The Kentucky Wildcats conducted its first spring scrimmage on Saturday. Both Mark Stoops and Eddie Gran praised QB Stephen Johnson’s efficiency, composure and decision making during the two-hour practice session.
With the vast majority of UK related media in Memphis, hacks that actually attended the post-practice press conference surrounded the Wildcat QB once the coaches completed their brief remarks. Not me. I turned my attention to junior OLB/DE Denzil Ware.
Ware is rated as one of the SEC’s top OLB/DE hybrid defenders for the 2017 season. He partners with fellow OLB Josh Allen to form a formidable edge combination. Ware finished 2016 with 70 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, and 5.5 QB sacks. The following comments are from Saturday’s conversation:
Question: What do you feel more comfortable with; a hand in the dirt defensive end, a standup outside linebacker, or a combination of both?
Denzil Ware: “Just a combination of both. When it’s 3rd and long and I got a chance to go, I like to put my hand in the dirt and get as comfortable as I can be so I can get out of my stance as fast as I can. Overall I like to stand up because it gives me a better chance to see everything, see the whole formation, and see receivers in coverage. But I really love my hand in the dirt.”
Question: With you and Josh Allen now being juniors, do defensive players look at you two as leaders-examples, and do they look at you differently than they did a year ago?
Ware: “Yes sir, I tend to notice that some of the younger guys look up to us. My job here is to play ball and be the best teammate I can be. I see myself as a leader. Lot of guys ask me questions at times. I take them guys under my wing and treat them guys as if they were my blood, my family.”
Question: How often do you and Josh Allen compete?
Ware: “We compete every day. We competed today to see who got the most sacks, most tackles. Everything is a competition inside our meeting room. We got a lot of things to compete for, at the end of the day we’re trying to do better than we did last year.”
Question: How are the big guys (Defensive Line) doing upfront?
Ware: “They doing good. I got a lot of faith in my interior guys and they got a lot of faith in me and Josh. We got two great coaches that came in here and they know what they’re doing (DL Coach Derrick LeBlanc and OLB Coach Dean Hood). We got a wonderful staff, I’m excited to see where it goes from here.”
Ware on young defensive players:
“TJ Carter and Kordell Looney are standing out. The guy that’s surprising me the most is Kengera Daniel. He goes hard every day, don’t complain. Just makes plays and stands out to me the most. The new freshman Jamin Davis surprised me, he has a pick in every practice. Bannerman and Watson improve every day.”
Question: Fans that visited Commonwealth Stadium saw the giant poster featuring former Wildcat greats Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith. You and Josh Allen combined for more QB sacks and tackles for loss than Dupree and Smith during their final season in Lexington. Is it your turn now?
Ware: “Yes sir, it’s our turn. Me and Josh had a talk this summer and again on spring break. When we leave here we don’t want to be compared to Bud and Z, we want to be Denzil and Josh. It’s always a compliment when Josh and I are compared to Za’Darius and Bud. But at the end of the day, I’m Denzil Ware and he’s Josh Allen.
We love competing and we just want to do whatever it takes to help this team win. But passing them and letting the SEC know that UK got two guys on the edge that are willing to do the same thing as Bud and Z, that’s pretty good cause now they respect us more on Saturdays and when we’re in a bowl game next year. It’s our turn to shine.”
*2014-Dupree and Smith combined for 19.5 TFL and 12 QB sacks.
**2016-Ware and Allen combined for 20.5 TFL and 12.5 QB sacks.
Kentucky returns to the practice field on Monday.