Cobble, McDermott return to defensive line

Last fall, Mister Cobble would sit on his couch and watch the UK football team on Saturdays. The sophomore defensive tackle would practice with the team all week, but when gametime arrived, he would be at home, close enough to hear the roar of Commonwealth Stadium but far enough away so he couldn’t help the team.

“There were plenty of times somebody would make a play or miss a play and I’d probably break something in my room,” Cobble said. “It’s just the way I am. I hated not being there.”

After missing the 2010 season because he was academically ineligible, Cobble’s presence should be a boon to the line. Cobble was penciled in to start at defensive tackle as a redshirt freshman last fall, but instead spent the year on the practice squad. There, he wreaked havoc on overmatched backup offensive linemen and gave the starters all they could handle from the scout team.

“I’ve never seen somebody so physically strong,” said sophomore Donte Rumph. “He’s a bulldozer.”

In addition to Rumph and Cobble, two more players with significant playing time return at defensive tackle. Senior Luke McDermott entered the 2010 season as a walk-on, but was named the starter for the season opener and performed admirably. He finished the year with five starts, tying for the team lead with three sacks.

Senior Mark Crawford is another option at defensive tackle. He was listed at fourth on the pre-spring defensive depth chart, buried behind underclassmen and little-used reserves. But that’s likely the result of him being suspended by the coaches for an unspecified violation of team rules in November that caused him to miss the regular season finale against Tennessee as well as UK’s bowl game. He was previously suspended for another violation of team earlier in the year, missing UK’s win over Western Kentucky. Despite missing all that time, he still won the starting job for five games and finished with 24 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss.

Of course, those players likely wouldn’t have seen as much time as they had if Cobble had been eligible.

“It was unfortunate, but one of the things we preached to the guys was that one man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity,” defensive line coach David Turner said. “Somebody had to step up, so some of the young guys had a chance to play and now we have a little bit more depth.”

The coaches hope that from that pool of players, a couple of standouts will emerge. In previous years, defensive tackles Myron Pryor and Corey Peters became known as playmakers at the defensive tackle position before going on to be drafted by NFL teams.

Turner said that while it’s too early to begin comparing anyone on UK’s roster now to Peters and Pryor, he does like the prospects of his players developing into players of that caliber. UK head coach Joker Phillips said the strength and speed of this year’s defensive tackles is what sets them apart.

“I think those guys are still a long way away from playing at the level Corey did, especially in his senior year,” Phillips said. “But I do think those guys are at the same stage in their career as Corey was at this point.”

Follow Ben on Twitter