense. A stout nose tackle is essential to maximizing what the scheme can execute.

"It's such a critical position," White said, "because, if we can have big, strong anchors in there, it causes problems for an offense. You don't ever have to think about scheming to a nose guard, but our guys can be dominant enough players to cause some offensive coordinators some angst throughout the week."

Coen concurred.

"You have to account for him and keep him off balance in the run game. You have to show him a zone, you have to show him a gap, you have to show him a stretch, a screen. You have to do different things to keep him off balance. If he's got a bead on you, if he's got a bead on the snap count, there's going to be issues.

"Your center has a long day cut out for him if he's got to go one-on-one with him all day. I mean, that's a long day of football. As a coordinator in your game planning, you have to account for that."

It's been a good measuring stick for Kentucky's interior offensive linemen.

"Definitely," Coen said. "I don't know how many guys like him there are in the SEC right now -- assuming a lot of them who are similarly built -- but I'm not sure there are a whole lot of them with that kind of initial quickness and twitch and finish.

"Sometimes you may think, our guys aren't doing a very good job of handling him. But who will? He's a really good measuring stick for our guys in that regard. If you can have some good reps against him, you come away feeling alright because you realize you're not going to see too many noses like this guy."