Scouting the secondary: UK stocked with talent

Cats deep at safety and cornerback

ccosby@herald-leader.comAugust 25, 2009 

  • SCOUTING THE SECONDARY

    Coach: Chris Thurmond is in second year as the secondary coach at Kentucky. Thurmond has prior SEC experience as an assistant at Alabama and has also coached at Texas A&M and Oklahoma.

    The main man: Trevard Lindley would have been regarded as one of the best corners in school history even if he had decided to skip his senior season and turn pro. Now he'll have a chance to add to his legacy, which includes nine career interceptions, countless big plays and a school-record 34 pass deflections.

    The supporting cast: Junior Paul Warford was solid at corner as an 11-game starter in 2007 but is fighting to get his job back from up-and-coming sophomore Randall Burden. Sophomore Cartier Rice will be a factor in nickel and dime packages. UK has four safeties with starting experience (Calvin Harrison, Matt Lentz, Ashton Cobb, Taiedo Smith), and Winston Guy is viewed as one of the most talented young players in the program.

    Newcomer to watch: Freshman Martavious Neloms came to UK as an unheralded recruit from Memphis, but the 6-foot-1, 180-pounder has been good enough in fall camp that Brooks has pledged to play him despite the crowd of bodies at cornerback.

    Outlook: The Cats appear to be in better shape here than perhaps any other position on the team. There's an All-America shutdown corner in Lindley, a potential star in Guy, and plenty of depth and experience. Kentucky allowed 193.2 yards per game in 2008, its lowest total since 1994. If they avoid a rash of injuries, those numbers could be better this year.

    CHIP COSBY

Everybody knows about Trevard Lindley. The Kentucky senior cornerback is on just about every pre-season All-SEC and All-America list, and you can bet opposing offensive coordinators will spend plenty of time game-planning for Lindley this fall.

But if things work out the way UK Coach Rich Brooks, defensive coordinator Steve Brown and secondary coach Chris Thurmond hope, offenses will have more than Lindley to worry about.

The Wildcats have five cornerbacks and six safeties they're comfortable with, and Brooks said the depth and talent in the secondary is the best it has been since he arrived in Lexington in 2003.

"We're fortunate," Thurmond said. "We've got some people that have some ability that are all in the mix. It's a good situation. It makes guys hungry to get in there and want to battle for reps. And when they're in there, they have to have quality reps."

That has made for some competitive practices in fall camp according to Thurmond.

One of the best competitions is the one to see who starts opposite Lindley. Sophomore Randall Burden got a leg up with a strong Liberty Bowl and spring practice. But Paul Warford, who started 11 games in 2007 before sitting out last season, is making a strong push to reclaim his old job.

"It's clearly a battle," Brooks said of Warford and Burden. "Both guys are doing some good things. Randall's continuing where he left off, and Paul looks like he hasn't skipped a beat."

UK's depth at corner doesn't end there. The coaching staff resisted the temptation to play Cartier Rice as a true freshman last fall, but the Duncan, S.C., native has proven ready for game action in 2009.

"Anytime you have the advantage of redshirting and getting stronger, you get better acclimated and learn what's going on in the secondary," Thurmond said. "And if you're not going to play a whole lot, it always advantageous to redshirt."

Despite that, Brooks said that true freshman Martavious Neloms will, in all likelihood, play this fall despite the crowd of people at cornerback.

"The thing about Martavious is that he has such a competitive mind-set and battles on every play," Thurmond said. "He comes out, works hard and really does get better every day."

"He's got a chance to be a really good player," Brown said of Neloms. "He's physical, he's fast, he's bright. Plus, he's a big kid. He's got a lot of value."

Brown said that he also wouldn't be afraid to call on sophomore Anthony Mosley, a converted receiver, and junior walk-on Darryl Faulkner in a pinch.

The Cats are also playing with a full deck at safety. Brooks raved about sophomore Winston Guy in the spring, and the Lexington Catholic product is likely to start at free safety, although the two safety spots are interchangeable. Sophomore Matt Lentz made five starts as a redshirt freshman in 2008 and will also get his share of reps. Another sophomore, Taiedo Smith, started against Georgia last year.

Senior Calvin Harrison is currently running No. 1 at strong safety, but he is being pushed by another senior, Ashton Cobb, who has nine career starts. Also, sophomore Greg Wilson had a strong Blue/White game and is looking to see the first extensive action of his Wildcat career.

Brown said true freshman Jarvis Walker is also in the mix.

"Everybody in the secondary seems to be playing at a high level," Brown said. "We feel pretty good about what we've got back there."

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