Ricky Lumpkin was listed at 260 pounds when he arrived at the University of Kentucky back in 2006.
It took a while but, with some work in the weight room, Lumpkin eventually eclipsed the 300-pound mark that is the standard for defensive tackles in the Southeastern Conference.
Lumpkin will play his last regular-season game as a Wildcat on Saturday at Tennessee. On his way out, though, he said he feels good about the freshman defensive linemen and their future.
Freshman Donte Rumph is already well over the 300-pound mark, and the same goes for third-year sophomore Mister Cobble. Another freshman, end Nermin Delic, is already one of the strongest players on the team. Freshman Brice Laughlin stands 6-foot-3 and, while listed at 280 pounds, appears to be much closer to the 300-pound range. Ditto for Elliott Porter.
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"These guys are men already," Lumpkin said. "I know I didn't look like that as a freshman. It took me years. These guys are coming in looking like the guys they have at Florida and Alabama. I feel great about these guys. The defensive line is going to be in good shape for years to come."
Rumph and Delic have seen sporadic snaps as true freshmen, but Phillips was able to redshirt the rest of the UK freshman class of defensive linemen.
Phillips and the UK staff used the team's off week to get some extra work for those redshirted players, and that process will continue during bowl practices in December.
"These opportunities are valuable for us to see them," UK defensive line coach David Turner said. "We'll work those young guys in bowl practices, and that gives them a jump-start for spring and a jump-start for the fall."
Of the redshirted players, Turner said that Laughlin and ends Mike Douglas and Alvin Davis have been the most impressive physically.
Douglas and Davis are both 6-4 and weigh in the 240-pound range. Turner recruited similar athletes when he coached at Mississippi State, and the play of the defensive line has been a big part of the Bulldogs' turnaround.
"At Mississippi State, we knew we had to get longer, get some guys who've got some length who could fill out," he said. "That's the same thing we're trying to do at Kentucky. We feel like we're headed in the right direction with some of these young guys. Douglas and Davis, they both play fast and have a chance to be solid players for us. The same thing goes for Laughlin. You just hope they can continue to progress."
Porter generated a lot of fanfare when he arrived at Kentucky after signing with Louisiana State, and many thought he'd make a push for immediate playing time. But Porter needs to get stronger and, like all of the other freshman linemen, get comfortable with the scheme. Porter has also been slowed the past couple of weeks by a sprained ankle.
"I've learned a lot about what it takes to compete in the SEC," Porter said. "It's been a good, humbling experience. I'm just looking forward to the off-season so I can do what I need to do to get on the field."
Laughlin was also looked upon as a candidate for early playing time because of UK's depth problems at tackle, but he said redshirting was the right move.
"Everybody wants to play when they first get here," he said. "But now that the season's almost over, I realized I probably wasn't ready to play. I didn't really know the defense like I should. Instead of wasting a year, I've been able to learn the defense and get stronger, and then I'll really be ready to go next year."
The Cats will lose three key members of their defensive-line rotation in Lumpkin, Shane McCord and DeQuin Evans, so several of the redshirt linemen will have an opportunity to make an impact in 2011.
"We've all talked about it; we're the next generation," Douglas said. "We're all going to spend a lot of time together this summer in the weight room getting after it. Guys like DeQuin and Ricky, we don't want to let them down. We know that everybody will be counting on us, and we want to be ready for the job."