Kentucky defenders charged with clogging up holes this season leave some gaping ones to fill next season.
UK, whose season ended at Louisville on Saturday, loses seven defensive players that played significant roles this season, including three veteran defensive linemen that started every game.
"Those are tough guys to replace," Coach Mark Stoops said of linemen like Alvin "Bud" Dupree, Za'Darius Smith and Mike Douglas.
"Very good football players. Really were very mature in their approach, the way they came to practice every day and prepared and kind of set the tone."
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Dupree and Smith were two of the Cats' top three tacklers and they are a part of a departing group that accounted for 30.9 percent of the tackles this season.
But most importantly, a huge portion of the UK pressure is on its way out the door, including 53.7 percent of its sacks this season, more than 35 percent of its tackles for loss and nearly half of its quarterback hurries.
Perhaps even more than the statistics, it will be their leadership that Kentucky will have to find an answer for.
The seniors, especially on defense, helped "our younger players and the way they need to approach practice and approach games. So we're gonna miss them," Stoops continued on Saturday.
The group, which included safety Ashely Lowery, cornerback Nate Willis, linebacker TraVaughn Paschal and safety Glenn Faulkner, did struggle at times. It finished 13th in the Southeastern Conference in scoring defense, allowing 31.3 points a game including 37.5 to league foes (worst in SEC).
But there were some bright moments, including setting a school record for defensive touchdowns in a season with six.
"Everybody just wanted to get their hands on the ball and try to make a play for each other," said Douglas, who had one of those defensive TDs when he returned a fumble for a score at Louisville. "That was the main thing that drove us. We always played for each other. When times got tough, we always looked to each other as a brotherhood, gave it our all for each other."
The coaches and departing seniors seem confident that there are players on campus already that will fill their spots. Returning players on the line will include most notably starting tackle Melvin Lewis (37 tackles, including 2.5 for loss) as well as C.J. Johnson, Matt Elam, Jason Hatcher, Farrington Huguenin and Jabari Johnson, among others.
Every freshman defensive lineman was able to redshirt this season except for Elam, who finished the season with 10 tackles in 12 games.
UK's leading tackler, Josh Forrest (110 tackles, including eight for loss with two interceptions), playing his first complete season at middle linebacker, most likely will take on a key leadership role as will safety A.J. Stamps, who had 56 tackles and a team-best four interceptions.
Multiple positions are of concern still for Stoops next season, including the linebacker spot, where there was little depth as well as in the secondary.
"There's other issues defensively that we need to continue to work on or continue to recruit to," the head coach said. "We have some matchup problems outside sometimes that we have to address."
UK's defense allowed just 20.3 fewer yards per game compared to the 2013 season.
Even though improvements have come in smaller increments than they looked like they might halfway through this season, the departing seniors seem confident that things will turn around after they're gone.
"Coach Stoops has it planned out, and they don't pay him that much money for no reason," said Dupree, who finished his career second in UK history in sacks with 23.5 to go with 248 tackles and 38 tackles for loss.
"I see a bright future for this team, for this program. Big-time recruits coming in. The thing they've got to do is keep going up."
Timmons has surgery
Ryan Timmons, Kentucky's leading receiver this season, tweeted that he had ankle surgery on Tuesday. He later took the tweet down.
UK officials confirmed that the sophomore from Franklin County had surgery to remove a bone spur in his left ankle and that he should be fine.
Timmons played in all 12 games with eight starts and had 45 catches for 536 yards and two touchdowns. He did not have a catch at Louisville but was thrown to once on a 50-plus yard play that likely would've been a TD. The ball sailed over his head.