Where will Kentucky’s pass rush come from in 2019?
As national defensive player of the year Josh Allen and his 17 sacks last season take part in Kentucky’s Pro Day on Friday and not its spring practices, a huge question has emerged about how the Cats will put pressure on opposing quarterbacks in 2019.
“You’re not going to replace 17 sacks,” UK defensive coordinator Brad White acknowledged after the Cats’ fifth of 15 spring practices Thursday.
Fortunately for UK, White has been in this situation before.
As an Indianapolis Colts assistant, White saw Rob Mathis lead the team and the NFL in sacks with 19.5 of the Colts’ 42 in 2013. Unfortunately for Mathis, he missed the entire next season with an injury. The Colts produced 41 sacks without him, and no one had more than 6.5.
“What we did is we had to spread it around. And we had to move the lines a little bit, and we might have to do that (here) …” White said. “When you don’t have a dominant rusher, what you’re going to have to do is … do a good job coaching-wise of taking the targets off of guys and making an offense think, ‘OK, which way are they coming this time?’”
Allen provided pressure off the edge of the line, but UK now looks to be strongest in depth and experience up the middle, especially on the defensive line.
“From a starting point, the defensive line is probably ahead of any other group other than maybe the inside backers … which is nice,” White said. “How do you want to build your defense? You want to build it from the inside out. You want to be stout in the middle.”
The inside linebackers, who include the Cats’ third-leading tackler Kash Daniel, have an energy boost this spring from new position coach Jon Sumrall, himself a leading tackler for the Cats during his playing days.
“That’s probably one of the biggest things he brings to practice. He’s a real hyped-up guy,” said sophomore Jamin Davis, who laughed when prodded about just how “hyped” Sumrall is. “ He’s got a loose screw in his head. He’s pretty cool at the same time. I like him a lot.”
The front line brings back starters Quinton Bohanna and Calvin Taylor and a host of others who saw action in a platoon system the Cats look to replicate.
“I feel like every defense starts up front and I feel like our (line) has a lot of depth and know we have a lot of experience too,” said Joshua Paschal, who missed most of 2018 recovering from a malignant melanoma in his right foot, but returned to contribute in the final three games. “Now we can rotate. It’s not like one person has to play the entire game. We can rotate fresh people.”
Paschal figures to be a large part of the pass-rush by committee.
“Where Josh really excels — not only is he big and strong and physical — he’s one of those guys in terms of what you guys have asked: ‘Who do you see becoming an integral part of the pass rush?’ He’s obviously one of those guys,” White said. “He was that as a freshman and going into the season last year, we expected him and Josh (Allen) to be neck and neck.”
So far in practice, there hasn’t been much focus on pass-rushing with the team taking on only a few third-down situations on Thursday. But the new-look pressure package will reveal itself in the weeks ahead of UK’s April 12 Blue-White Spring Game.
“A lot of people are expecting us to fall off, so we know that we’re going to have to join together,” said Paschal, who added he’s liked what he’s seen from the pass rush, so far. “It’s not going to be an individual person, it’s going to be the whole team.”
Blue-White Spring Game
When: April 12, 6 p.m.
Where: Kroger Field
TV: SEC Network