The first hire Stoops made at UK was arguably is best one, as he named former Florida State defensive ends coach D.J. Eliot as the new defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. Eliot has worked the last three seasons with Mark Stoops at FSU. He is just 36, is as good a position coach as there is in college football, and is a well-respected defensive mind who will help Stoops rebuild the UK defense the same way they helped Florida State rise to one of the nation’s elite defensive units.
Eliot has already coached several elite pass rushers. Brandon Jenkins, Bjoern Werner and Cornellius Carradine became one of the top defensive end trios in 2011 combining for 20.5 sacks, 31 tackles for loss, 14 quarterback hurries and nine pass breakups. Werner is projected to go in the top-5 of next April’s NFL draft, and Carradine and Jenkins are expected to be drafted in the first three rounds. There’s even speculation that Werner could be the #1-overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. If that happens, that will bu just one more recruiting pitch Stoops has to sell to elite talent, something Kentucky has never consistently had.
Already, Stoops and his staff have been able to make waves on the recruiting front, as East Mississippi Community College defensive end Za’Darius, regarded as one of the nation’s top-rated junior college prospects, announced that he will sign with the University of Kentucky and become the first-official commitment of the Mark Stoops era at UK. The #1 JUCO defensive end prospect accounted for 66 tackles and 11 sacks in two seasons at EastMississippi Community College. During the 2012 JUCO season, he recorded 6.5 sacks and forced four fumbles on his way to being named to the National Junior College Football All-America Team. He was rated a 4-star prospect by every major scouting service, and is arguably the highest-rated defensive prospect to commit to UK since Micah Johnson.
The 6-foot-6, 260-pound sophomore boasted offers from Florida State,Texas, Texas A&M, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State. It was a huge get for the Cats, who graduated both of their starting defensive ends in Collins Ukwu and Taylor Wyndham.
UK is also in the mix for highly regarded defensive backs Mackensie and Mackenro Alexander of Immokalee High School, Florida. They made unofficial visits to Lexington over the summer. Stoops was a primary recruiter for them with the Seminoles. They too could be immediate-impact players for a UK defense that struggled mightily last year.