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By LARRY VAUGHT
For the last six years, Kentucky has had at least one linebacker named to a postseason all-Southeastern Conference team, an accomplishment that UK linebacker Chuck Smith is proud of as he gets set to start his eighth season with the Wildcats.
He’s seen Wesley Woodyard, Braxton Kelley, Sam Maxwell, Micah Johnson, Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy all earn postseason honors.
“We have Wesley playing with the Broncos and so is Danny. Micah is still on the Bengals’ roster. Winston was a sixth-round draft pick of Seattle. Ronnie Sneed is a free agent with the Detroit Lions,” said Smith.
However, this is the first time he’s gone into a season without a full-time starter retuning as Trevathan, Guy and Sneed all graduated while Ridge Wilson was booted off the team in the offseason.
Still, Smith is optimistic he has future stars.
“Avery Williamson was a part-time starter with Sneed last year. He will be our mainstay in there in the middle,” Smith said. “He’s worked hard. He’s a great kid. He is just one of those guys who outworks everybody else and has done that all winter and summer. He has a chance to be really good.”
Smith feels the same about sophomore Alvin “Bud” Dupree, who worked his way into the playing rotation the second half of the 2011 season.
“He’s a special player and has a great chance to be a NFL guy, too. No question about it. He has those kind of tools,” Smith said.
The coach likes the swagger that Dupree, who started his freshman season at tight end before moving to linebacker, has shown, too.
“He says what he feels and what he is thinking, but it is always coming from his heart and if it comes from the heart you can never go wrong,” Smith said.
Another new starter likely will be junior Malcolm McDuffen.
“He has been in actually more than anybody doing extra studying and trying to catch up with the things he was behind on. He has done a pretty good job,” Smith said. “His spring game was not bad at all. Prior to that he didn’t have a good spring, but he picked it up in the spring game and he has done a good job over the summer. I think he has a chance here to be very good.”
The No. 1 hybrid linebacker should be sophomore Myles Simpson, a converted running back.
“He played safety in high school, but he gets here and like most high school kids he was used to just grabbing a sandwich, eating at McDonald’s, eating snacks. Then he gets here, goes on a steady routine and gets as much as he wants to eat,” Smith said. “He has blown up. He’s muscular. He became too big, too tight to be a running back. He’s maybe 220 (pounds) and has done a really nice and that’s why he’s projected to be a starter.”
Smith said not having a true returning starter or proven playmaker is not a daunting task.
“It is not scary because I think Avery and Alvin are both very, very, very capable. Avery wants to be that guy desperately and he lives it. I think Alvin is going to be a great player. He will develop as a leader as he gets older like Avery, but he is going to be a great player,” Smith said.
“I am anxious to get them all into training camp and see how much they have grown up and matured since spring practice. They had a good spring and have the attitude and leadership to be really good players. But potential and attitude are not any good unless you develop that talent and it’s my job to do that.”