Learning Kentucky football's new defense 'an upper-level course'

Complicated scheme grows on seniors

jsmith3@herald-leader.comAugust 18, 2011 

When you're a senior, it's nice to be able to relax, maybe take a few bunny courses.

Kentucky's football seniors admit they would have preferred to cruise through their final season with the defense they already knew.

It would have been nice to never have to crack the playbook.

"We all just wanted to finish our last season with the defense we learned from the start," cornerback Randall Burden said.

But change is inevitable and change blew in with Rick Minter and his multi-schemed defense.

The co-defensive coordinator wondered aloud this summer how his seniors would react to the changes.

"Right now, I'm asking for faith without proof," he said. "Blind faith. That if they'll buy in, study, work hard, fly around, do the little things right, we will see the dividends and the yields made on game day."

Now, midway through Kentucky's fall camp, Minter has seen a group of seniors who not only have embraced his defensive scheme, but who are excited to teach it to young players, who will play an important role this season.

Minter challenged the seniors by reminding them that if they want to play in the NFL, they're going to be handed a thick, new playbook and be expected to learn it on their own.

The seniors see his point.

"The things he teaches you are things you're going to learn in the NFL," senior linebacker Ronnie Sneed said. "Hopefully when we get to the NFL, we'll catch onto things quicker."

But learning the new defense — which includes shifts from a 3-4 to a 4-3 to a 4-2-5 — hasn't always been easy.

"It was pretty difficult actually," junior defensive end Taylor Wyndham said. "I'm still in the process of learning it. But it's worth learning, though. This defense is really, really good."

His head coach agreed.

"There's a lot," Phillips said of the new defense. "It's an upper-level course. It's not a 101. ...

"The thing about this course: There's no plagiarizing. You've got to get through everything on your own. You can't steal somebody else's work. So we're looking forward to watching these guys and seeing how far they've come."

Watching will only tell you part of the story. To get the whole story, you also have to listen.

This defense — with all of its shifting and changing and adjusting to the offense around it — requires a huge amount of communication on the field.

"It's vital," Wyndham said. "Everyone has to be talking. It's not a situation where you can have one guy be a leader and do all the talking. As soon as coach calls the play, there's talking the whole time, adjustments being made."

Minter went back to the NFL to prove his point.

If you could put a microphone on the field to listen to a professional defense, you'll hear what UK is trying to emulate.

"I'm not talking about trash talking," Minter said. "I'm talking about communication talking: splits and alignments and stances and calls and supports. A good defense will have a lot of chatter and that's communication chatter and not chit-chat chatter."

There are so many nuances that the players have learned they have to talk constantly or risk giving up the big play.

"There are so many formations the offenses could be in and it could be like three different calls in one play," Burden explained. "You have to constantly talk and communicate to keep everyone on the same page.

"We're always talking back and forth, me to the linebacker and the linebacker to a safety. Everybody is constantly talking."

It's a job (and a defense) the seniors seem to have embraced, even though it required a little extra summer reading than most would have liked.

"Doing something different is always a little risky because you might not know exactly if it's going to work," senior cornerback Anthony Mosley said. "But I think it's going to work because we've adjusted.

"We are going to be trendsetters on defense and I look forward to showing that off this season."

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