John Denton's Knights Insider Spring Preview: Defense

March 18, 2010

By John Denton

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ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - It's no secret that UCF heads into Friday's start of spring practice looking for a quarterback who can control the huddle, lead the team and be an extension of the coaching staff on the field.

And as it turns out, that's very much the case on both sides of the ball for the Knights.

The Knights not only lost their starting quarterback in Brett Hodges; they also lost their defensive quarterback in middle linebacker Cory Hogue, who served as a senior captain.

UCF defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable had such a close relationship with Hogue that often times it seemed as if the two were father and son. Hogue, you see, made Huxtable's life easier by knowing the UCF defense almost better than the coordinator himself and often directing traffic on the field.

But with Hogue gone from the program, the fiery and likeable Huxtable opens UCF's spring practice on Friday looking for the player who can replace Hogue in the middle of the Knights defense.

Junior Josh Linam is in line to be the replacement for Hogue, and D.J. Williams is a capable backup. Huxtable is also looking for big things from hard-nosed linebacker Chance Henderson, who missed all of last season with a knee injury after ranking fifth on the team in tackles in 2008.

Regardless of who wins the job, they will have some big shoes to fill in replacing Hogue.

``That's a tough replacement because Cory had a tremendous year for us. From a leadership standpoint and knowing where the people were supposed to be we were able to do a lot of things with Cory,'' Huxtable said. ``So that's a position where this spring it's going to be very important for us to find out who that guy is.''

Huxtable also has to replace massive defensive tackle Torell Troup, who will likely be selected in the first four rounds of the NFL Draft next month. Troup was so dominant last season that the Knights finished fourth in the country in rush defense and dominated just about every major defensive category in Conference USA play.

The Knights will be looking to senior defensive end Bruce Miller, last season's C-USA Defensive Player of the Year, to help make up for the loss of Troup, Jarvis Geathers and Travis Timmons. Miller, who has the versatility to play both tackle and end, leads all returning players in the nation in career sacks (27) and tackles for loss (44).

``The first name that comes to mind when I think of leadership is Bruce Miller,'' Huxtable said. ``He's earned the respect of his teammates and guys on both sides of the ball because he plays so hard. I expect him to step up this season and be even more of a leader for us.''

Victor Gray, E.J. Dunston and Troy Davis could be surprises for the Knights along the defensive line, while returning starters David Williams, Darius Nall and Wes Tunuufi Sauvao should be solid again.

Whoever earns the starting middle linebacker slot will be supported by Derrick Hallman and Lawrence Young. Hallman settled back in at linebacker last season after spending time at strong safety. Huxtable has already tabbed FIU transfer Michael Dominguez as one to watch after a stellar season on the scout team defense last year.

The secondary returns all four members, led by super freshmen Josh Robinson and Kemal Ishmael. Robinson was a freshman All-American last season while intercepting six passes. He has worked hard on improving his size and speed this offseason and hopes to follow in the footsteps of former UCF star Joe Burnett. Huxtable is hoping for Burnett to become a more complete cornerback this season.

``Josh had the interceptions, but he gave up some plays too,'' Huxtable said. ``He's a tremendous talent and he's had a great offseason. I want him working harder in his technique and becoming a better overall player.''


John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFathletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.