Just three practices into fall camp, Kentucky football broke some disappointing news on Monday.
Head coach Mark Stoops announced that starting defensive tackle Regie Meant, a junior expected to be a stalwart along the defensive front, will be out indefinitely for personal reasons. Asked if he expected Meant back at some point this season, Stoops said he didn’t believe that would happen. The coach did not elaborate.
That’s a major loss for a defensive unit that had already entered the 2016 fall camp with plenty of questions up front. Gone are C.J. Johnson and Farrington Huguenin, the two starters are at defensive tackle a year ago. Johnson is currently in camp with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. Huguenin is in camp with the Miami Dolphins.
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Courtney Miggins, a junior college transfer who played in 11 games last season without a sack, is listed as the starter at one tackle spot. The other spot was to be filled by Meant, a 6-foot-4, 302-pound native of Cape Coral, Florida who has generally been considered to be perhaps only behind junior nose guard Matt Elam in terms of potential.
After being redshirted in 2013, Meant played in 11 games in 2014, making 18 tackles. He played in 10 games lat season, starting four. He finished with 31 tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss and one sack -- that recorded against Florida. With Johnson and Huguenin now gone, this was supposed to be Meant’s time to shine.
And remember, this is a Kentucky team that recorded an SEC-low 17 sacks last season. It stood to reason that one focal point for UK this training camp was to improve the pass rush. Losing Meant surely hurts that effort.
After such an early curveball, who needs to step up to the plate now? Adrian Middleton, a 6-3, 303-pound sophomore who played at South Warren High School in Bowling Green. After being redshirted in 2014, Middleton played in all of four games last season. Also listed at No. 2 is Tymere DuBose, a 6-5, 320-pound sophomore from Youngstown. Like Middlelton, Dubose was redshirted in 2014 and played in four games last season.
There was a lot of talk Monday about Alvonte Bell, the 6-foot-5, 260-pound junior listed at No. 2 behind Courtney Miggins at the end spot in UK’s 3-4 multiple alignment. Bell is a junior college transfer from Miramar, Fla. and Pearl River Community College who redshirted last season. It could be that Miggins slides over to Meant’s spot and Bell takes over as the No. 1 end.
Stoops also pointed out Kengera Daniel, a 6-5, 260-pound sophomore, as someone who needs to quickly raise his level of performance. Daniel played in three games last season as a true freshman, recording one tackle. He was considered a three-star recruit coming out of Millbrook High School in Raleigh, North Carolina.
It could also be that the fresh faces of UK’s true freshmen along the defensive line will become more recognizable sooner than expected. Stoops affirmed that Monday saying there is a new sense of urgency for those who just began experiencing what college practices are all about.
There’s Ja’Quize Cross, a 6-3, 312-pounder from New Market, Alabama, who entered camp as a nose guard. There’s Kordell Looney, a 6-3, 285-pounder from Springfield, Ohio, who was No. 4 on the depth chart behind Meant, Middleton and Dubose. There’s also T.J. Carter, a 6-4, 275-pounder from Mableton, Georgia, who was listed on the pre-fall depth chart as the No. 4 defensive end at Miggins’ spot.
No matter the name, Kentucky will need someone to fill not only Meant’s spot but his role. Losing an experienced and starting defensive tackle so early, especially on a unit where so many potential starters lack experience, is not the way to start your fall camp.