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Front seven taking shape as opener approaches

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If the Wildcats are nervous as the final days pass before Kentucky's season opener against UT Martin, it isn't showing in practice.

It was another day of productive work for UK on Wednesday.

"We had a good practice today," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "Guys were into it, focused, getting better fundamentally and ready to play."

Ready to play and mostly healthy. Outside of wide receivers Jeff Badet (eye) and Alexander Montgomery (recovery from knee surgery), UK is expected to be at full strength at noon ET on Saturday.

"We're right where we thought we'd be," Eliot said. "Everybody's ready to go. Everybody's geared up and ready for the game and we won't miss a beat."

That includes star senior Bud Dupree, who made it through fall camp even though he was prevented from doing his favorite thing: hitting the quarterback.

"It's horrible having the quarterbacks in red jerseys and having to stop on a play, stop before you can get to them and stopping on offensive linemen sometimes," Dupree said. "Sometimes you want to go through the linemen and just hit them but you know you can't."

The Southeastern Conference's active sack leader only has to wait three more days before getting a shot at an opposing quarterback, and he'll do it both standing and with his hand in the dirt. Dupree will play defensive end opposite Za'Darius Smith in UK's 4-3 set and linebacker when the Cats go 3-4.

"The 3-4 is great for showing athleticism and keeping as many good guys on the field as you can, as well as having big edge setters too," Dupree said.

In the starting 3-4 look, UK will play with tackles Melvin Lewis and Mike Douglas and Smith along the line. Dupree and sophomore Jason Hatcher will play outside linebacker. Hatcher hasn't gotten the attention of some of his teammates in camp with Dupree and Smith returning, but the coaches know they have to find ways to get him on the field.

"He's had a great camp," Eliot said. "Jason's gotten better every day. There's always a big jump from Year 1 to Year 2 and we've seen it with him. He's a better athlete. He's a better player. He understands the game better. And we're very pleased with his progress."

Josh Forrest and another player will complete the front seven in the 3-4 at the two inside linebacker spots. As for who will start with Forrest, a decision has not been made between junior-college transfer Ryan Flannigan and Khalid Henderson. Henderson, a junior, has experience on his side, but Flannigan is competing.

"He's right where I expected him to be," Eliot said. "He has transitioned well. He's picking up the defense. He's physically right where he needs to be. He's right on track."

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