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By LARRY VAUGHT
Freshman Jason Hatcher has played in all seven games at defensive end and/or linebacker and has 15 tackles and two quarterback hits.
“Jason for a freshman and what he has been doing is unbelievable. He works and wants to be good,” Brumbaugh said of the Louisville native. “He has a hurt hand right now, but I will take him. I have been lucky to have him. A guy like that that wants to work and get better.”
Hatcher did not tell Brumbaugh — or anyone else — when he broke his hand during an earlier game until the game was over. Since then he has played with a cast on his hand.
“It told me a lot about him when he didn’t tell us he broke his hand. He realized other guys were down and raised his level of play and tried to get in there and do it,” Brumbaugh said. “He broke his hand in the first half of the game and kept playing. Not many guys would or could do that.”
“Back in the day, probably that is what I would have done. When you have your team out there and you don’t want to let those guys down and give everything you have got, you play. That’s the way it is in the SEC. Defensive linemen have to bang every single snap, and we know that. That’s why he understood that and said just he was going to play.”
Brumbaugh knows it is rare for a true freshman to have the success on the defensive front that Hatcher has had.
“You are 15 inches apart from a guy and they are 300-pound guys coming off the ball fast and physical. The more that you understand that from a technical standpoint and if you get your technique and footwork right, it will let you have more success in this league as a young guy,” Brumbaugh said.
“But it is different. The physicality is different. The footwork of offensive linemen is different. Those offensive linemen are athletic and you have to be ready immediately. It’s not an easy transition from high school.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot says the Wildcats are “harping on fundamentals” as they come off a bye week preparing to play at Mississippi State Thursday night.”You think a bye week is a chance to get better fundamentally. You’ve got to become efficient tacklers coming off blocks, playing balls in the air. Just harping on fundamentals,” Eliot said Sunday. “I think the attitude’s been good throughout the bye week. We’ve just got to keep pushing them to be the best they can be, and part of that is that attitude.”Eliot said the defense is “significantly healthier” thanks to the bye week.He says Jason Hatcher, Avery Williamson and Blake McClain, who are all playing with some type cast on one hand, are coping better.
“I think they’re getting used to carrying around that extra weight on their hands. It’s getting better. The cast doesn’t change, it’s not going away. But I think they’re getting used to using it,” he said.He also said end Bud Dupree, who missed the Alabama game, has been “practicing every day” and gives the defense a boost.
“Bud’s one of our best players, if not our best player. I think Bud has a huge impact in everything we do on defense,” Eliot said. He also praised McClain, a true freshman defensive back who has played some at linebacker.
“He’s done extremely well for a freshman. He’s very mature, so that helped him. Sometimes you just get a freshman like that, that can handle it. Doesn’t get stressed and is able to perform at a high level early, and he’s been able to do that for us,” Eliot said.He said Mississippi State likes to play fast and “they start fast” most games.”They have an option-type offense from the spread look. Sometimes, the speed of the game is hard to adjust to. You’ve got to come out ready to go knowing that they’re going to have tempo, and we have to be able to adjust,” Eliot said while noting some things are similar to UK’s offense. “They’ve got an up-tempo offense like we do. Some of the Q-run may be a little different than ours. Their quarterback is very athletic, makes a lot of plays on his feet. He makes good decisions, got a strong arm. I think that he makes the thing run. He’s the key to that thing.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Mark Stoops is not a coach to go deep into injury reports. However, he shed some light on Jason Hatcher, Bud Dupree and Blake McClain after practice Wednesday.
On making Hatcher’s cast smaller: “I’m going to definitely try to cut that thing down a little bit, yeah. For sure. Looks a little bulky right now. He’s doing OK.”
On Dupree’s status for Saturday: “He hasn’t practiced. He has not. Has not practiced, so it doesn’t look good.”
On McClain continuing to wear a cast: “He’s good to go. He’s been – since whatever game that was when he dislocated it and came back; the Florida game, we talked about it. I think it’s just been bothering him since then. But he’s been good.”
What if Dupree can’t play: “Well, we’re working on some things, but Hatcher will get a amped-up role. We’re moving some guys around and getting the best options.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot isn’t sure if end Bud Dupree, one of UK’s best defenders, will play against No. 1 Alabama Saturday because of a pectoral injury and freshman end Jason Hatcher also has a cast on his hand after breaking two bones against South Carolina — and continuing to play last week.
“It’s just part of football,” Eliot said. “It’s like that everywhere I’ve been, so we just practice with what we’ve got and make sure we’ve got somebody prepared for the game and then just let her rip.”
Even though UK gave up 35 points to South Carolina, Eliot thought the Wildcats did “some good things” in the second half.
“The kids fought back, never quit. There was plenty we could’ve done better. There were some spots, especially early in the game, that if we had done some things correctly, if we had played the plays properly, we really could have done some better things on defense,” Eliot said.
Here’s more of what he had to say in preparation for playing No. 1 Alabama.
Question: What is the most difficult thing about stopping Alabama’s offense?
Eliot: “Just their physicality. They’re so big and so physical. They can run it right down your throat. They’ve got big linemen, they’ve got big backs. You’ve got to matchup to that, and that’s the toughest thing about the game.”
Question: What makes Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron special?
Eliot: “I think that he is a very, very good quarterback. The reason that he’s good is because he makes great decisions. He understands his offense, he plays within his offense, he has great patience. He doesn’t panic. Therefore he’s tough to stop.”
Question: How has safety Eric Dixon played and what do you say after he misses a key tackle like he did late in the South Carolina loss?
Eliot: “He has done some good things, and we just made the correction on why he missed the play. He should’ve kept his feet, should’ve seen what he hit, wrapped up and run his feet. Eric Dixon has done some good things for us this year, and he’s going to be a guy we need to count on the rest of the season.”
Question: Are the players different after perhaps gaining confidence at South Carolina?
Eliot: “I don’t know. We’ll see. We’re just going to take it one practice at a time and push them to the limit every single day and every single rep, and hopefully they’ll respond the right way.”
Question: Do coaches get inspired to play a No. 1 opponent?
Eliot: “We try to take the approach that the most important game is the next game, so we continue to take that approach. We get fired up for every opponent.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
From the day he arrived at Kentucky, assistant coach Vince Marrow has believed that the Wildcats’ football program is going to rise to a new level under coach Mark Stoops, his childhood friend.
Marrow, Kentucky’s tight ends coach, has had incredible success recruiting in Ohio, and the Cats’ 1-2 start has done nothing to dampen his enthusiasm.
“This thing is going to change, and it’s going to change quick. I have a good group of experience at tight ends. They are hard kids that want to win and they play hard for me. But I can’t say these guys are not used to losing. That’s why you see the younger guys are coming. They are making plays,” Marrow said. “But I believe this: Some programs are where they are at, and some are on their way down, and some are on their way up. I am telling you, these people we recruit against, they know. They know, and that’s why the people in the Midwest are so upset with kids we are getting from Ohio and other places. We have their attention.”
Here’s more of what Marrow had to say about the Kentucky program:
Question: How much better do you feel about this team because of the fight it showed against Louisville that was missing against Western Kentucky?
Marrow: “I am like Mark (Stoops). I am from the same place. We don’t believe in having somebody say, ‘You guys played well.’ We want to win the game. But from week one to week three, it was a big improvement, and I have to give these guys credit — they are really fighting. I really was encouraged.
“Of course you want to win, but they took to the field what they have been taught in practice.”
Question: Can a team lose a game and still take a step forward?
Marrow: “This may be the first time you will hear me say this, but I was very proud of the way these guys played against Louisville. The crowd had to see these guys fought to the end. We had our opportunities … that’s what the fans are going to see.
“We are going to coach real hard, and it is going to get better. We are going to get more and more players in here. I am just speaking for myself, but we are going to refuse to take a back seat to anyone. I really like where we are going. I really do.”
Question: Is that the same thing you are telling players verbally committed in the 2014 recruiting class?
Marrow: “Yes. You can’t be a second fiddle or second character to people or other programs. When we came here, we said we were going to recruit the best players. That’s what we are doing, and they are buying into it.
“People think, and we keep hearing it, that our recruits may back off after we lost to Western Kentucky. Those guys were texting me and each other and Facebooking each other saying they couldn’t wait until they get here. They know our staff and what we are doing here.
“I am very proud of the players we have here now and very proud of the players we will have in the future.”
Question: How much do the current freshmen help sell the program to recruits?
Marrow: “I want to say 80 percent or more of them are playing, and they ain’t just playing because we are throwing them in there. They are good. You look at Ryan Timmons, Marcus McWilson, Jaleel Hytchye, JoJo Kemp, Jeff Badet, Jason Hatcher. You can go on and on.
“The good thing about that is the type of guys we were recruiting, we knew we were going against the best teams in the country. We are getting these guys and they are making an impact.”
Question: Do you feel even more strongly that future recruiting is going to get better and better?
Marrow: “I feel that. We had six weeks in recruiting last year, and it was a top-25 class. With the 2014 class, we are in the top five, top 10. We are on them, and our 2014 class is almost filled up like the other big programs do. We are on to the 2015 and 2016 kids. We have a good jump on these guys.
“We have some major, big-time kids here for the Louisville game that will be top-200, top-250 kids in the country. They see what the 2014 class is doing … and I am not just speaking for Ohio. I am speaking nationally. You got the top Kentucky kids, the top Ohio kids, and nationally other kids want to come and play with great players.
“So they look at the offer list and they see they have got Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Nebraska, and they are coming to Kentucky. So they want to go play in the SEC and be close to home, too.”
Here is what freshman defensive end Jason Hatcher had to say after Saturday’s game in which he played more than he had in UK’s previous two games:
On how Louisville was having a difficult time blocking Hatcher…
“That was part of our game plan. We came out in some different looks just to throw them off. We didn’t want to be sitting ducks out there. It worked in the first half.”
On what Kentucky was doing right at the beginning of the game…
“We were playing our assignments. We were giving looks they hadn’t seen before, as far as our defense, giving them something that they didn’t really prepare for. It was kind of our game plan and they just came out in the second half and adjusted.”
On whether Louisville seemed surprise to see Hatcher at linebacker…
“I think they were pretty surprised by it. Like I said, we only gave three points and then they came out and made some adjustments and made some big plays.”
On whether he felt good about the game going into halftime…
“No, I mean I knew we had a whole other half to play. They came out the second half and put points up right away. The first half is just the first part of the game. I knew it was going to be a long game.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Jason Hatcher and James Quick were teammates on powerful Louisville Trinity teams and two of Kentucky’s best players their junior and senior seasons.
Now they will be opponents Saturday when Kentucky hosts Louisville. Hatcher is a defensive end at UK and Quick, Kentucky’s 2012 Mr. Football, is a receiver at Louisville.
“I probably won’t talk to him this week,” said Hatcher, who was recruited by Louisville just like Quick was recruited by Kentucky. “I might give him a good luck text (message). We do talk when I get home. We might meet up or something. It’s going to be a good game, but I don’t think we will be talking until after the game.”
Hatcher shared these other thoughts going into Saturday’s rivalry game.
Question: How did it feel to get your first win at Kentucky against Miami (Ohio)?
Hatcher: “It was a great feeling. It was a lot of hard work to win it. We had a lot of corrections to make from last week and came out with a lot of energy and focus. Just a lot more wins to come.”
Question: How much does it help when the team plays with more energy like it did against Miami?
Hatcher: “People just did their job and played assignment football like we needed to do.”
Question: What will the game with Louisville be like for you?
Hatcher: “Obviously it is going to be a big deal with my connections to home rivalry and my relationship with some of the people on the team. But at the same time, it is just going to be another game. We have to go out there … we are going to prepare all week in practice and give it our all.”
Question: Is your family red, blue, split between red and blue?
Hatcher: “It depends on which part you ask. You know what I mean? But for the most part, my family is Kentucky.”
Question: Is that because you are at UK now or has it always been that way?
Hatcher: “Yes, because I am here.”
Question: How would you have answered before you signed with Kentucky?
Hatcher: “I would have been like we have a red and white basement.”
Question: Does that make this week fun or painful for your family?
Hatcher: “It is fun. It is all between the lines. Outside those lines, I still have good relationships with those guys. But inside those lines, we are going to get after it. But this is home. They are coming into our backyard, so we will have that on edge. It’s a tough week.”
Question: Do you know a lot of Louisville’s older players because of the way Louisville recruited you for so long?
Hatcher: “Yes, I do. They have some great guys and a lot of depth. It will be a great game. I know a lot of the younger guys and the staff, too. We just have to prepare for a great team over there.”
Question: Do you see with the younger players here a lot better times ahead for UK like what Louisville is enjoying now?
Hatcher: “Most definitely. We have a lot of good young guys on offense and defense. Our offensive guys are explosive and we have freshman playing on defense like Blake McClain. And myself.”
Question: Are you learning a lot backing up Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith?
Hatcher: “Oh yeah. I know a learn from Bud every day in practice, and Z as well because I played both sides. Bud is more of an athlete and Z is the technician of the defense. I get both sides of it.”
Which newcomers should make the biggest impact for UK against Western Kentucky tonight?
“That’s a good question. Ryan Timmons is a guy that we all are excited about. He’ll be out there. He’ll play quite a bit. Javess Blue, who’s not a youngster — he’s a junior college transfer. We expect a lot out of Javess. Jason Hatcher has been very impressive throughout camp,” UK coach Mark Stoops said.
“Alex (Montgomery). I’ve been bragging on him. Alex has been extremely good through camp, expect to see him out there quite a bit.”
What is there about Hatcher that stands out?
“He’s got a motor. He’s very explosive, and it’s important to him. So we expect him to contribute. He’s got a little bit more depth in front of him. And he’s had a few nagging injuries through camp that have slowed him a little bit. Nothing major. He’s missed a little time that’s put him behind,” Stoops said
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh was an all-Southeastern Conference defensive tackle at Auburn where he started 44 of 48 games and had 291 tackles and three times made the all-SEC team. He played with the San Francisco 49ers in 2000, but spent most of his pro career in the XFL with the Birmingham Bolts and in arena football with the Georgia Force and Birmingham Steel Dogs.
Brumbaugh was also a member of LSU’s staff during its national championship in 2007 and his most recent BCS stop was a two-year stint at Syracuse University, where he coached the defensive tackles in 2011 and the defensive line in 2010. He coached last year at East Mississippi Community College and helped the team to a top 10 national ranking and 8-2 record.
Brumbaugh shared his thoughts on UK’s defensive front after a recent practice.
Question: How do you feel depth is developing on the defensive front?
Brumbaugh: “Right now we have some guys behind the inside guys (Mister) Cobble and Donte (Rumph) that we are trying to work in there. Mike Douglas and Tristian Johnson have been doing some things well and getting better. That’s what we are trying to do. We are trying to build those second-team guys to get in there and do things.”
Question: How are freshman Jacob Hyde and redshirt freshman Patrick Graffree doing at tackle?
Brumbaugh: “They are really coming along. I have been pleasantly surprised by both of them. Experience is the key to success. I am just trying to put them in good situations. They have been picking it up. They just need more reps.”
Question: Has it helped freshman Jason Hatcher get more reps at end with junior college transfer Za’Darius Smith being out with an ankle injury?
Brumbaugh: “We knew that we were going to bring him along fast, so I don’t think Za’Darius going down or not being here really changed that. We knew we wanted to get him in there because he has some ability. He is strong for his size and has the ability to come off the edge. He does some good things with just having a quick twitch off the edge to give us a pass rusher.”
Question: Has it been frustrating not to have Smith on the field?
Brumbaugh: “No. I know what he can do. We want to make sure he is healthy. If you put them out there too fast and they are not healthy, it can hurt us.”
Question: Would it be tougher if you had not coached him in junior college?
Brumbaugh: “Yeah, it would be. I had him all last year and all spring. I know what he can do and what his strengths and weaknesses are. When he comes back, we will be able to put him in there and work with him.”
Question: What will we see when he is able to play and go full speed?
Brumbaugh: “He was still working around these guys when he got here in the spring and learning how to do things. Now that he is at that point, I think he will go back to what he was, that guy who can really make plays. We need him back and being an impact defensive end for us.”
Question: Have you had anyone along the front emerge as a leader?
Brumbaugh: “I think a couple of guys. I don’t think I have one guy that I can just say he is the dominant leader in the pack. I have a lot of guys that are right there, but no guy that is just that leader. I tell you, I have been surprised and happy with them and their attitudes. They want to work and want to get better.”
He’s no longer an official part of the Kentucky football team, but former Wildcat defensive end Jeremy Jarmon is still around the program enough to see “a lot of encouraging things” about the upcoming season.
“We are talking about a lot of young, talented players,” said Jarmon, UK’s assistant director of football operations under coach Joker Phillips and briefly under new coach Mark Stoops. “Look at young defensive linemen like Jason Hatcher and Reggie Meant. It looks like we finally have a little bit of depth in the line and good overall players.”
Jarmon, who played in the NFL, believes Stoops and his staff have done the best possible job of energizing not only the UK fan base, but also the players.
“They have gotten players to buy into what they are doing and that is so evident at practice when you see the weight loss on some players. Some guys just look completely different,” Jarmon said.
He used senior running back Raymond Sanders as an example of a transformed older player.
“He has really bought in. You can tell that by some things he did in practice,” Sanders said. “He looked quicker, more elusive. It’s encouraging to see older players like him buying in. You are talking about guys who have been here four years, five years and they are buying in. A lot of times when there is a coaching change, older guys do not buy into the new system. Actually, they do the opposite because they really don’t care. But they are buying in and taking care of the younger players, too.”
Jarmon thinks there is a “legitimate” quarterback battle between Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow.
“Max is trying to come back off his injury and get some of his confidence back. Jalen is a dual threat guy and (offensive coordinator) Neal Brown would love to implement him in the offense to give us more of a threat,” Jarmon said. “If there is a leader, it’s pretty small. They are that close.”
Jarmon was part of some of UK’s best defensive lines in recent years. He knows many expect ends Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith along with tackles Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph to be the strength of UK’s defense. He also understands why there could be skeptics.
“We struggled some last year on the defensive front. I don’t know how you could be overly optimistic about there being a 360-degree change,” Jarmon said. “But having Za’Darius Smith and the things he brings to the table and a guy like Bud Dupree to go with Rumph and Cobble, they could be good. All four belong in the SEC.
“There will be a bit of a learning curve for some new guys, but they have a lot of pride and ego. I am confident things will pick up and the defensive line will be a strong point. Coach (Jimmy) Brumbaugh is not going to let his position group disappoint. It won’t be allowed.”
He says Meant is “big and it’s hard to believe he’s only a freshman.”
Hatcher has impressed him even more
“Just how strong he is and how he doesn’t back down from older guys. He is not a tall guy but he caught my attention with how he works,” Jarmon said before noting Hatcher reminded him of former UK star Vincent “Sweet Pea” Burns. “He has talent. I know Brumbaugh will really work with him. If he can bring a spin move to game, he can be something special. He is quick. His numbers in term of athleticism, they are off the charts.”