The defensive line was one of the biggest question marks for Joker Phillips' first Kentucky football team coming into fall camp.
It still is, but thanks to a group of newcomers, it's not quite as big a question mark as it was a month ago.
The main concerns were at tackle, where the Wildcats lost Corey Peters to the third round of the NFL Draft and projected starter Mister Cobble to academic ineligibility.
The arrival of several new faces has eased some of those concerns. Donte Rumph, a 6-foot-3, 315-pound freshman, has been impressive in camp and should be able to at least provide some backup snaps.
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Rumph still isn't in prime playing condition, but his size alone will get him on the field.
"He's a big boy," said offensive guard Stuart Hines. "He's hard to move in there. Once he learns the system and gets in better shape, he's going to be a really good player."
Another freshman tackle who could get on the field is late arrival Elliott Porter. Porter, a one-time LSU signee, arrived on campus Monday, and Phillips said the 6-4, 285-pounder passes the look test. But Porter's first workout in full pads won't come until Friday, so it's hard to gauge how much he will help. Porter figures to get a long look in Saturday's scrimmage.
"It's tough," Phillips said. "We've got to get him up to speed so we can get a chance to see if he moves around and understands what we're able to give him. It'll give us a chance to see if we need to continue to work with him. Athletically, he's pretty good. He uses his hands well, he uses his feet. But we all know that you don't play in shorts. We'll see how he responds when he gets hit in the mouth, and he hasn't been hit in the mouth yet."
Senior Ricky Lumpkin (16 career starts) is the only tackle on the roster who has been a major rotation player, although junior Mark Crawford and senior Shane McCord both played some as reserves last fall. Crawford is the early favorite to line up next to Lumpkin, but Rumph, McCord, Antwane Glenn, and possibly Porter and/or true freshman Brice Laughlin could all play.
"We feel like we have enough bodies at tackle, we really do," Phillips said. "A lot of them are young, inexperienced guys, but we've got to throw them in there and see if they can give us some depth."
At end, true freshman Nermin Delic has been one of the biggest surprises of camp and has spent some time working with the first unit. Delic, a chiseled 6-4, 262-pounder, has already made a huge impression from a physical standpoint.
"He's one of the strongest guys who's ever walked through the doors here," Phillips said.
The anchor of the defensive line will be senior DeQuin Evans, who didn't report to campus until late last summer out of junior college but still managed to lead the team with six sacks.
UK defensive coordinator Steve Brown said Evans has emerged as a team leader.
"He's a leader by example, and he's a leader on this team," Brown said. "Guys look up to him and try to emulate what he does."
Now that Evans has had a year in the system, he expects bigger and better things in 2010.
"The confidence that the coaches have in me, it gives me confidence," Evans said. "I want to double everything I did last year."
Sophomores Collins Ukwu and Taylor Wyndham have starting experience and will join Evans and Delic to give the UK coaches four ends with whom they're comfortable. They'd still like to find a fifth, possibly redshirt freshman Tristian Johnson or true freshman Justin Henderson.
Evans believes the defensive line will surprise people.
"Guaranteed," Evans said. "We've stepped it up a lot. (New defensive line) Coach (David) Turner has coached us up a lot. We feel like we're in good shape. The young guys are trying to make the adjustment to Division I football and they're embracing everything we're showing them."