Kentucky’s secondary has a ton of young talent. After losing three seniors to graduation and Kendall Randolph, the only senior left in the unit, to an ankle injury, Mark Stoops is searching for depth in different places.
The biggest change happened just two practices ago. Stoops is trying out redshirt freshman and McCracken County product Zy’Aire Hughes on the defensive side of the ball. He may not stay, but Stoops wants to see what he can offer.
“It’s a double-edged sword. We lose a bunch of wide receivers after this year, and he’s doing a good job at wideout. But we’re getting thin in the secondary, and he’s just so quick. He has such great change of direction. He can run, so I just wanted to look at him a bit.”
As of now the change is in the exploratory stage , but Hughes impressed the crowd soon after practice started. In one-on-ones against a slot receiver, Hughes made a leaping one-handed pass deflection. He was forced to completely extend his body horizontally to the ground, creating one of the most impressive plays of the day.
“He’s a quick twitch guy, now,” defensive coordinator Matt House said excitedly. “I’m excited to see him improve. He’s been in there with Coach Clink a bunch, so he’s hungry to learn, which is huge.”
Hughes is starting against slot receivers in a nickel-type role, one that Jordan Griffin has been thrust into following Randolph’s injury. It’s not an easy position to learn, but Stoops believes the sophomore is taking it in stride.
“We’re overloading him right now. To his credit he handles it very well. Playing that nickel position, you’ve heard me talk about it through the years, there’s a lot to it. He’s playing corner. But I have a lot of confidence in him. He’s a guy that has an unbelievable work ethic. Just a quality kid and he’s very talented,” Stoops said. “It’s trial and error at that position. He needs a lot of reps and he’s been getting it.”