Kentucky has a ton of defensive questions to answer in 2021. The pass rush is a major concern, there are legitimate depth issues at linebacker and the defensive line has many young pieces that need to step up to the plate.
However, the safety position is not going to be a weakness. Frank Buffano’s position group should be one of the best on the team.
The Wildcats have three seniors who return in 2021 with a combined 44 career starts returning for the defense. Mix that up with some young players that have gained playing time and shown promise through recent seasons. Expect defensive coordinator Brad White to lean on this group early and often when building weekly game plans. Kentucky needs this unit to be one of the best safety rooms in all of college football.
As our post-spring personnel series wraps up, now is the time to talk about safety after touching on the defensive line, edge, inside linebacker, and cornerback. Kentucky has a chance to be special at this position in 2021.
Yusuf Corker: The redshirt senior from Metro Atlanta was a blue-chip recruiting win for Kentucky in the class of 2017. After two years of waiting, Corker became a full-time starter in 2019 leading the team with 74 tackles. His play improved last season as he finished with 77 tackles and two interceptions. A second-team All-SEC selection, Corker will be one of the best safeties in the league this fall.
Tyrell Ajian: Another blue-chip recruiting win in the class of 2017, Ajian joins Corker as a starter at safety. The Ohio native started 10 games last season recording 48 tackles and blocking a kick in the top-25 win over NC State. The six-foot defensive back has recorded an interception each season showing a playmaking knack. The versatility Ajian and Corker bring to the defense has White excited.
“They’ve seen it. When I talk about a ton of moving parts, these are guys that have played so many snaps that the game is slower to them,” said White. “They talk, they communicate pre-snap, they anticipate. It makes your base calls look a lot better and as a coordinator, you feel more comfortable.”
Davonte Robinson: An in-state recruiting win out of Lexington (Ky.) Henry Clay in the class of 2016, Robinson is back for his super senior season after being slowed by a quadriceps injury the last two years. The safety and nickel defender has 61 solo tackles in his career to go along with four pass breakups. A healthy Robinson could be a gamechanger for the defense.
Vito Tisdale: The sophomore made some splash plays for the defense last season thanks to his tremendous striking ability. The Bowling Green, Ky., native hits people with force and could potentially be a dynamite blitzer from the safety position. Tisdale should compete with Robinson for the starting nickel spot. If Kentucky wanted to get small at linebacker, Tisdale could play Sam ‘backer in some modified defensive looks.
Taj Dodson: A late recruiting win for Kentucky in Metro Atlanta in the class of 2019, Dodson has flashed potential in his first two seasons. The 6-foot-1 defensive back was Corker’s primary backup as a true freshman when he was called to play major snaps against Florida. Last year, the safety missed six games with injuries. Both teammates and coaches talked up the redshirt sophomore during spring practice. Don’t be surprised if Dodson makes a splash this fall.
Moses Douglass: A four-star prospect out of Ohio, Douglass was a legacy recruit that had high expectations. However, the 6-foot-2 defensive back has not made a major push for playing time yet. Douglass has played in 10 career games with just two total tackles over two seasons.
Jalen Geiger: The three-star recruit out of South Carolina has played in nine games over the last two seasons with four total tackles. However, the safety got some playing time in the Gator Bowl proving he’s close to cracking a spot in the rotation.
Rickey Hyatt Jr.: From the same high school as Benny Snell Jr., Hyatt redshirted as a true freshman but could still have a bright future. With great size — 6-foot 2, 203 pounds — Hyatt had excellent high school tape. The young player could provide special teams value this season.
Zach Johnson: The former walk-on is also a super senior that is back for another season. The special teams star is a playmaker in kick coverage while also serving as a safety. The Cincinnati native is a very valuable asset to the team.
Jordan Lovett: A true freshman early-enrollee out of Radcliff (Ky.) North Hardin, Lovett enters college with the reputation as a ballhawk. The rangy safety recorded 18 interceptions in his last two seasons of high school ball which happened to be the first two years that Lovett played the position. At 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds, Lovett provides positional size and playmaking potential. This is an intriguing young prospect.
Joel Williams: One of many blue-chip recruits in the class of 2020, Williams came to Lexington with high expectations. The Louisiana native played nine games last season mainly on special teams. The 6-foot-1 defensive back has positional versatility and could be a hybrid option to use at Sam linebacker in modified fronts.