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Guy preparing for 'big year'

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_DSC2331.jpgMissed tackles can drive even the sanest of coaches bonkers.

Joker Phillips, who has been pleased with his first spring as head football coach, expressed some frustration after Saturday's scrimmage with the Cats' ability to tackle.

"Defensively, the thing we did not do is get ourselves off the field on third down and a lot of that had to do with our tackling, especially in the secondary," Phillips said. "We have to be better tacklers."

Tackling is the most rudimentary techniques - or at least one of the most important - in the long list of fundamentals a football player has to master, but even the UK football team has had to take time this spring to hone and relearn the most basic of techniques.

See safety Winston Guy.

"The main thing (about spring) is being consistent on tackles," Guy said. "It's hard making open field tackles. You've got to be disciplined and be at the right place at the right time."

Guy enters his junior season as one of the keys to the 2010 Kentucky football team. A first-team all-state defensive back coming out of high school, Guy is dripping with all the tools and athleticism to be a premier safety in the Southeastern Conference.

But he's not there yet. 

"Winston has a lot of potential," Phillips said. "Potential means you haven't done it yet. We think Winston can be a big-time player for us. We expect Winston to be one of the leaders on defense also because he has been around here a long time. He has to continue to come for us and he has to carry himself like a leader."

It isn't as if Guy has underperformed in spring practice, but he also hasn't quite jumped out yet either like the coaching staff knows he is capable of achieving.

On a defense searching for a new identity, the team believes Guy can be one of those leaders. Now they're waiting for the converted cornerback out of Lexington Catholic High School to embrace the role.

"It takes time to become a leader, especially the things you do on the field and off the field for you to become a leader as far as how other people look at you," Guy said. "That's my goal is to become a leader. It takes time."

When Phillips criticized the Cats' tackling over the weekend, he wasn't necessarily pointing to Guy, because, by most measures, Guy is one of the hardest hitters on the team. However, Phillips has been looking at Guy's body language after a missed tackle and wants to see improvement.

"When there is a missed tackle, his body language changes," Phillips said. "We need to get him to play the next play. You have to have a quick conscious and get to the next play."

Part of Guys' up-and-down spring has been a battle of his own emotions. Guy called himself his own worst critic.

"I criticize myself a lot because the safeties are the last line of defense," Guy said. "That's my job to make that tackle because if I miss it there is nobody else there to make the tackle."

Guy played in all 13 games as a sophomore last season, starting 11. The returning starter at free safety totaled 60 tackles in 2009, including five pass breakups.

Randall Burden possesses playmaking talent at cornerback and Paul Warford offers some much-needed experience and knowledge in the secondary, but the Cats are looking for a centerpiece in the last line of defense with the departures of All-American cornerback Trevard Lindley and safety Calvin Harrison.

Guy possesses the necessary skills to be that player.

"Winston is a talent, but the thing is in the SEC, everybody is talented," longtime defensive backs coach Chris Thurmond said. "The only thing that matters is are you focused and are you consistent, because talent means nothing. Everybody in this league has talent. The thing he has to do is he has to be focused, be physical and be consistent."

Guy figures to hold on to his starting spot at free safety by the time fall arrives, and Burden and Warford have a pretty good lockdown on the two corner positions because of their game-time reps in 2009. The lone open battle appears to be at strong safety, where junior-college transfer Josh Gibbs has impressed.

"Josh Gibbs was probably the most consistent guy Saturday," Thurmond said. "He ran to the ball well and made some plays. Josh, as far as leadership potential and the overall toughness and intelligence, he is probably showing as many as those attributes as anybody."

"If we had to play tomorrow," Thurmond said, (the starter at strong safety) would probably be Josh."

Depth in the secondary is a concern, but young players like cornerbacks Martavius Neloms, Cartier Rice and safety Taiedo Smith received trial-by-fire experience last season because of injuries. Dakotah Tyler has voluntarily made a switch from running back this offseason to help booster the depth.

Then again, that depth may not matter as much if Guy lives up to his potential.

The coaching staff certainly isn't placing the success of the secondary on Guy's shoulders, but everybody, including Guy, knows this is an important year in his growth and development.

"I feel like this is a big year for me," Guy said. "I'm trying to stay focused and do the little things to help me be a better person. I want to be at that next level so I'm preparing myself for that. I know I have a lot of work to do. There is always room for improvement for anybody. I'm trying to get my mind right.

"It takes time, but when that time comes and that first game is here, I'm going to be ready."

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