When Mark Stoops was hired as the head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats, it was because of his defensive background. Athletic director Mitch Barnhart said as much after Stoops was hired, citing the tough defenses in the Southeastern Conference as his reasoning.
In 2013, Kentucky went 2-10, largely due to an ineffective offense. The defense, under the direction of Stoops and defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot, continued to improve as the season went on. The Wildcats moved from a 3-4 to a 4-3 last season, and once the team got the hang of the new defense, the results were not bad.
This season, Kentucky’s defense should be even better, especially if the coaching staff can plug some holes at linebacker.
Kentucky’s defensive line should be among the best in the SEC, especially at the defensive end spot. Seniors Alvin “Bud” Dupree and Za’Darius Smith return after having big seasons last year. Those two players will be counted on heavily by the defensive brass.
The secondary is also a spot where Kentucky has experience returning. Fred Tiller and Cody Quinn return as starters at cornerback, while Eric Dixon and Ashely Lowery return at safety. Blake McClain, the starting nickel back, also returns, as does J.D. Harmon, who missed last season.
That leaves the linebackers as the spots in question. Khalid Henderson is back and should be a solid player for the ‘Cats this season. Josh Forrest also saw significant time last year and should be a contributor this season. Junior college transfer Ryan Flannigan will also be counted in 2014.
Kentucky’s offense will be very young, so if the Wildcats are to improve this season, the defense must lead the way.
Tim Letcher is a contributing writer for RantSports.com and a member of the Football Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter @TimLetcher , on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.