One of the big stories from last week’s media day was safety Martavius Neloms’ move back to cornerback after Marcus Caffey was ruled ineligible for the season. Neloms, who was recruited as a cornerback and played the position his first two years at Kentucky, is the most natural player on the team to make this transition. But, after a full year and offseason at safety, Neloms will have to quickly relearn the position — something that isn’t going to be easy.
Glass half-full: Neloms’ natural position is cornerback. He was a first-team All-American in high school and led the state of Tennessee with eight interceptions and two interceptions returned for touchdowns during his senior campaign. As a sophomore, he began to make his presence felt in Kentucky’s defensive backfield. He led the secondary in tackles for loss and was fifth on the entire team in tackles. His seamless switch from corner to safety showed that he has remarkable football instincts and that he can be a playmaker no matter the position.
Neloms is leaving a position with tremendous depth. Besides quarterback, running back, and defensive end, safety is the deepest position on the roster. Neloms’ backup and prize recruit of the 2011 class, Glenn Faulkner, could be one of the players ready to step in a fill the void left by Neloms. Faulkner was ranked as the number one overall player in the state of Illinois (Rivals) and should be ready to play a bigger role in his second year. In addition to Faulker, there’s freshman Josh Harris, sophomore Ashley Lowery and junior college transfer, Kory Brown. Brown is listed on the depth chart at the hybrid linebacker position, but his game film shows he has great instincts as a safety. He is a hard-hitting player who could thrive in that single-high safety role in Kentucky’s defense.
A smooth transition back to corner by Neloms could be a blessing in disguise for the defense. Going into this season the position is seen as the Achilles heel of this group. If Neloms can steady the ship the entire group has a chance to be much more effective.
Glass half-empty: When Rick Minter changed Kentucky’s defensive scheme he knew that Neloms would be a great fit at safety because of his size and aggressiveness. Neloms responded to the challenge by thriving in his new position. Now, with less than a month before a game against in-state rival, Louisville, Neloms has to change everything he’s been doing for the last year.The biggest change will be having to cover wide receivers, but he’ll also have to adjust on the angle of where the football is coming from. Besides those things, the scheme has changed since the last time that he played the position. Neloms played as a cover-2 cornerback where there was usually a safety over the top of both sides of the defense to guard big plays from the offense. Neloms will rarely have that luxury in Minter’s scheme with offenses deciding to spread defenses out more. He might find himself on an island with a receiver from time to time — a huge change from safety.
How it plays out: Minter, as you can see by the success of Kentucky’s defense had in a transition year, is an outstanding defensive coordinator. He’s an expert at catering to his player’s strengths and I don’t think he would move Neloms to a position he wouldn’t be able to play. There’s no doubt there will be some struggles for Neloms coming out of the gate, but the rest of the unit will just have to make up for it until he settles in. It should be interesting to see how offenses decide to attack them and how Neloms responds to being the focus. For Neloms, I’m sure he wasn’t expecting a switch back to his former position but he should remember that NFL scouts love versatility just ask Winston Guy Jr. An effective transition could help his draft stock as he gears up for one last year in the blue and white.