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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
As far as Kentucky defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh is concerned, junior defensive end Za’Darius Smith is “right where he should be” with his development.
“I think right now he has seen the speed of the game and is now trying to understand how to transition to the pass rush off the play-action. Just the tempo of the game and how big and athletic these guys are is what he’s learned to handle,” said Brumbaugh. “I think he is right where I thought he would be.
“He has been working hard. He never has a fault about anything. I can get on him and he will go try to fix it. That is what I love about him. He is not a guy that is going to talk back and this and that. He is going to listen to what I tell him and try to utilize it and get better.”
Smith played for Brumbaugh at East Mississippi Community College in 2012 and was a second-team All-American after making 47 tackles, including 6.5 quarterback sacks. He was one of the high profile signees in UK coach Mark Stoops’ first recruiting class after Brumbaugh joined Stoops’ staff.
“One reason I came here is because I know what he (Brumbaugh) is about and he has a lot of technique work to help me,” Smith said.
Smith, who did not play football until his final year of high school, has 16 solo stops and 19 assists this season. He has a team-high 5.5 quarterback sacks.
He says there’s no reason for him to question Brumbaugh, a former all-SEC defensive lineman, or complain about what he’s told to do to improve.
“Coming out of Mississippi like I did, I had to be tough about it. My first time away from home and having him to coach me is a great feeling,” Smith said. “This year has been hard at times, but it is a team effort and we just have to keep working. There is still a lot to come from me just getting better at playing the pass and run.”
He says end Bud Dupree, who had 13 tackles at Mississippi State and has a team-high 6.5 tackles for loss, and tackle Mister Cobble have helped him the most this season.
“Just when it gets tough, they tell me to cool out and it will get better soon,” Smith said.
Smith can get a bit emotional when he makes a big play.
“When I was little, I always watched football on Saturday and just wanted to be happy and play in this league. Now I am here and just want to give it all I’ve got,” he said.
Brumbaugh says Smith has given UK all he’s had, including playing in pain and not complaining whether he’s asked to move inside or continue to play when he’s tired.
“He played a lot of reps (against Alabama) and never came off the field and said, ‘Coach, I can’t go.’ He knows and tries to give his all every time out there. He never complains and you respect that,” Brumbaugh said.
Smith’s name has been mentioned as a possibility in next year’s NFL draft talk if he decided to bypass his second — and final — season at UK.
“Sometimes I do think about the NFL, but Coach (Brumbaugh) tells me not to worry and just play football. That’s easy to do, too, because I have so much to learn,” Smith said. “We have plenty left to do here. I felt great about being here. I like life here. Sometimes the weather gets me, but life here is good. So there’s no reason to worry about anything in the future.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Here’s a bit more from my recent conversation with UK defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh, a coach I believe UK fans are going to really love as they get to know him more and see how his players perform.
Question: When you recruit, what do you tell players and their parents about Kentucky?
Brumbaugh: “The first thing I do is sell the head coach. Coach Stoops is guy you have to believe in. It is my job to get you to understand what kind of person our head coach is. That is not very hard because he is a genuine guy that cares about the player and person. That’s not a hard sell. Next thing I sell is that you are going to have a good teacher. We have a lot of good teachers that care about you getting better. It is not feather in their cap just because they signed you. They want you to get better. But any time you truly believe in something, it is easy selling it.”
Question: What’s one thing UK fans might not know about you that you wish they did?
Brumbaugh: “I have a lot of passion for coaching and teaching and I love to see players do well not only on field but off the field. When they get a degree and are successful that is the best feeling in world. You know you have done everything you can to help them not only on the field but in the classroom. That’s why are in this business — to watch guys do well, graduate and take care of their family.:
Question: What do you like to do away from football?
Brumbaugh: “We do not get a lot of time off. I really like to spend time with my son and what he does. In about four years he will be in college. I really cherish my days with him. He will be grown up and gone. I just focus on that. He is going to be a quarterback at Henry Clay and is a freshman. I just spend time with him. We are on the road here and there. You hear all the stories about coaches not spending time with their kids, but I try to make sure I do spend time with him.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Question: What is it like to coach a player with the outgoing personality of end Bud Dupree?
Defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh: “It is unbelievable. He is such a great guy. No problems. Sometimes with superstar guys there are going to be problems or always want to be babied. He is a tough, physical guy that likes to go to war and work every day.”
Question: How has freshman tackle Reggie Meant done?
Brumbaugh: “He has done really well. He is a physical guy and that’s what we have to have. He has a good sized body, a SEC type body. That’s what we need in this league.”
Question: Is it fair when other says you will not let the defensive line not be good?
Brumbaugh: “You have to. I tell everybody — it doesn’t matter if you have older guys in the secondary or younger guys, it doesn’t matter. That front has to be right. If that front is not right, it’s all going to come on us. We have to make sure we are right up front. That’s the biggest thing. I tell them I don’t care if you are a freshman, sophomore or whatever you are, we have to get right.”
Question: Has Mister Cobble, a senior, changed from spring practice until now?
Brumbaugh: “Dramatically. You watch the tape from last year to this year and he is starting to understand the game and how to fit things in and do things. He is the point man in the middle. He’s the guy who shuts everything down. If he can get that double team, he can help us out a lot.”
Question: Do your players like the pressure of knowing they have to be good for this defense to be competitive this year?
Brumbaugh: “We love the pressure. We have to have the pressure. Like I tell you, it starts up front. I am always telling my guys we are part of the solution, not the problem. It is on our back to be good. That is just what it is.”
By ASHLEY SCOBY
Mister Cobble is stuck right in the middle.
He still is in the process of learning techniques and life lessons from older guys he has played with in the past. But as a senior at UK this year, Cobble is also being called upon to provide leadership and help teach the younger defensive linemen the things he was taught as a youngster as well.
According to Cobble, he still stays in touch with former UK defensive linemen-turned NFL linemen, such as Myron Pryor (formerly with the New England Patriots) and Corey Peters (Atlanta Falcons).
“Every day you get older, you just keep learning,” Cobble said. “I feel like there is never a day where you can stop learning … It’s a dual process. As I learn and gather information, I’ve also got to pass it down.”
Pryor, who was drafted by the Patriots in the 2009 draft, taught Cobble a lot of what he had learned in New England’s defensive formations: hand placements, specific pass-rushing moves, etc. Cobble has taken all of that to heart as one of Kentucky’s front men.
As a sophomore, Cobble led all of UK’s defensive linemen with 33 tackles on the year, as well as one sack at Georgia. Last season, he missed two games but still finished with 25 tackles, as well as two sacks against Louisville and Vanderbilt.
Now, Cobble is ready to head into his senior season in Lexington, and kicked things off by losing weight as part of Erik Korem’s high performance program. He said he has lost about 15-20 pounds, which will help him be lighter on his feet in pass rushing situations.
Kentucky’s defensive scheme – back to a 4-3 with the edition of defensive coordinator DJ Eliot – will also be in Cobble’s favor, he says.
“It’s nothing against the 3-4,” he said. “The 4-3 is what I played in high school and that’s what made me dominant. Being in it again, I feel like it allows the defense to be more aggressive.”
Aggression is something that comes pretty easy for most defensive linemen. But patience is also key, and that is what Eliot has stressed the most when it comes to Cobble.
“He’s told me to just not worry about what’s going on in the backfield because it’ll come to you as you progress through the play,” Cobble said. “For now, just focus on the man in front of you and dominate them.”
If Cobble learns that patience, and continues to stay as aggressive as the 4-3 defense demands of him, it could spell out a breakout season for Cobble, as long as he stays healthy. With that, comes the possibility of playing at the next level.
Cobble’s position coach, Jimmy Brumbaugh, spent part of this summer with the Miami Dolphins as part of his Bill Walsh Minority Fellowship. His tutelage is something Cobble believes can help him get to that point.
“When he (Brumbaugh) went to the Dolphins, they were just learning things that he already had been doing for the past couple years,” Cobble said. “So he came back from them and came to us and told us, ‘Look, in the NFL, they just started what we’ve been practicing since spring.’ I feel like what he’s doing right now is getting us ready for the next level.”
With Brumbaugh’s and Eliot’s coaching, Cobble hopes to combine what he’s learned mentally with his powerful, physical frame (6-0, 338) for a chance to be drafted like his mentors were before him, such as Peters. Amongst all the talk on technique and movement that Cobble has had with Peters, one particular bit of advice stands out.
“I always wanted to be like him,” Cobble said. “The best thing he ever told me was to be better than him. Every day I just try to remember how he was and just try to be one step better than that.”
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.”
By KEITH TAYLOR, Winchester Sun
For Za’Darius Smith, winning a national championship is one thing. Competing in a league that’s won the past seven national championships will be another dream come true.
“I feel great (about the season) because I get a chance to play in the Southeastern Conference,” Smith, a defensive end, said. “I basically get a chance to play on television so my mom can see me and get a big feeling out of it. I’m just waiting for that time to get here.”
Smith has been waiting to showcase his talent on the field since arriving on campus in January as one of the top junior college defensive ends in the nation. He will be counted on to provide an achor at one of the two defensive end slots. Bud Dupree will be opposite of Smith, giving the Cats a solid 1-2 punch on the defensive line. Smith turned in an impressive performance in the spring game, displaying the traits he performed during the past two seasons at East Mississippi Community College. During his two seasons there, the Lions compiled a 20-2 mark and won the NJCAA National Championship in 2011.
During the summer break, Smith “worked in the weight room, studied film and worked on everything technique-wise” to improve.
“I’ve gotten a lot better,” Smith said. “I’ve been in the weight room so much and working (hard). I’ve found myself just getting bigger and quicker. Most people look at the spring game and tell me how good I am, but I don’t worry about that. I just worry about getting through this camp and getting the season started. I am improving and working harder to get better.”
Despite his success in the junior college ranks, Smith, who didn’t start playing football until his senior year in high school at Greenville High in Alabama, isn’t satisfied with his achievements at East Mississippi. He chose the Wildcats because of Mark Stoops’ pedigree as a defensive-minded coach. Kentucky defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh also coached Smith while the pair were at East Mississippi.
“Coach Stoops brought in a good program and that’s one reason why I came here is because of the way they work,” Smith said. “In junior college we couldn’t get that much work because we had so many people trying out and playing (football). We’re really trying our best to work as hard as we can here.”
He added that having Stoops at the helm has been a plus for the defense.
“That’s a good thing,” he said. “The one thing I’ve thought about with coach Stoops is how will come into defensive meetings and telling us what we’re doing wrong and telling us what we have to do right. We look up to him because of how his teams play defense.”
As a unit, Smith said the Cats have a chance to be successful on the defensive end, despite question marks at linebacker and in the secondary.
“We do have potential,” he said. “I’ve seen that myself just from watching film from the spring game, we’ve got a good defense coming along. Everything starts up front and we have older guys who are starting up front. We’ve just got to be leaders up front.”
He added the Wildcats can “win a lot of games” and said third-down defense will be the key once the season begins on Aug. 31 against Western Kentucky at LP Field in Nashville.
“We’re going to bring the heat and the whole defensive package,” he said with a smile.
Smith’s favorite part of football is the fourth quarter “when the game is close.” He also likes tackling opposing quarterbacks, but hasn’t developed a “sack dance.”
“In junior college, I just made a run back to the sideline,” he said with a smile. “I’m not going to say I don’t have a swag, but we’ll come up with something.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
What kind of background does defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh have with Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops?
“He knows the guy (Pete Jenkins) who coached me in college. (Head coach) Jimbo Fisher at Florida State was on the staff at Auburn when I played there and was with me at LSU. He brought in coach Jenkins to help and had a lot of success for three years there. That is the way I got to meet those guys. Coach Stoops was looking for the same kind of teacher when he gave me this opportunity,” Brumbaugh said.
“I only heard good things about him. He wants good guys to work for him. Everybody sang his praises of how good a person he is and that he allows you to be a teacher. He is an old school coach with new school ideas that allows me to be a teacher.”
Brumbaugh has no doubts that he can make UK’s players better.
“I really believe we can make guys better. I was a two-star guy out of high school in Florida. I ended up being a three-time all-SEC lineman. I learned fundamentally what to do,” Brumbaugh said. “You can take average guys and make them better players. If you that philosophy, you will be successful. That’s the approach I take. Give me a guy that can run and is flexible and wants to be good and I will make him a player.”
Kentucky defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh has a clear vision for what he wants to do at UK.
“I want to build a foundation and create a culture so that they take pride in being UK defensive linemen,” Brumbaugh said. “Everywhere I have been that is what we created. At LSU we created that. At Auburn. That’s what my main focus is now. They have learned how to deliver a blow, release off a block and create good habits.
“I went back and watched some stuff from spring practice. From when we first started practice to the last day, I saw guys doing things that I didn’t see when I was just watching their progression daily. I went back to watch and analyze. I saw improvement and guys getting better. I saw them releasing off blocks and doing things I asked. Those are the kind of situations I felt really good about after watching.
“They have got a good foundation now. This first year I just want to build that foundation. The second year we will take it to a higher learning level. But I really saw guys getting better with little things that are key and that got me excited.”