This is the first in a series of posts examining how the personnel for the 2009 UK football season are shaping up.
With Kentucky wrapping-up their spring football practice via Saturday's Blue-White Game at Commonwealth Stadium (with 20,000+ fans in attendance, oh my), it's time to take a look at what the future holds for the gridiron 'Cats. Kentucky, coming off a 7-6 season and a third straight bowl victory (over East Carolina in the Liberty Bowl), will strive to continue to re-write the history books with a fourth straight winning season.
Last year, the defense was the star of the show, and the secondary was the star of the defense. With several returning starters and a slew of promising underclassmen, the 2009 Wildcat's secondary promises to continue UK's leap from perennial defensive doormat, to bully on the block.
UK's 2008 Defensive Secondary Numbers
Opponent's Points Per Game -- 21.5
Opponent's Passing Yards Per Game -- 193.2
Opponent's Average Yards Per Pass -- 7.0
Opponent's Average Yards Per Completion -- 13.4
Opponent's Touchdown Passes -- 18
Opponent's First Downs Gained by Passing -- 94 (7.2 per game)
Opposing Quarterback's Attempt/Completion -- 188-359 (52.4%)
UK Secondary Pass Break-Ups -- 30
UK Secondary Interceptions -- 12
UK Secondary Interception Return Average -- 6.8 yards
UK Secondary Interception Return for TD -- 1
UK Secondary Fumble Return for TD -- 2
Opponent's Third Down Conversion Rate -- 62-187 (33.2%)
2008 secondary members lost to graduation: David Jones (cornerback), Marcus McClinton (free safety), Shomari Moore (cornerback), Robbie McAtee (cornerback).
Returning players of note: Trevard Lindley (senior cornerback), Randall Burden (sophomore cornerback), Ashton Cobb (senior safety), Winston Guy (sophomore cb/safety), Calvin Harrison (senior cb/safety), Matt Lentz (sophomore strong safety), Taiedo Smith (sophomore safety), Paul Warford (junior cornerback - redshirt in '08).
Redshirt freshman: Cartier Rice (defensive back).
Position Switch: Anthony Mosley -- Mosley is now a defensive back, making the switch from wide receiver.
The strength of UK's defense over the last couple of years has resided in its secondary. Led by First Team All-SEC cornerback Trevard Lindley, UK is no longer the team that enables average quarterbacks to perform like Peyton Manning. And in 2009, UK boasts depth at the cornerback and safety positions not seen in Lexington, possibly ever.
Third-year UK defensive coordinator Steve Brown had this to say about a couple of newcomers to UK's secondary:
"I think we've got as much, if not more talent, but it's really hard to say how much improved we'll be at this point. Taiedo (Smith) and Cartier Rice are very talented players, but it's so hard to beat that knowledge than Shomari (Moore) and Robbie (McAtee) had. Time will tell. Talent doesn't really pay off if you don't know what you're doing, but athletically we're in good position."
Lexington Catholic product Winston Guy (6'1" 200 lbs) has also been impressive this spring. His mix of speed, instinct, and desire will make it very difficult to keep him off the field. UK head coach Rich Brooks called Guy the most talented defensive back he's signed since he's been at UK (yes, that includes Mr. Lindley). Steve Brown agrees:
"Without a doubt. It's not even close. He's instinctive, he's athletic, fast, he's got size, he can cover, and he'll hit you. There's just so many positives. His deal is being comfortable with his assignments. Once he does that he's going to be very, very special."
Guy, who last year returned kick-offs after the injury to running back Derrick Locke, and played some cornerback late in the year, is currently listed as the back-up to Trevard Lindley. But in an effort to utilize his extensive skill-set as much as possible, he'll probably get a look at the safety position.
Another player who has impressed is sophomore cornerback Randall Burden (6'0" 170 lbs). Coming off a strong Liberty Bowl outing versus East Carolina (two pass break-ups), plus an impressive spring, he is currently listed as the starting cornerback opposite Lindley, but will face a stiff test once Paul Warford returns (he broke his foot on the first day of spring practice). Redshirt freshman Cartier Rice (5'10" 180 lbs), along with sophomore Taiedo Smith (6'0" 182 lbs) have turned heads this spring, and will battle Burden and Warford for playing time at the cornerback spot. Both Rice and Smith could also come into play in '09 when UK utilizes their nickel defense (five defensive backs).
The starting safety positions will be battled for by Matt Lentz (6'3" 209 lbs), Ashton Cobb (6'0" 210 lbs), and Calvin Harrison (6'1" 197 lbs). All three are experienced, but will possibly face competition from Guy, and Anthony Mosley (6'0" 180 lbs - 4.3-second 40), depending on how the cornerback battle plays out.
Once again Kentucky's secondary (ably led by secondary coach Chris Thurmond) should be the most productive part of the defense. The lethal mixture of experience, depth, speed, and power provided by Trevard Lindley, Ashton Cobb, Paul Warford, Randall Burden, Calvin Harrison, and Matt Lentz should propel UK to defensive heights not seen since the Jerry Claiborne days.
The potential greatness displayed by Winston Guy is certainly going to be a key to providing UK with another defensive playmaker, ala Trevard Lindley. And if the other youngsters, Taiedo Smith and Cartier Rice, continue to learn and improve, UK's secondary will be as deep as any in recent memory.
Former UK offensive lineman Myron Pryor was selected in the sixth round of the NFL draft Sunday by the New England Patriots. Pryor has an excellent chance to make the team ... good luck Myron.
Also, signing free agent contracts were: defensive end Ventrell Jenkins (Buffalo),cornerback David Jones (Baltimore), punter Tim Masthay (Indianapolis), safety Marcus McClinton (New England), offensive tackle Garry Williams (Carolina), and linebacker Johnny Williams (Jacksonville).
A Sea of Blue friend Dicky Lyons, Jr is still talking with several teams.
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!