Defense strikes back at Wednesday morning practice

Kentucky’s offense has been the talk of fall camp, especially a dynamic group of skill position players making highlight-reel plays seem routine.

On Wednesday morning, the defense asserted itself.

“Felt like we improved a little bit defensively today,” Stoops said. “Much better practice. A little bit sharper in our assignments. Made some more competitive plays. So pleased with that progress. Again offensively, doing some good things, but overall I just felt like defense improved a little bit today. We're making some progress. It's a big week for us, so we need to continue to push here this week.”

With the countdown to UK’s season opener on Sept. 5 at 17 days and only a week before install for UL Lafayette, practice time is precious. The Wildcats took advantage in the first of two practices.

“We had some guys flying around, making plays,” defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. “We had some young players step up and do some good things today. They are improving on what they know and how to do it. We're gonna need that, because like I've always mentioned, we need depth.”

At no position are UK’s young players being asked to do more than cornerback. Seniors Fred Tiller and Cody Quinn were atop the depth chart to start fall camp, but 6-foot-4 Chris Westry has moved to the first team and 6-3 Derrick Baity – who made an interception that impressed Stoops on Wednesday – isn’t far behind.

“Those young guys are very talented,” Eliot said. “Chris Westry's big and fast, and Derrick's a good size, too, and has good-sized speed as well. They're able to use their size and their speed to put them in position to make plays. And I think that those guys are getting better every day, and they're learning the defense and they're learning the techniques, and they're both doing some good things.”

Stoops is a defensive backs coach by trade, so he always has an eye on the position. That will continue.

“It's one of the groups that needs to make a lot of progress,” Stoops said. “It's extremely important. It's very hard in application, as I've talked about before. It's not overly complicated with scheme, but you have to be able to handle your business out there and win on an island. You have to win some one-on-ones. I'm seeing us being much more competitive. So I think we're getting better.”

UK will need similar improvement at linebacker.

The Cats were thin at the position to begin with, but a two-game suspension of Jason Hatcher and injuries limiting Ryan Flannigan, Kobie Walker and Jordan Jones have further complicated matters. Seeing a need, four-star freshman linebacker Eli Brown has volunteered to forgo a planned redshirt and jump in at weakside linebacker.

“There was a concern out of high school that he may need to redshirt and put the pounds on, and over the summer I think he gained 12, maybe 15 pounds in two or three months, so he was able to put it on pretty quick,” Eliot said. “And he is extremely athletic, has great instincts. He's a physical player, he loves to play the game and he's gonna have a bright future here and I'm looking forward to working with him even more.”

Another true freshman seeing plenty of action is outside linebacker Josh Allen. The position he plays requires a diverse skillset between pass rushing, coverage and playing the run, but the 6-foot-5 Montclair, N.J., native seems likely to contribute right away.

“I'm very impressed with him,” Stoops said. “He's going to be a very good football player. When, I'm not sure, but I love his work ethic and I love his attitude and I love his talent. So I'm very pleased with him.”