Kentucky's secondary returns with a ton of experience. Leadership from veterans has helped the talented young defensive backs grow throughout spring practice.
Mark Stoops has recruited some exceptional athletes into the secondary, players that might have played right away early in his tenure. Their numbers have not yet been called because the Cats have five seniors at the top of the depth chart. Steve Clinkscale believes the underclassmen will be ready when their time comes, thanks to the seniors.
"We've been trying to get those veteran guys to continue to be leaders and work with the young guys on technique," Clinkscale said. "We got a lot of talent, but the technique is going to separate the talent
from the guys that are just using pure athleticism."
After a year on the field, Darius West has emerged as a consistent, vocal leader of the group. "He's been doing a lot better job as a leader of that secondary and on the defense," said Clinkscale.
"Darius West has been much more consistent than he's ever been. I think he's done a really nice job this spring. That's a guy that stands out to me on the back end," added defensive coordinator Matt House.
As West and others secure their spots at the top, Clinkscale has seen freshmen take giant leaps forward this spring.
"I think a lot of the freshmen have really grown. Stanley Garner's
done a good job, Mike Nesbitt, Cedrick Dort
is one of the younger guys who's going to be very good by working hard. On the inside, Yusuf Corker and Tobias Gilliam
have given us a pretty good nucleus."
A late addition to the 2017 signing class, Corker has always been an impressive physical talent. During his redshirt season, Clinkscale saw Corker learn how to improve his game off the field.
"I've seen him be able to take all of the coaching and put the coaching into action on the field," Clinkscale said. "Yusuf is a student of the game. He watches extra film all the time. He asks questions. I'll get a text late at night; he's watching film on his iPad and he has questions about coverage or technique. He's really developed as a very good young man and a very good football player, all-in-one."
One position that is not completely locked down is the nickel. Mike Edwards split time at the inside position last year with Kendall Randolph, one of the defense's few departing seniors. Edwards is still getting nickel reps, but Clinkscale might have found someone in the spring to hold that position full-time
"Davonte Robinson has done a very good job. His football IQ has sky-rocketed since he stepped on the field a few years ago."
Football IQ might be the most important asset for a nickel. A hybrid position, the nickel must have size to help with run support, but skills to cover elite athletes from the slot.
"We just gotta look for a guy that kind of embodies Superman characteristics
. He's gotta do everything. He's gotta be a jack of all trades. That's what we're looking for. It's not really a size or a speed or anything, just somebody that's got a good feel for the game. I think at the end, the guys that play that position more have really good instincts."
The good news: Kentucky's secondary has more than one player who can be a superman in the secondary. The talented underclassmen may not be needed right away, but after this spring, coaches are confident they'll be ready when the time comes.