Kentucky Football: Will the Wildcat Secondary be Second to None?

Winston Guy has to be the MAN if the UK secondary is to be second to none.

This is the fifth in a series of posts breaking down the Kentucky Wildcat football team, position by position.  For the first four installments, go here: quarterback, wide receiver, running back, offensive line

"I guess what gets me as much as anything is the sense of urgency.  Every time we are on the field I think we are on the clock; it's a sense of urgency.  We only have a couple of hours; meetings are just bang, bang, bang.  I don't want any wasted time.  That brings out the blood boiling and the sense of urgency.  And they (the players) respond the way they have to.  It's always about what can we do to get better?  Right now.  That is kind of the way everything is structured with me.  A sense of urgency."

New UK defensive coordinator Rick Minter (taken from WLEX.com)

In 2010, the Kentucky secondary performed well enough to give the 'Cats a chance to win most games.  Led by safety Winston Guy Jr., who recorded 106 tackles (8th SEC), the group allowed only 53.9% of passes to be completed, for a 123.4 opponent passer rating (7th SEC), and 177.1 yards passing per game (4th SEC).  On the negative side of the ledger, Kentucky pilfered only nine passes last year, an unacceptable total, and the stat which most defines UK's reticence to take chances on the defensive side of the ball.  Additionally, some of the younger secondary members last season mistakenly presumed they were still in high school (a fairly common malady of young, inexperienced players), relying on their shoulders and arms to tackle -- resulting in a 13.4 yards per reception stat for opponents -- and failing to wrap-up the ball carrier, something maturity and being screamed at 24/7 should alleviate.  Taking the good, being balanced out by the bad, and Minter knows this group of defenders must improve, urgently, if the 'Cats hope to better last season's 6-7 record.

The secondary, coached by former Kentucky defensive coordinator Steve Brown, returns its top performers from a year ago, along with a couple of freshmen newcomers who have shown promise.  But with Guy moving to a hybrid safety/linebacker position, the remaining secondary members will be looked at to provide UK with the ball-hawking style of play needed to put fear into the hearts and minds of quarterbacks and receivers.  "Create turnovers" has been the mantra heard around the Nutter Center since Minter took over the defense prior to spring practice, and to do that, the 'Cats must pursue more diligently, develop their instincts (read: anticipation skills), and grow more aggressive.

The Returning Players

Winston Guy Jr.: 6'1," 216lb senior hybrid safety/linebacker -- Think the Pittsburgh Steeler's Troy Polamalu with shorter hair, and that's what Minter envisions Guy being this season for UK; a blitzing, ball pursuer with a sense of purpose.  Guy's job will be to create confusion and disrupt the quarterback's rhythm, all the while putting the breaks on opposing ball carriers (Guy will play the nickel linebacker in Minter's 4-2-5 scheme).  The Lexington Catholic product's speed -- he runs the 40 in the 4.3, 4.4 range -- and hard hitting nature make him a perfect fit for Minter's multiple defensive schemes (4-3 base, mixing it up with some 3-4 and 4-2-5), meant to cause drive-killing hesitation among the opponent's offense.  Realistically, Guy and linebacker Danny Trevathan must be the bell cows of the 2011 UK defense.  Their combined leadership and skill will go a long way in determining how successful Minter's defensive philosophy is at UK.

Guy has 39 games under his belt, with 23 starts (all at safety), and his 18 tackles versus Vanderbilt last year were the most for a Wildcat since Wesley Woodyard (lately of the Denver Bronco's linebacker corp) in 2005.  In all, Guy executed 106 tackles last year, second on the team to Trevathan, 4.0 tackles for loss, and a team-leading three interceptions.  Also last season, CollegeFootballNews.com named Guy 2nd Team All-SEC. 

Martavius Neloms: 6'1," 186lb junior safety -- Neloms, with 21 games and 10 starts in his career, will replace Guy at the safety spot this year.  This spring, when Neloms moved from cornerback to safety, he blew coaches away with his quick adaptation to the position.  Neloms is an extremely physical player who possesses great instincts; something that will be put to good use with his position change.  

In 11 games in 2010, Neloms recorded 55 tackles and a defensive back-leading 5.5 tackles for loss.

Randall Burden: 6'0," 171lb senior cornerback -- Yet another Lagrange, Georgia product, Burden has played in 36 games, starting 26 times in his UK career.  Burden has three interceptions and 16 pass breakups for his career, and last season led the 'Cats with six breakups.  Also last year, Burden had 36 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and one interception.

Anthony Mosley: 6'0," 178lb senior cornerback -- Mosley earned more and more playing time last year as the season wore on, eventually gaining one of the starting cornerback spots.  In his career, Mosley has played in 18 games, starting 12.  His interception in the end zone sealed UK's HISTORIC victory over The Visor and his South Carolina Gamecocks last season.  Also in that game Mosley had a forced fumble.

In 2010, Mosley recorded 34 tackles, one interception and five pass breakups (second on the team to Burden's six).  Mosley and his 4.3 speed will be relied upon heavily this season to become a major disruption to the enemy's passing game.

Mychal Bailey: 6'0," 194lb senior safety -- The JUCO transfer, and cousin of former UK star Braxton Kelley (he of the Denver Broncos), started 12 games last season and was fourth on the team with 58 tackles, but he should have had many, many more.  Why?  Because at times Bailey refused to wrap-up the opponent.  Hopefully though, with Minter in his ear, and the bench as a motivator, Bailey will fulfill the promise he showed while at Lagrange High School and Southwest Mississippi CC.

To go along with Bailey's 58 tackles in 2010, he had 1.0 tackle for loss, two interceptions (versus UofL and Tennessee), and two pass breakups.  Bailey will sit the season-opener Thursday against WKU, after being suspended from spring activities by Joker Phillips so he could concentrate on his academics.

Cartier Rice: 5'10," 185lb junior cornerback -- Rice played primarily in the nickel package last season, but his playing time increased as the season progressed.  Rice also contributed mightily to UK's win over SC last season, when his tipped pass in the end zone fell into the hands of Anthony Mosley, sealing sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet, first-time victory over Steve Spurrier.

In nine games in 2010, Rice had nine tackles and one pass breakup.

Taiedo Smith: 6'0," 187lb senior safety -- Smith played in only five games last year due to injury (recording five tackles), but he has performed in 26 games in his UK career, starting three contests.  His sophomore year, Smith played in all 13 games and recorded 20 tackles.

Smith adds depth, experience, and athleticism to the Kentucky secondary, but has experienced some nagging injuries this fall, bringing into question his potential effectiveness.

The Freshmen

With the loss of Jerrell Priester, Josh Gibbs, and Dakota Tyler -- three promising players -- in the UK secondary, one or two of the incoming freshmen will be counted on to provide depth for the 'Cats.

Glenn Faulkner: 6'2," 194lb safety --  Faulkner, the No.1 player in Illinois (as well as the No. 8 safety prospect in the nation according to Rivals.com), might not only provide depth, but he just might give the 'Cats a legitimate big play contributor.  Although he got a late start in the summer due to issues involving his high school not expediently taking care of some needed paperwork, Faulkner is a highly skilled athlete capable of making a difference at Kentucky, especially as the season progresses.

His high school coach at East St. Louis High School, Darren Sunkett said this about Faulkner, "Glenn is a very rangy free safety, covers a lot of ground from sideline to sideline.  He has a natural instinct for being around the ball." 

Ashely Lowery: 6'1," 200lb defensive back --  Another prospect out of the state of Georgia, Lowery has already received much attention for what is now referred to as the "Lowery Leap" -- In a game last season, Lowery, from the running back spot, recovered a fumbled high snap, and while running toward the end zone, leaped over a defender at the 27-yard line.  He went on to score on the incredible play, but the six points were taken off the board because jumping over an opponent is considered dangerous, and thus not allowed in Georgia high school football.  Talk about a kill joy.

Lowery, who runs a 4.6 40, was a two-way starter for all four years in high school, and in his senior year contributed two interceptions and nine pass breakups to go along with 1,340 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns.  His high school coach, Tommy Flower, said this about Lowery, "Ashely is a Jim Thorpe-ish type of player.  He can do a lot of different things and we put him wherever we needed something done.  He's also an unselfish player."

Eric Dixon: 5'11," 171lb defensive back -- Out of Mobile, Alabama, Dixon was rated one of the top 60 cornerback prospects in the nation, and the No. 32 prospect in talent-rich Alabama.  In his senior year, Dixon made 89 tackles, 7.0 tackles for loss, 21 quarterback pressures, eight pass breakups, and four forced fumbles.

Dixon's high school coach at Vigor High School, Kerry Stevenson, said this about his star player, "Eric is a great football player and is an even better person than he is a player.  He has a great attitude, and a work ethic that is second to none."

Miles Simpson: 6'2," 214lb strong safety -- Out of Simon Kenton High School, Simpson last year from the running back position ran for 2,220 yards and 41 touchdowns, and was named the Kentucky 6A Player of the Year.  He was rated the No. 2 prospect in Kentucky by SuperPrep.

Jeff Marksberry, Simon Kenton head coach, said this about Simpson, "Miles has a tremendous ability to make plays when we had to have them.  He has a great football IQ, great athleticism, and the ball skills to play any position on the field."

With all the accolades these players have received, it's still important to remember the old adage: The best thing about freshmen, is that they become sophomores.

Thanks for reading and Go 'Cats! 

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