SEC Country is taking an early position-by-position look at Kentucky’s roster for 2018. A new position preview will publish every Sunday. Up next: Defensive line.
Defensive line overview
- Newcomers: 4-star DL Marquan McCall, 3-star DL Davoan Hawkins, 3-star DL Jerquavion Mahone
- Departures: NG Matt Elam, NG Naquez Pringle, NG Jacob Hyde, DT Ja’Quize Cross (transfer)
Much like the offensive line, Kentucky’s defensive line returns most of its top producers. Elam and Pringle were former starters at nose guard but both were passed up by then-freshman Quinton Bohanna. Hyde and Cross weren’t factors.
Kentucky’s three starters up front for the bowl game — nose guard Bohanna, defensive tackle Adrian Middleton and defensive end T.J. Carter — are all back.
Last offseason there were plenty of questions about the defensive line. Former defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh left for Maryland, defensive end Courtney Miggins graduated and his backup, Alvonte Bell, was dismissed from the team.
While Kentucky was far from impenetrable up front, the Wildcats were better in 2017 under first-year coach Derrick LeBlanc than they were in 2016. Kentucky allowed 228 rushing yards per game in 2016 — 12th in the SEC. The Cats were 10th last season, surrendering 175 rushing yards per game.
It’s not the most accurate measurement given that stopping the run involves more than just the defensive line. The number can also be influenced by facing more pass-first offenses, but it was still a year-to-year improvement.
The Wildcats should be better in 2018 given that all three starters are returning. The biggest question this offseason will be if Mark Stoops again sticks to a 3-4 defense or makes the move to a 4-3. He’s hinted at it a couple of times. The depth might not be quite there, but it’s getting closer.
Projecting the position group
- Quinton Bohanna (Sophomore)
- Phil Hoskins (Junior)
- Adrian Middleton (Senior)
- Kordell Looney (Sophomore)
- T.J. Carter (Junior)
- Kengera Daniel (Senior)
It’s the same two-deep Kentucky went with in the Music City Bowl barring one change. Elam and Pringle are no longer there to add depth at nose guard. Hoskins, a junior college transfer who played more in the latter half of last season, is versatile enough to play defensive tackle or nose guard.
Bohanna was the biggest surprise on Kentucky’s defense last season, and the coaching staff loves him. The former 3-star prospect will be a mainstay in the middle.
Middleton is the veteran on the line. He’s recorded 60 tackles in his last two seasons.
- Others up front: DT Tymere Dubose, DL Calvin Taylor, DL Abule Abadi-Fitzgerald, DL Chris Whittaker
Player to watch
Marquan McCall was Kentucky’s highest-ranked 2018 signee. Most recruiting sites had him listed as an offensive guard, but Stoops said he’ll play on the defensive line.
The Detroit native is 6-foot-3 and 350 pounds. We should get a better idea this spring if McCall will indeed be a permanent fixture on the defensive side.