December 26, 2011

Williamson forced way into rotation as sophomore

This is the sixth in a series previewing the Kentucky football team's 2012 roster by examining young players who made their mark this season. We look today at the linebackers, a group that will see more turnover than any other unit on the team going into the 2012 season. Three starters, including a pair of all-conference performers will be lost, leaving an athletic, albeit green group of players in their place.

Name: Avery Williamson
Rivals 2010 recruiting rating: 3-star (5.8)
Height: 6-foot-1 Weight: 229
2012 class: True junior

What he did in 2011:
Williamson was buried on the depth chart in 2010 and contributed mainly on special teams, but became an underrated part of the defense as a sophomore. Even though senior middle linebacker Ronnie Sneed had a strong season, Williamson was too good to keep on the sidelines. He didn't earn a start, as Sneed remained healthy all season, but played in every game and was a contributor all season long.

Williamson finished the year with 49 tackles, good for fifth on the team. That's an incredible total for a player who didn't earn a single start and was playing in relief of some of the best players on Kentucky's defense. He's also a vocal player and well-suited to playing in the middle and organizing the defense. Williamson has the frame to play middle linebacker and the attitude. As a sophomore, he combined those things and quietly had one of the more productive seasons on the team.

His emergence in the offseason had already pushed Qua Huzzie to another position even before he transferred in fall camp. His best game came in extended time against Jacksonville State, where he had a career-high seven tackles. That's not a bad starting point for what should be expected of him in the starting lineup.

Final statistics: 26 unassisted tackles, 23 assisted tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, one interception, one forced fumble.

On the way out: Sneed, senior linebacker Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy, who was technically a hybrid player but usually lined up in the box, will all leave. Only junior Ridge Wilson, who played a hybrid linebacker/defensive end position, returns at the group.

What he'll do in 2012:
For all the positives to be said about Williamson, he and the rest of the linebacker will still have huge shoes to fill. Outside of Sneed, he's the most experienced player - and he's never made a start. As a whole, the young players have the talent to keep the tradition of linebacker being one of the strongest units on the team, a lineage that includes Woodyard, Kelley, Johnson, Maxwell, and now, Trevathan. But they have a long way to go to fulfill that potential, and Williamson is no different.

But the fact that he could crack a senior-laden rotation at linebacker as an underclassman speaks volumes. Though other linebackers may have made flashier plays or drawn more praise from the coaches for their work in practice, Williamson was the most consistently productive player for the unit outside of the starters.

Coaches have said that many of the young players still need to spend time learning Rick Minter's complex defensive system. Williamson isn't one of them. He appears to already have a strong grasp of the scheme, which is essential for a middle linebacker, responsible for relaying play calls to the rest of the defense. A lot will be expected out of Williamson to make up for all the lost production. But if there's one player who has already shown that he'll be comfortable as a full-time player next year at linebacker, it's him.

Also look out for:
Alvin Dupree stepped in and started the final two games when Ridge Wilson was out with a torn labrum and was a more than capable backup. Dupree arrived at UK with the chance to play tight end or linebacker, but a glut at tight end pushed him to defense. He was explosive as a pass rusher and confident in his playmaking as a freshman. It remains to be seen if he can beat Wilson for the starting job, but he'll find his way on the field often no matter what.

Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips has compared Malcom McDuffen, who will be a redshirt sophomore, to Trevathan. He's a bit undersized at 217 pounds, but has the speed to make tackles all over the place. McDuffen has taken the comparisons in stride, even though he's only rarely played on defense. If he lives up to those expectations, linebacker will remain one of the strongest units on the team.

There are also some developmental players who could find their way on the field. It seems like Tim Patterson has been around forever, but he'll be a redshirt freshman when the fall rolls around. He could play if he's fully recovered from his injuries. Josh Forrest, Jabari Johnson and Demarius Rancifer were all newcomers this year and while they might not be major players next year, they're still young guys to keep an eye on in seasons to come.

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