Veteran defense could become backbone

Ever since the Hal Mumme era, the strongpoint of the UK football team has been putting points on the scoreboard. But with UK’s biggest offensive threats gone from last season, the focus may be shifting to the other side of the ball.

With most of the players on the defensive depth chart returning, head coach Rich Brooks feels like improvement is on the way.

“We’re a better team defensively than we were two years before,” Brook said. “We need to have significant improvement in that area.”

With only one major loss on defense — weakside linebacker Wesley Woodyard — the Cats are beginning to embrace the idea of becoming a defense-dominant team, not just one with a few standout defensive players.

“It’s always been individuals,” junior safety Marcus McClinton said. “We like that (the defense) is favored. We just have to step up to the plate.”

Returning the majority of a defensive unit that has improved every year under head coach Rich Brooks, the Cats expect to shut down opposing offenses more often this season.

“We have eight or nine guys that played or started last year,” junior linebacker Braxton Kelley said. “The experience helps.”

Brooks anticipates the competition at linebacker this year to be more intense than any other year he has coached at UK. Sophomore Micah Johnson is expected to fill Woodyard’s weakside spot. Another option would be to move Kelley over to that position in spring practice. But replacing a player of Woodyard’s abilities is easier said than done.

“Wesley accounted for so much,” sophomore defensive lineman Jeremy Jarmon said. “A joint effort can make up the difference.”

The Cats also return a bevy of veterans in the secondary. But Brooks said despite the unit’s experience, it still has room to get better during the spring.

“We missed a lot of tackles at safety last year,” Brooks said. “We need to improve dramatically at that.”

The secondary returns every starter, including McClinton and sophomore cornerback Trevard Lindley. Combined with an experienced linebacking corps and an improved defensive line, the Cats believe they have a recipe for defensive success.

“We’re going to start and end with a chip on our shoulders,” Jarmon said. “We feel we have one of the best D-lines in the nation. We feel like we’re the best in the SEC, which means we’re the best in the nation.”

Ford injured; Jackson    dismissed from team

Going into spring practice, the Cats were looking to find viable receiving threats to compliment junior Dickey Lyons Jr. That pool of players took a huge hit over the weekend when Brooks announced that junior DeMoreo Ford sustained an injury during practice on Saturday.

Ford, who has caught 20 career passes and was expected to compete for a starting position this season, ruptured a patellar tendon in one of his knees and is expected to undergo surgery this week. Depending upon the extent of the injury and the rehabilitation time, it is possible Ford could return to the team during the 2008 season.

“It’s obviously a tough injury,” Brooks said after practice yesterday. “He was our second-most experienced receiver.”

Brooks also announced that redshirt freshman tailback Brandon Jackson has been dismissed from the team for a violation of team rules.