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Kentucky Football practice report: Stephen Johnson returns, defensive notes

Stephen Johnson is back at practice, but Wednesday was defense-focused.

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

The Kentucky Wildcats’ Wednesday practice was focused mainly on defense, with defensive coordinator Matt House speaking afterwards, but Stephen Johnson did return to practice after being seen with a walking boot on earlier in the week.

House talked about one of the biggest question marks for UK’s defense this year: stopping the run. There’s been progress, he said, so far in camp.

“I think our run defense has improved,” House said. “It’s still a work in progress. We’re not there yet but I think we’re becoming stout in there.”

One player in particular who’s looking good stopping the run is T.J. Carter, a sophomore who got plenty of playing time as a true freshman.

“He’s getting firmer in the run game,” House said. “You can tell he’s not a freshman anymore. With the experience of playing last year, he’s definitely improved.”

House has Jamar Watson (AKA Boogie) shifting around at inside/outside linebacker. He played outside in the spring, but has been playing inside in camp.

“Boogie is a smart guy,” House said. “It’s hard and takes reps. He’s grown and improved in there. He’s a really intelligent football player and a loose football player.”

The staff is looking at different candidates to play the nickel after Blake McClain’s graduation. Kendall Randolph (who’s apparently completely healthy despite not practicing Wednesday), Mike Edwards and Jordan Griffin have all seen snaps from that spot. Defensive backs coach Steve Clinkscale said that the position is doing a good job to fill the void.

Clinkscale talked about Griffin more, saying he’s definitely going to get playing time.

“I thought he did a great job in the spring,” Clinkscale said. “He’s very versatile, smart, instinctive player. “He’s going to play, he’s going to be on that field. We’re going to find a place to get him on the field.”

Clinkscale also talked about the freshman defensive backs, saying that Michael Nesbitt and Cedrick Dort are playing corner. Yusuf Corker is playing safety. Clinkscale says that he’ll need to see them in practice more to determine if any of the freshmen will play, but that he tells them to be ready for their opportunity.

“I tell all the guys you’re a play away from being on the depth chart or being a 1 or a 2.,” he said. “Just a play away. So everybody prepare to play. Those guys have gotten a lot of reps with the 2s and the 3s. Occasionally I’ll throw them in with the 1s to really see what they can do. You don’t know what they can do until they’re going against our best receivers as well.”