Now, it's time for a look at our picks for the Cats' defensive MVP to this point of what's shaping up to be a memorable season.
This is a tough choice, but I would probably have to go with Josh Forrest. He's leading most statistical categories, including total tackles, tackles for loss (tie), sacks, pass breakups, and passes defended. Forrest needed to have a big year in the middle of the Kentucky defense and he has played very well thus far. Kentucky's defense has been much better than many expected, and a large portion of that can be attributed to Forrest and his versatility to stop the run, rush the passer, and play in coverage, all at a high level.
Gotta go with Josh Forrest. Forrest leads the team in tackles along with Khalid Henderson at 19, is second in tackles for loss with 2, and has 4 pass breakups, double that of any other player. Chris Westry, Khalid Henderson, Denzil Ware and Cory Johnson deserve honorable mention.
My defensive MVP thus far is Josh Forrest. He has played his position quite well and is one of the best pass coverage linebackers in the SEC. There have been times when he's missed a tackle, but overall, he's been solid. There are some defensive players that may overtake him that haven't played as much due to injuries or off the field issues such as Ryan Flannigan, Jason Hatcher, and CJ Johnson, that could overtake Forrest by season's end. But for now, Forrest deserves the nod.
Going with the true freshman cornerback Chris Westry. Westry was the SEC defensive player of the week for the South Carolina game, and has been a true lockdown corner this season. Stellar play from his position has limited the big plays that absolutely mauled this defense a year ago. Westry's ability to lock up receivers has allowed the front seven guys to get their pressure; making this defense very stout in the first third of the season.
The Wildcats defense has looked vastly improved from last year thanks in large part to a large man in Cory Johnson. In UK's most recent win, Johnson turned in a Herculean effort with 19 tackles after his 11-stop performance against Missouri. 30 tackles over a two-game stretch for a defensive tackle is an unheard of accomplishment. That included the game-sealing stop on 4th-and-12 in OT to seal the win over the Colonels and keep UK from suffering a crippling setback.
In the span of one year, Johnson has gone from seldom-used backup to being the best player on this defense and someone it's hard to see this team being 4-1 without.
It has somehow been quiet, but Josh Forrest is once again putting up a monster season. He leads the team in tackles (49), sacks (2.5), pass breakups (5), and passes defended (6). He also has one of our 4 interceptions as a defense.
Josh Forrest. You could give this award to the linebacking corps, defensive coordinator D.J. Elliott, or to the whole defense, which has been outstanding. But if I am going to avoid gimmicks and go with one guy, it has to be Forest. He was poised to have a big year and hasn't disappointed, leading the team in tackles, pass breakups, passes defended and (oddly) sacks.
Honorable Mention: Cory Johnson, Denzil Ware and J.D. Harmon (who, despite not starting has made some of the season's most important plays and been an absolute beast in special teams coverage).
I'll try to vent a bit more of my love of the coaching staff with D.J. Eliot on the defensive side. Perhaps having a defense that looks like a defense helps, but Coach Eliot seems to have come into his own. No longer does he looks like he's about to make a break for the bathroom after a bad Mexican food buffet, he lingers with the press to rave on his defense - and he does for good reason when merited.
Our anticipated preseason weakness is now viewed as a welcome partner to the team. Now that Stoops is more settled into his role as a Head Coach he can concentrate on helping the defense, not just imparting his reservoir of defense to Eliot but also having the time to truly coach the secondary; add to that coaching the addition of Buh and the defense has excelled. They've gone from what initially described as a simple defense to allow quicker reaction to a multiple defense that is the football equivalent of the Amoeba Defense.
But the biggest reason - Tackling. Gone are the days of watching opponents break tackles like escaping paper chains. Somehow our staff has taught tackling. Hooray!
My defensive player season to date is, well, a tie. I love what Chris Westry has been doing, and cannot believe how much impact he's made as a freshman. (A FRESHMAN?!?) That said, Josh Forrest has continued to impress, and I think he gives great leadership on the field. Asking me to choose between them is mean, so I'm just not going to try.
So who is your pick for defensive MVP? Let us know in the comments section.