By: ASHLEY SCOBY
No matter that injuries are already a factor during Kentucky’s final week of spring practice, it’s simply a “next man up” mentality that has pushed the defensive linemen to perform.
After star defensive tackle Donte Rumph went down with a shoulder injury early in the spring, the issue of depth on the line became an issue.
Today, Mister Cobble “tweaked” an ankle according to head coach Mark Stoops but is “fine,” according to his position coach, Jimmy Brumbaugh.
“It’s next man in,” said tackle Tristian Johnson. “That’s the mindset we all have. You don’t know when your last play can be. Everybody knows that the next man is just as good as the first man… You never know when your time can be.”
With the injury news coming in on a rolling basis, the Cats’ backup defensive tackles have had to learn how to step up to the plate. Brumbaugh cited Johnson, Alvin Davis and Mike Douglas as players who have shown flashes of being able to fill Rumph’s shoes. Douglas was also pegged by defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot as one of the guys doing a good job.
But with that young talent must come veteran leadership, which Brumbaugh thinks he can get from Cobble.
“He’s like a grandfather out there,” Brumbaugh said of the senior. “Everyone listens to him when he talks. The thing about it is he does a real good job of understanding what I’m looking for. I think he can be that kind of guy.”
With Cobble’s leadership skills growing, the physical challenge of replacing Rumph until he is good to play again still remains. Brumbaugh said that so far he has enough depth to “roll three teams” out there. Part of being able to do that as a coach relies on preaching to the backups that they have to be good at what they do, rather than good at what Rumph did.
“They’re different,” he said. “They have some twitch about them. Donte’s a big, athletic, twitchy guy. And I tell guys, ‘You can’t be Donte. You’ve got to be yourself. You’ve got to give us everything you have. You’ve got to be technical and you’ve got to understand what you’re doing.’”
With that in mind, Brumbaugh said his players have done a good job so far studying the position and what it takes to be great at what they do. The mental aspect of being a defensive lineman may be just as challenging and important as the physical aspect.
Listening to an NFL player and a former Cat might help those players understand the mental side of being a great defensive tackle in the SEC. Corey Peters, former UK defensive tackle and current Atlanta Falcon, visited practice last week.
“That’s what’s so good, when a guy like Corey can come back and be around the guys because it’s visual,” Brumbaugh said. “Sometimes it’s out of sight, out of mind but when you visually see things and you’ve got people right there, it’s better… I preach it all the time. What I preach is how are they doing in the NFL? Well, I’m doing it the same way. You’ve got to listen to him and listen to me. That’s helpful.”
An NFL player’s words of wisdom, veteran leadership from Cobble and contributions from the former backup tacklesthe depth on the defensive line could be a better situation than many feared once Rumph went down. It’s the “keep-fighting” mentality that is motivating the linemen to fill in the holes as quickly as they come because of injuries.
Johnson – now a senior – has been mentioned in previous weeks as the guy who can use some of his raw talent as well as his experience with playing time last year to really become a dependable player on the line. When Cobble went down last year with an injury, Johnson was the one who stepped up and got some quality playing time in at defensive tackle.
With the next-man-up mentality he described his teammates as having, Johnson could actually be that next man up because of his experience last year and his practice habits this year.
“God blessed me to finally get playing time,” Johnson said. “It’s something that happened to my friend P.C. (Cobble). He’s one of my best friends on the D-line and it was sad to see him go down but it was an opportunity for me to continue to play. I just try to be that guy that the guys can look up to next year. Tristian kept on fighting when times were bad.”