Scouting the UK defensive line: Cobble, Rumph the new leaders

jsmith3@herald-leader.comAugust 18, 2012 

Defensive tackles Donte Rumph (99), left, Mister Cobble, (97) and Tristian Johnson (51), were interviewed on Friday, Aug. 3, 2012 at University of Kentucky football media day at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington. Photo by David Perry | Staff

HERALD-LEADER Buy Photo

  • Scouting the defensive line

    The main man: A veteran front line was led in tackles last season by Mister Cobble (33), who is being counted on as a team leader off the field as well. But he has plenty of company in the leadership department.
    The supporting cast: Seniors Collins Ukwu and Taylor Wyndham are vocal leaders, who are calling for an elevation of play by the defensive line. Ukwu is the veteran, having played in 35 games, starting 24. By the end of last season, Cobble and fellow tackle Donte Rumph had become such a dominant duo inside that teams were changing the way they ran the ball against Kentucky. There is serious depth behind the starters as well with coaches talking up players like Farrington Huguenin, Christian Coleman and Tristian Johnson. It is possible that some of the freshmen could get in on the action, too.
    Newcomer to watch: When asked about defensive line depth, Coach Joker Phillips had lots to say about junior Tristian Johnson, who was sidelined much of last season by a shoulder injury, saying the tackle has “made as much improvement as anyone in this off-season.”
    Outlook: Kentucky’s coaches talk about recruiting smaller guys and developing them into SEC type linemen. Some of the fruits of that could pay off with this collection of veterans, who are expected to be anchors while the rest of the defense (which is short on depth in key positions) finds its playmakers this season.

Mister Cobble knew there were interview requests, but he would politely decline.

Kentucky's junior defensive tackle has tuned out the questions and shut out the noise during this fall camp.

"I cut out everything," Cobble said this week in his one interview since Aug. 2. "I don't call anyone back home. I just try to focus. My phone's off now and I have no incentive to turn it on."

He has one singular focus: to make the UK defensive line better.

Before, he would do it by trying to improve on his own and quietly follow the lead of the veterans ahead of him.

Now, the Cats' top returning tackler on the defensive line (33 last season) knows he has to be a leader, too.

He also knows that leading is not his strongest suit.

"It's weird," he said. "I've never been the leader type. There are certain things a leader does that nobody else does. A lot of people expect things from you. There's stuff you have to do every day. ... You can't tell somebody to do something you won't do yourself."

It wasn't so long ago that Cobble was struggling to do anything the right way.

He missed all but one game of his redshirt freshman year because of poor grades. When he got eligible, he wasn't in the shape he needed to be in.

Much like his friend and fellow defensive tackle Donte Rumph, expectations were high but not reached.

Both of them wanted to change that. So they got serious about strength and conditioning, lost weight, built muscle. They worked hard with coach Rock Oliver in the off-season.

"I've come a long way and it took a lot of work," Rumph said of his conditioning. "My stamina was very low. Now it's picked up."

Oliver was urging the players on early, but something clicked for them late last season.

"It started where Rock was pushing them and making them do it, but by the end they were doing things on their own," senior center Matt Smith bragged of his teammates.

Now Cobble, the former academic casualty, and Rumph, who took two seasons to get eligible himself, are defensive leaders.

"We're both clowns and silly," Rumph said recently when asked about his relationship with Cobble. "But when it comes down to handling business, we take it serious. We try to do it to the best of our abilities."

Part of that is learning how to be a leader.

It's part of the reason that Cobble has stopped doing interviews and shut off his phone.

"I'm still learning, but I'm also the teacher now, too," Cobble explained. "Not only do I have to try to get myself better, but also teach those young guys. There's a lot to think about."

Even though it took them a long time to get to where they are now, they'll be key cogs in a defensive line that is expected to anchor a young and inexperienced defense.

"We expect big things out of those guys," coordinator Rick Minter said of the dynamic defensive duo. "It's really good to have those anchors up front when you start thinking about taking on people's running games in our league.

"They're experienced guys, they've worked hard. Their knowledge of the package, techniques, fundamentals are much better. They're stronger physically. They're a year older. They're much further along."

They both say they're much further along on levels that go well beyond football.

The main man: A veteran front line was led in tackles last season by Mister Cobble (33), who is being counted on as a team leader off the field as well. But he has plenty of company in the leadership department.

The supporting cast: Seniors Collins Ukwu and Taylor Wyndham are vocal leaders, who are calling for an elevation of play by the defensive line. Ukwu is the veteran, having played in 35 games, starting 24. By the end of last season, Cobble and fellow tackle Donte Rumph had become such a dominant duo inside that teams were changing the way they ran the ball against Kentucky. There is serious depth behind the starters as well with coaches talking up players like Farrington Huguenin, Christian Coleman and Tristian Johnson. It is possible that some of the freshmen could get in on the action, too.

Newcomer to watch: When asked about defensive line depth, Coach Joker Phillips had lots to say about junior Tristian Johnson, who was sidelined much of last season by a shoulder injury, saying the tackle has "made as much improvement as anyone in this off-season."

Outlook: Kentucky's coaches talk about recruiting smaller guys and developing them into SEC type linemen. Some of the fruits of that could pay off with this collection of veterans, who are expected to be anchors while the rest of the defense (which is short on depth in key positions) finds its playmakers this season.

Jennifer Smith

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service