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Young crop of linebackers expect to continue tradition of success

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Bud Dupree looks to make a big impact at linebacker in 2012. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Bud Dupree looks to make a big impact at linebacker in 2012. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Over the last seven years, a bit of success has turned into expectation at for the Kentucky defense. Six different Kentucky linebackers have been tabbed All-Southeastern Conference performers with one First-Team All-America selection in the form of Danny Trevathan. The second line of defense has delivered traditional success over that time under the watchful eye of Chuck Smith, the eighth-year linebacker coach at UK.

With outside expectations low for the 2012 season, it will be perhaps Smith's toughest task to date. There are no All-Americans returning. There are no All-SEC linebackers making their way back to Lexington this fall.  Essentially, Smith is starting from scratch. But while the big name has yet to emerge, Smith is enjoying the opportunity to coach up his young and hungry talent.

"It's been a lot of fun," said Smith. "It's obviously been frustrating at times because you want to see them go faster and understand it faster and grow quicker and more mature. But you've got to be patient as a coach and let them keep plugging away. And the thing that makes it fun, every day they come back they're hungry to have another good day and try to inch a little bit closer to what they all want."

Junior Avery Williamson has received much of the early praise in camp, and deservedly so. He's been a model teammate over the summer and transition into fall camp. He is the vocal leader of the defense, and has the most experience of any returning linebacker on the roster.

But ask Smith and he'll tell you that there are other guys in this group ready to make an impact.

"Tyler Brause. He's really stepped up. He's doing a great job," said Smith. "Malcolm McDuffen's done a good job. Jabari Johnson's coming on a little bit. Josh Forrest has really done a nice job. So those guys are coming and they're coming fast."

Even still, Williamson has yet to start a game in his collegiate career. It's a young, inexperienced position and this year, there are no Danny Trevathans or Winston Guys walking through that door. This will have to be a collective group effort. The linebackers will have to rely on each other if they hope to match the success of their predecessors.

Bud Dupree, a budding young prospect who made three starts as a true freshman last year, recognizes that Williamson is at the forefront of the pack, but he knows this young, thick-as-thieves core they are building can help each individual reach his goals.

"We just look to each other," said Dupree. "Everyone's trying to be a leader together. So we're a whole. Instead of one person being a leader, this is like a big group of leadership trying to come together as one."

Though the physical presence of last year's defensive leaders in Trevathan and Guy is absent, the SEC's top-two tacklers in 2011 have their fingerprints all over the 2012 squad.

The leadership that last year's seniors contributed made long-lasting impressions with their underclass teammates. Today's players are not only staying in contact and talking with NFL rookies Trevathan and Guy, but they are trying to emulate what they do on the field to supplement their own skills.

In McDuffen's first two years, he formed a bond with his "big brother" in Trevathan. Though the First-Team All-American is in Denver studying under another former Wildcat in Wesley Woodyard, McDuffen makes sure to stay in contact with his close friend whenever he needs advice.

"When it comes down to football," said McDuffen, "I always ask (Trevathan) about little things and how he would do something in particular. I'd ask him 'How do you do that?' And he would tell me, and I'd try to break it down and I'd try to imitate it as best as I can."

Miles Simpson's relationship with both Trevathan and Guy has helped make Simpson's transition from safety to linebacker rather seamless. He draws inspiration and wisdom from both players after watching them play ahead of him for the last two years.

Simpson enjoyed a prolific career as a running back for in-state Simon Kenton High School in Northern Kentucky. When he got to UK, they decided his size and speed would better suit the team on defense in the safety position. With a wealth of depth at safety, the decision was made to have Simpson make yet another change to the versatile defender's resume.

Now the sophomore linebacker looks to borrow playing styles from his former teammates.

"Mainly from Winston, he had a nose for the ball," said Simpson. "He knew how to use his hands so I've been trying to mimic him, because that's been one of my weaker spots right now. He's taught me a lot with learning coverages and what to do. Danny was a really big striker, so that's what I'm trying to take from him."

His coach is particularly excited with his development as well. Smith has been impressed with Simpson's skill set and feels that he brings a bit of the toughness that the linebacker position necessitates.

"He's done a great job," said Smith of Simpson. "He's kind of an old school guy. He's just kind of rough and rugged and kind of got that old school mentality about it; Likes the physical part of it. He's just got to use the tools that he has to his advantage to be the best player that he can be."

Now the challenge is actually getting up to speed to be able to make an impact on Saturdays. Each of these players is well aware of the reputation at the linebacker position, now it's their responsibility to uphold the name.

Woodyard, Sam Maxwell, Micah Johnson, Trevathan and Guy have are all names closely associated with linebackers at UK. Now guys like Williamson, McDuffen, Dupree and the rest of the group are looking to make names of their own.

"It means a lot," said Dupree of the tradition. "We've always had good linebackers, so we're just trying to produce and continue to produce big-name linebackers from Kentucky. Hopefully we can get more than one this year."

The tradition is not coincidence. It's no string of good luck. Despite responsibility over an inexperienced position group, Smith's resume speaks for itself. All-SEC linebackers are the rule, not the exception.

"We want All-SEC linebackers," said Smith. "That's what we want and I think that's what these guys want. I have a board in (our meeting room) where everybody who has made All-SEC, I put them on there. Those guys want to be on that board. I think the expectations are high and they want to meet those expectations."

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