It seemed at times during Kentucky's 42-0 season-opening win over Miami (Ohio) that the Wildcats' defensive linemen thought Jeremy Jarmon was still lined up on the left end.
UK dominated Miami, but the UK starting defensive line managed only four tackles, no sacks, and two quarterback hurries. They did stuff the run, holding the RedHawks to 77 yards on the ground, but their overall impact was minimal.
Jarmon, meanwhile, was in Washington preparing for his Redskins debut against the New York Giants, something that defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin said the unit is just going to have to get over.
"Everybody can blame it on not having Jeremy, but the thing is, he's gone," Lumpkin said.
Jarmon, expected to be one of the key pieces of a veteran UK defense this season, was suspended in May for his entire senior year by the NCAA after testing positive for a banned substance. He subsequently entered the NFL Supplemental Draft and was chosen by Washington.
"We've got to move on," Lumpkin said. "We can't think about that. We know what we've got to do. We just have to take it week by week and let everybody get used to things."
Part of the problem against Miami was inexperience. Defensive ends DeQuin Evans and Chandler Burden were making their first career starts, and it showed. Much was expected of Evans, who was the talk of fall camp after arriving from Los Angeles Harbor College. Coach Rich Brooks said Evans just needs a little more time to learn how to play aggressively while staying true to his assignments.
"I didn't think he cut it loose," Brooks said of Evans. "I think he and all of our defensive ends were thinking too much. I think they all needed to get off the snap a little quicker. What we were doing was, we were slow off the ball and reading things before we took off. That negated any real uphill pass rush by that group. Hopefully we'll get that straightened out."
Evans said he was a little off-kilter because Miami's schemes under first-year coach Mike Haywood were unfamiliar. He said he's spent hours breaking down film of Louisville's 30-10 win over Indiana State and expects to be more on top of things.
"I gave myself a (grade of) C for my first game, but it should have been an A-plus," Evans said. "Jitters were a little bit of a factor, but the main thing was, I really didn't know what was going on out there. Everything was happening so fast. But I'll be well-prepared for this game. I'll have time to study my opponent, and the scout team will give us a great look, and I'll be a lot more mentally and physically prepared for it."
The Cardinals have dangerous skill people in running back Victor Anderson and receivers Scott Long, Doug Beaumont and Trent Guy, which puts a premium on the UK defensive front getting pressure on U of L quarterback Justin Burke.
When UK had Jarmon and another NFL rookie, Myron Pryor, up front last year, the Cats could often generate a pass rush with their four down linemen. If that is not the case this year, defensive coordinator Steve Brown might have to use more blitzes to get to the quarterback.
"It would be great to have four Hall of Famers rushing the passer every down and we could just play coverage, but that ain't happening," Brown said. "I think this line will be good enough to generate pressure. It's just a matter of getting off that ball and being ferocious. You have to pretend that they're hungry and the quarterback has meat around his neck. It's going to have to be that kind of tenacity."
When asked about how much he plans to blitz, Brown said, "It depends on the situation. If we need to get off the field, we'll do what it takes. We'll bring the house."
Lumpkin said Miami negated UK's pass rush with a lot of quick slants featuring three-step drops and cut blocks, an offensive player diving at a defender's feet to bring him down.
But the young UK linemen are going to have to learn to fight through that.
"It starts with us," Lumpkin said. "We're going to be playing teams that can run and pass the ball, so we're going to have to generate more pressure. We didn't get enough in the Miami game.
"When you stop the team's run, they're going to pass a lot. You're not going to get pressure every time. But at the same time, we realize we've got to get more (pressure). It's one of those things you have to take as it goes."