Thursday evening Kentucky defensive coordinator Brad White peeled back the curtain to let the Big Blue Nation know where a handful of players stand as the Wildcats near the midway point of preseason practice. There have been some pleasant surprises and there are potential stars that still have hurdles to overcome.
First Down: Kelvin Joseph is Getting Closer
Coach Speak: “Kelvin is, again, he’s getting comfortable with everything that’s within our system. You can see the talent and his smoothness. He’s primarily in the boundary but he’s a guy that you can play out to the field if you want to at that corner spot. What’s nice is that we’ve got great competition across the board. I know you guys just spoke with Brandin (Echols). Brandin’s having a really solid camp. Ced Dort and Jamari (Brown) is really starting to come into his own, play more comfortable. MJ (Devonshire) — the nice thing is we’ve got a lot of guys that are gonna push and it forces Kelvin to stay locked into his playbook. He’s really working hard at that. Again, it’s not a small playbook and there’s a lot of nuances in it, He’s gonna make mistakes. Sometimes you gotta touch the stove to realize it’s hot, but he does a lot of natural things that you can’t teach.”
Analysis: Bossman Fat may have the most pure talent in the group, but he’s still technically a new guy and it takes time for players to get comfortable within the system. Luckily, Joseph has more time than normal this preseason to perfect what he’s learned in Mark Stoops’ lengthy defensive playbook.
Second Down: ‘Rugged’ Josaih Hayes
Coach Speak: “He’s a big, strong, rugged individual. We talked a couple weeks ago just how those guys look, they don’t look like normal freshman. He’s got big, strong hands. The thing for him is he just has to continue to learn our playbook. He has to understand where he has to go all the time and how that affects the entire defense.” White continued:
“All those freshmen are starting to get the hang of it. I’ve seen over the last week or so, maybe eight days, that they’re starting to get more comfortable and violent at the line of scrimmage. I think there was a lot of thinking early so there was some negative push upfront, pushing our line of scrimmage back, but now they’re just starting to play and they’re looking like the players we recruited.”
Analysis: Have you ever heard of a player described as “rugged?” That just sounds like someone you wouldn’t want to mess with. You probably won’t be seeing Hayes anytime soon, currently slotted behind Quinton Bohanna and Bully McCall at the nose. Like White, Bohanna has liked what he’s seen from the freshmen so far, but none more so than Octavious Oxendine. The North Hardin product appears to have used the spring to get a leg up on his peers.
Third Down: J.J. Weaver’s Impressive Progress
Coach Speak: “J.J. is ready to take a step. That’s what you’re looking for, especially how lucky we were to get to him game reps last year and still have that redshirt. I think that rule is unbelievable for the development of young guys. The fact that he’s just a redshirt freshman, he’s had a really solid camp thus far. He’s really done a great job in terms of shaping his body. He already had really good length, but his flexibility, his twitch is improved. His weight and his mass is improved. And his understanding of the game is improved and understanding that now it’s not just trying to execute the defense called, but how am I a football player within the play call? So he’s really started to take a step there. I’m really excited about the potential that he has in him and how much more there’s still to tap into.”
Analysis: J.J. Weaver has done everything right. Physically, he’s ready to play in the SEC. The pass rusher has taken the proverbial medicine from Coach White and Kentucky’s defensive coordinator can see the early returns. Those do not compare to the long-term dividends that Kentucky could cash in the pass rush down the road.
Fourth Down: Big Season for Big Snacc
Coach Speak: “Phil Hoskins, I think he can have a really big year. He’s big. He’s twitchy. I know we talked about it last year, unfortunately we weren’t able to have it, but he’s come back with sort of a different mindset and it’s showing. His work ethic on the field is unlike since I’ve been here.” White added:
“The pass rush right now, knock on wood, is a little bit, I don’t want to say the least of my worries but I know Coach Stew’s got em going and we’re hunting them pretty good on the outside.”
Analysis: This year we won’t exclusively be talking about Boogie Watson as the reason Kentucky has a successful pass rush. In addition to Josh Paschal’s move to the defensive line, White has seen Bohanna, Isaiah Gibson and Phil Hoskins get after the quarterback. If the Wildcats can create natural pressure by only rushing four, it should give Kentucky’s secondary more opportunities to create turnovers.