When I started writing for KSR, my life quickly evolved into a series of firsts. During today’s Media Day press conference, I got up the nerve to ask DJ Eliot a question. That was my first in a formal setting. I wanted to know how many strong-side defensive ends he plans to rep and have ready to play on September 5. His answer was what I expected, two plus one. I’ll explain. The two will be primary pass rushers with the one providing depth while focusing on development. Just who the trio will be is still not clear.
— DJ Eliot said his defense is best described as multiple, not specifically a 3-4 or 4-3. Why is that notable? Kentucky plans to rush the passer from several positions and without solely relying upon a singular defensive end. Smart move. This also allows personnel to be utilized in a various manner. Think “Position-less” basketball. Defensive ends will consistently pass rush while outside linebackers and defensive backs situationally blitz. This combination lessens the effectiveness of offensive scouting patterns and forces opposing offenses to play more conservatively. Blitzing has the capability to make quarterbacks and offensive coordinators uncomfortable.
— Josh Forrest and Ryan Flannigan realize their significance to overall defensive success. I interviewed the linebacker duo at the same time. They appeared confident, mature, focused, and physically different than in 2014. Ryan Flannigan said that schematic familiarity and understanding the playbook were the most important aspects that he missed out on last year after reporting to camp in August. Flannigan’s talent was never in question. I expect him to have a break-out year now that he can read and react instead of contemplate and guess. Josh Forrest dedicated a large portion of his off-season to adding quality weight and studying film to enhance his on-line of scrimmage tackling. Mark Stoops has claimed the pair will be vastly improved. I agree. Another obvious dynamic was their communication. They both talked about the importance of inside linebackers having the ability to make timely, defensive checks/calls. In particular, the linebackers discussed the significance of effective communication with each other. The pair noticeably stayed together during Media Day festivities. Their individual and collective play will impact the team’s record.
— Jon Toth is best described as an academic mauler. While on a separate interview, every defensive player I spoke with said that Jon Toth was the best center in the SEC. When actually speaking to Toth, he maintained his focus on becoming a more vocal leader and uncomfortably shrugged off my question about his future NFL career. His summer was spent adding strength and watching SEC defensive line film. Jon is a serious soul. That makes him a perfect leader of a young offensive line group. I’ve talked extremely high when referencing the Center, today confirmed my hunch. His health and durability will play a large role in UK’s journey to bowl eligibility. Oh by the way, I also think Jon Toth is the best Center in the league. I said that last year as well.
— Now for my interview with the defensive linemen. CJ Johnson, Farrington Huguennin, Courtney Miggins, Matt Elam, Jacob Hyde, Josh Allen, and Melvin Lewis surrounded me and I have to be honest, I got a little uncomfortable. During my playing days, being that close to a pack of defensive linemen on a football field usually meant a pending concussion. Drew will have a video of the interview up on a post that’s coming soon. Football wise, the group appeared leaner yet bigger if that makes sense. High-performance has worked wonders for the big guys. Farrington Huguennin is clearly the group’s leader. He monitored Josh Allen’s comments and tutored the rookie during our interview. Also, when I asked the crew about ULL, Huguennin gave his fellow line-mates the evil eye of “you better be careful and not say anything stupid” look. The group has large personalities. I kind of feel sorry for Jimmy Brumbaugh. Defensive line film sessions have to be hysterical.
— Shannon Dawson owned the press conference. From dropping the first curse word of the ’15 season to openly joking with hacks in attendance, it’s now apparent of why he is so beloved by players and respected by coaches. But, don’t let the dimples fool you. Dawson’s moves and comments are calculated. He understands that for his playmakers to make plays, it’s as important for them to be comfortable in preparation as getting the football in space. He also spoke of playing tight ends and confirmed my thought that limited depth at that position will dictate the number of Conrad and Long reps. His offense will feature a physical run game. Offensive linemen enthusiastically confirmed.
Much, much more coming. As for me, I had a blast. Matt will be proud, the KSR crew sat in the first two rows and I even scored a question. My hands were literally shaking before and after I made my rookie inquiry. That’s over. Nerves are gone. I’m now a full-fledged, part-time media guy.