December 16, 2011

Coleman, Douglas next stars in defensive trenches

This is the third in a series previewing the Kentucky football team's 2012 roster by examining young players who made their mark this season. Today's installment is on the defensive line. It's difficult to break past the pair of sophomores who held down the starting spots at defensive tackle, but a freshman still interjected himself into the conversation late in the year.

Name: Christian Coleman
Rivals 2011 recruiting rating: 3-star (5.5)
Height: 6-foot-3 Weight: 268
2012 class: True sophomore

What he did in 2011:
Coleman wasn't the most heralded player in the 2011 class, but he had as much of an impact as anyone. Coleman, Alvin Dupree and Darrell Warren were the only true freshmen to play in every game for the Wildcats in 2011. He earned two starting assignments late in the season, against Georgia and Vanderbilt, when Donte Rumph was hobbled by an ankle injury.

There were times when he made freshman mistakes - most notably when he had Connor Shaw wrapped up for a sack at South Carolina but didn't finish the play - but he showed the potential to be an SEC defensive tackle. The only trouble is that he had two far more experienced players ahead of him in Rumph and Cobble, and that won't change any time soon. He had three tackles in his first career game and equaled that number four more times in the course of the season.

His body, which would qualify somewhere between an end and a tackle in a 4-3 scheme, is perfect for an end in a 3-4 defense. He's explosive enough to generate a bit of pass rush but also has a powerful upper body and a frame that should let him grown into an expanded role. His true time to shine might be a couple years off, but establishing himself as a mainstay on the line as a freshman speaks to his ability.

Final statistics: Six solo tackles, 15 assisted tackles, .5 tackle for loss, two passes broken up, one fumble recovery

On the way out: Senior defensive tackles Mark Crawford and Luke McDermott, who have both graduated.

What he'll do in 2012:
Coleman had already overtaken Crawford in the defensive tackle rotation by the end of the year as the coaches opted to go younger, but he'll have an even bigger role in 2012. He's not big enough to be an every down nose tackle like junior-to-be Mister Cobble, but he's more than capable as a backup to Rumph and as the third defensive tackle on the roster. That puts him on the outside in Rick Minter's hybrid scheme, with Collins Ukwu on the other side.

He can handle duties in the middle in a pinch, though, and the departure of McDermott could open up a new role for him. McDermott had been the Wildcats' nose tackle on passing downs, usually flanked by Ridge Wilson and Alvin Dupree, who put their hands down and became pass rushers in third-and-long situations. That's a job Coleman should have the opportunity to win in 2012, if he can prove to be as crafty and evasive as McDermott was.

Coleman won't beat out Rumph or Cobble for a starting job, but he'll be a notch ahead of every defensive tackle on the roster when the season starts. There won't be any upperclassmen to compete with, and that should mean increased snaps for the true sophomore to be. If there are any injuries, he'll be the next man up. With an offseason in the weight room and a full year to learn the defensive system, he should improve on his performance next year.

Also look out for:
Redshirt freshman Mike Douglas also played well when he broke into the starting lineup in place of the injured Collins Ukwu. He had 15 tackles, one sack, two tackles for loss and a forced fumble on the season. He started slow and didn't see the field in Kentucky's first two games, making his debut against Louisville and earning starts against LSU, South Carolina and Jacksonville State. As with Coleman, it's unlikely Douglas becomes a starter in 2012. But he should see his role expanded as some of the upperclassmen who provided depth leave.

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