Mark Stoops’ arrival to UK is one that is a little out of the ordinary for the football program. It isn’t the fact that Stoops has turned out to be an excellent recruiter, it’s the fact that Barnhart hired a defensive philosopher, rather than an offensively focused coach. Big Blue Nation should be happy that they will not have to watch Florida or Tennessee score 60+ in the future, but can a turn around on defense happen immediately, without Stoops’ own recruits? Despite facing a Muderer’s Row that can pack powerful offensive punches, this defense has some of the tools to be MUCH better than last year, but they NEED two players to have their best season in blue.
The defensive line will be great. If E.A. Sports’ ratings aren’t enough to prove that, watch them practice. Jonathan Schuette’s examination of Stoops’ defense at FSU proves that Stoops’ relies most of his defense on the performance of the DLine. With the DLine taking care of business, the linebacking and secondary positions need people to step up. Avery Williamson will be great (this isn’t even a topic up for debate) and Khalid Henderson proved enough to me in his freshman season that he can become a consistent force on the outside. Two good linebackers aren’t enough in the SEC; the Cats NEED Miles Simpson to have a career year. Miles played the same position as Winston Guy, a “monster” back that was used all over the field. With some injury setbacks in a bad system, Miles could never do what Winston could. Now in the 4-3, Miles has been moved to OLB. The transition was even further setback when Miles had to miss the majority of the spring season with injury. Despite the nagging injuries, Miles has gained a ton of muscle this offseason. Now looking like a true SEC outside linebacker, Miles has all of the athletic intangibles needed to create a complete linebacking core. Without success from Miles Simpson this season, that position will remain vulnerable until Mark Stoops brings in more talent in 2014.
The secondary unit appears to be even more vulnerable to the high-flying, pass-heavy SEC offenses the Cats will face. Last year’s secondary needed a walk-on (J.D. Harmon) to pick off two passes against Mizzou in order to have someone on the team catch multiple picks. Ashley Lowery appeared to be the Senior leader that could help carry the load, but after a nearly fatal auto accident Lowery is lucky just to be on the field in the fall. The Cats need a playmaker to step up, and Glenn Faulkner HAS to be that guy. Faulkner was Joker Phillips’ best high school recruit, earning him some Special Teams playing time as a freshman. After having to sit out a season for academic reasons, Faulkner now has the opportunity to live up to the hype under Mark Stoops. This crazy athlete has everything Coach Stoops loves in a player: super-fast, very physical, and one that loves to fight for the ball (I’ve seen him go toe-to-toe with an offensive player during the Oklahoma drill, despite being much smaller). If the Coaching staff can develop Faulkner’s discipline, he can mitigate all of the typical problems UK faces when dealing against a pass-happy offense that loves to go deep down the middle of the field.
One player never makes or breaks a football team, but the performance of these two can make the defense great (at least by Kentucky defensive standards).