Kitchen set to be anchor for Blue Hens

A third-team All-CAA pick a year ago, Cam Kitchen figures to be a big part of the Hens’ defensive plans. He collected a career-high 47 tackles last fall, including 10 in a late-season game at Stony Brook. UD sports information/Mark Campbell

NEWARK — Missing a season with an injury is never fun, of course.

But being sidelined in 2017 is also the reason that Cam Kitchen is still a Delaware football player.

That makes this redshirt senior year kind of a silver-lining season for the 23-year-old defensive lineman.

“It was tough,” said Kitchen, who played in just four games in ‘17. “(But) I had a year to mature.

“Any time you can sit back and watch the game, and be around players like Bilal (Nichols), Blaine (Woodson) or John Nassib, it allows you to just grow mentally.”

The Blue Hens, who officially opened preseason camp on Wednesday morning, are clearly glad to have Kitchen still around.

Cam Kitchen

Heading into a season in which Delaware must replace virtually all its starting linebackers and defensive backs, the Hens need all the veterans they can get.

Kitchen is expected to be one of the top players on a defensive line that actually does have a number of returning starters. Rebuilding or not, Kitchen said Delaware’s defense still expects to hold itself to some high standards.

“Nobody exactly knows who we are,” said the 6-foot-2, 275-pounder. “Even up to last year we weren’t a well-known, well-respected defense. Being the underdog, that’s always nice for us because there’s no pressure. Nobody expects us to be as great as we are.

“But we have expectations. We want to be that great.”

Besides Kitchen, now-veteran linemen like Caleb Ashworth, Frank Burton, Sal Mauro and Bradan Hall also return for Delaware. The Hens are deep enough along the front that they expect to play a lot of four-down linemen alignments this season.

Kitchen, who sat out the spring, said he likes some of the changes the Hens have made.

“We plan on leading the way,” he said about the defensive line. “We definitely feel pressure to lead the way but there’s so many people that have played for us that it’s not that much pressure.

“For the most part, it’s been pretty easy,” Kitchen said about the schematic changes. “Everybody out of high school probably plays a 4-3, so it’s natural. We’ve obviously gone through spring ball and then in the summer we’ve done workouts. It’s more of us just getting re-acclimated to it but it’s not necessarily that big of a shift.”

With so many new faces on defense this season, third-year coach Danny Rocco knows there will be growing pains. But he also says he feels good about the players Delaware will put on the field.

The Hens also added a handful of transfers on defense.

“It’s an interesting dynamic,” said Rocco. “We had some (young) guys last year, that if they would have played, they would have been productive.

“And our style’s going to be different defensively. It’ll be a little more aggressive, a little more pressure oriented, a little more committed to creating negative plays — plays in the backfield and sacks. I’m excited about these transitions.”

A third-team All-CAA pick a year ago, Kitchen figures to be a big part of the Hens’ defensive plans. He collected a career-high 47 tackles last fall, including 10 in a late-season game at Stony Brook.

He might line up in several different spots along the front.

“In moments of challenge and adversity, you need to have guys that are really the same guy every day, the same guy every play,” said Rocco. “You do need those anchors on the field.”

After spending a year in prep school after high school and now in his fifth year at UD, Kitchen is one of the oldest players on the team this fall. He hears about it from his younger teammates sometimes.

But he just wants to be somebody they can count on every game.

“Guys look up to me because I’m an older guy,” said Kitchen.

“I’m excited, I can’t wait to get started,” he added. “We have a lot of expectations.”

Extra points

With less than a month left before the opener now, renovated Delaware Stadium is looking more like the final product. The seven-row, lower tier of seats is now complete with construction of the middle row of the home stands started. … Old Dominion transfer Will Knight will wear his usual No. 25 with the Hens — the same number he wore while starring for Smyrna High for four years. … Former Middletown High standout Kedrick Whitehead, who is switching from linebacker to defensive back, also switched his number from No. 39 to No. 1. … Rocco on preseason camp: “We don’t go swimming, we don’t go backpacking, we’re not roasting marshmallows. It’s a grind.”

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