Mark Stoops is known for coaching defensive backs, he has put as many in the NFL as anyone. So it came as a bit of a surprise that the secondary only recorded one interception last season and it took all twelves games to get one. The passing defense overall was subpar. But the coaches will be quick to point out that they were very young and very thing at corner. Well, they are still young, but there is depth now. Here’s a look:
- Nate Willis (SR)- Willis was a big deal when he signed out of JUCO last year. He missed a lot of practice time and learned on the fly, struggling at times. Unfortunately he missed a lot of offseason work again this year. Like most JUCOs, he is expected to take a big jump in year two after getting to adjust to SEC ball. If he doesn’t start, Willis will be a big part of the rotation.
- Cody Quinn (JR)- It seems like he has been around forever, but this is just Quinn’s third year on campus. He was thrown to the fire as a true freshman and had to sink or swim. He has had his ups and downs but has had a really strong camp. He looks bound to be a starter this season. Quinn is a bit undersized but excels at coverage more than run support.
- Fred Tiller (JR)- Tiller was there with Quinn as a true freshman starter learning the SEC the hard way. A big physical corner who excels in run support, Tiller’s ball skills could use some work but he has all of the physical tools. They considered playing him as a wide receiver. Tiller is likely Willis’ primary competition to start on the outside.
- JD Harmon (SO)- Harmon came in with Quinn and Tiller and surprised everyone as a true freshman walk-on who led the team in interceptions. Another big fluid athlete who came in as a receiver, Harmon was impressive last year. The only problem is that he redshirted last year due to being ruled academically ineligible. After a year of hitting the books, Harmon is having a strong camp and will play this year.
- Jaleel Hycthye (SO)- Supposed to spend 2013 redshirting and adjusting his body to the college game, Hytchye was forced into action due to injuries and held his own in SEC play. Still slight, he has had an off season get built up. His ball skills have never been in question but he may still not be ready for the weekly grind of playing defense in the SEC.
- Jared Tucker (FR)- Tucker need look no farther than Hytchye to get an idea of his future. He would be best served by taking a redshirt this year. He too is a bit skinny, even with a Summer in Korem’s program. The good news is that Kentucky’s depth has improved this year and Tucker isn’t likely to be needed this time around.
- AJ Stamps (JR)- Stamps was a little-known JUCO prospect who showed up on Kentucky’s radar late, but the Cats inked him over Ohio State. From the day he stepped on campus he has impressed the coaching staff, who knows their DBs. It didn’t take long for Stamps to ascend to the starting lineup and the job looks like it is his for the next two years.
- Ashely Lowery (SR)- Lowery has been playing for a long time. Even following his extremely scary car accident last year, there he was in the starting lineup. A powerful athlete, he is better suited for run support than in coverage but Lowery did record the only interception by a UK defensive back last season. Expect him to start opposite Stamps and continue to provide run support from safety.
- Glenn Faulkner (JR)- Faulkner was one of the most bally-hooed recruits of the Joker Phillips era, but injuries and other distractions have hampered his development. Faulkner was an Army All American, so you know that he has the talent. Finally healthy, look for Faulkner to make a final push for playing time with some young pups breathing down his neck.
- Zack Blaylock (SO)- The more celebrated of Mookie’s twin sons, Zack redshirted last year due to injury. His name hasn’t come up much in camp, so it’s hard to tell how his recovery has gone. When healthy, he is a contributor on this team. With three years left to play, he has plenty of time to make an impact.
- Marcus McWilson (SO)- One of the crown jewels of the 2013 class, McWilson was late getting on campus and that put him behind in the defense. Off to a slow start, he got some initial playing time in the nickel package, splitting time with Blake McClain. When McWilson was on the field you could see the potential but he didn’t always seem to be in the right place. With a year under his belt, it will be fun to see what McWilson can do in the right spot.
- Darius West (FR)- West signed with Kentucky as a four-star prospect over a host of other offers. He was rehabbing a broken leg all off-season. Unfortunately he broke the same leg again in Fall camp after reportedly being very impressive in early work. He will redshirt this season and compete for playing time in the Spring.
- Mike Edwards (FR)- Edwards was initially slated to have shoulder surgery and “grey shirt” (essentially waiting to enroll in January as a 2015 freshman) but that plan changed this week and Edwards is on campus now. At this point it is unlikely that he would be in a position to play this season, so the plan to redshirt in 2014 looks to still be in effect.
- Blake McClain (SO)- McClain came in last year as a good but not great prospect and ended up being one of Kentucky’s best defenders as a true freshman playing the hybrid nickel position. Unspectacular in his play, McClain was a dependable tackler and always seemed to be in the right place which was rare in a new defense. He will still play the Nickel but look for McClain’s role to expand this season. The only question is whether it’s at corner or safety.
- Kendall Randolph (FR)- Much like McClain, Randolph could project at either corner or safety in college. Unlike McClain, he was a highly regarded four-star who had offers to play anywhere in the country. It makes him a natural fit for the Nickel. After a strong camp Randolph has played his way out of a redshirt according to Mark Stoops. He will back up McClain and see plenty of time on special teams.
- Eric Dixon (SR)- If the Nickel is a position designed for players that are cornerback/safety tweeners, then Dixon wishes that DJ Eliot was his coordinator for all four years. A former starter at both positions, Dixon was a pleasant surprise last year. A seasoned veteran in a green group, expect Dixon to play a lot.