Evans leads young line


The defensive line produced one of the biggest highlight-reel plays for UK last season – Taylor Wyndham’s concussion-inducing knockout of former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow was one of the signature images of the season.

But that one famous hit wasn’t indicative of the season’s performance, as UK ranked last in the Southeastern Conference in sacks with 16. Wyndham, fellow sophomore Collins Ukwu and senior DeQuin Evans bookend a defensive line that wants to apply heavier pressure on quarterbacks this year.

Evans, as the top returning player on the line, is going to be the driving force for the front four. He led the team with 6 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss. Named to the preseason All-SEC second team, he’s looked at as a leader and is being counted on to produce again this year.

“I have to embrace it,” Evans said of his leadership role. “If I don’t embrace it I’m not taking pride in what I do. It’s a huge year for me, probably the most important year of my life.”

Evans has heard the doubts about whether the front four has what it takes to be the basis of a solid defense.

“We want to show we’re not an average defense,” Evans said. “We haven’t been practicing like one; we haven’t been lifting like one.”

While the defensive end position seems solidified, the defensive tackle spot appears shaky. Faced with having to replace NFL third-round pick Corey Peters, the interior of the line is deep on bodies, but short on proven production. 

Only one player, senior Ricky Lumpkin, has any starts at defensive tackle, but he isn’t a proven difference maker after recording just 26 tackles and no sacks last year. Junior Mark Crawford and senior Shane McCord both have experience as reserves but haven’t locked up time in the rotation.

“We know what everyone says about us,” Lumpkin said. “This line has a lot of doubt, but I don’t think people should be worried about it. We have great coaches, we have great talent, we have the energy, we have great players.”

When redshirt freshman Mister Cobble was ruled academically ineligible, it made an already-thin line even thinner, and defensive tackle suddenly became a pressing issue.

“We were counting on (Cobble), there’s no question about that,” UK head coach Joker Phillips said. “He’s going to be a well-conditioned player when it’s all over with.”

But the concerns were eased with two new additions to the line. Donte Rumph, who originally signed with UK in 2008, had been waiting two years to qualify academically. Elliot Porter, a three-star tackle who originally signed with LSU, chose UK when there weren’t enough scholarships for him to play for the Tigers. Both will try to crack the rotation for the tackle spot opposite Lumpkin.

Fitted with a nickname of “‘Bout Time” for finally becoming academically eligible at UK, Rumph is not young, but he is inexperienced.

“Depth wise, I think we’ll be okay inside, I really do,” Phillips said of the tackles. “Rumph comes in at a position of need and experience. He’ll bring some maturity to that position.”

The criticism of the big men in the trenches has reached the ears of the defensive linemen, but they remain focused on not talking about whether they can get it done but showing that they can.

“I like to hear things like that,” Evans said. “It makes us work harder. I like being the underdog. I like to surprise people.”


Quick Hits: Defensive Line

Probable Starters

Defensive ends: DeQuin Evans, Taylor Wyndham/Collins Ukwu

Defensive tackles: Ricky Lumpkin, one of several options

Who To Keep An Eye On

Donte Rumph: After finally becoming academically eligible, Rumph will look to make an impact on inexperienced D-line.

Biggest Question

Can the D-line create enough pressure up front to ease the pressure for the other two tiers of the defense?