John Clay: Kentucky's Wilson getting his motor up to speed

UK Junior making more plays on 'D'

jclay@herald-leader.com,JohnClaySeptember 15, 2011 

Winston Guy paid off on the hybrid hype the very first game, making tackles from sideline to sideline, pulling in a pair of interceptions, earning awards for his lead role in Kentucky's win over Western Kentucky.

Now, it is Ridge Wilson's turn.

After all, he's making progress. Kentucky's other hybrid-position player, settling in at a linebacker/defensive end spot, played probably the best game of his three-year Cats career last Saturday when UK allowed Central Michigan some early success, then cold-cocked the Chippewas.

"The fourth down," said head coach Joker Phillips. "That was a big stop."

That was Wilson. Up 13-6 in the third quarter, Central Michigan got greedy. It went for the first down on a fourth-and-1 at its 35-yard line. Only Wilson went straight for the ball carrier, dropping Chips running back Zurlon Tipton for a 1-yard loss.

Next play, UK quarterback Morgan Newton hit wideout La'Rod King for a 34-yard touchdown pass.

This is what is known as a game changer.

"I actually saw Ridge Wilson strain into doing everything in his power," said Phillips, "throwing every ounce of his 245 pounds into a guy (the blocker), then releasing him as violent as you can release a person, then going as violent as you could to try to get the stop. That was encouraging to see."

Wilson has the size. He has the strength. He has the athletic ability. But in his first two seasons, Wilson was not a "motor guy," one that played hard on every snap — or at least in the coaching staff's estimation.

Then when new defensive coordinator Rick Minter arrived, he placed Wilson into that hybrid edge position, a player who on some snaps would have his hand on the ground as a defensive end, then on other snaps stand upright like a linebacker.

For a player accused of not always going all-out, the new responsibilities were something else for him to think about. So during training camp, the staff tweaked Wilson's role, limiting it in some schemes, increasing it in others.

First game out, against Western, Wilson played "good enough to win," said Phillips.

But it was last Saturday that he took a leap.

"I thought it was the best game Ridge has played since he has been here," said linebackers coach Chuck Smith. "He looked a lot more comfortable."

"I thought Ridge Wilson played better the second week than he did the first week," said Minter after Wednesday's practice.

"Hopefully that's a good sign of things to come in terms of progression and understanding the importance of playing all the time, being an almost every-down player instead of a spot-down player."

Wilson doesn't disagree, but the junior said he just thought his side of the football got more action on Saturday.

"The first game was the type of game where I had to sit back on the edge and wait for things to come to me," Wilson said Wednesday. "Last game, I was in the mix with a lot of things as far as blitzes and rushes and things. Last week, I got a lot more action than the first game."

This week he would love even more action. The opponent is Louisville. Wilson is from Louisville, a former star at Central High School.

"I look at it as a normal game, but the coaches have instilled in you every day to hate Louisville and to hate Tennessee," Wilson said. "No matter what you do, when you come here don't wear red, don't wear orange.

"You've got to be juiced up. If you're not juiced up for this game, you'll be kicked off the team before you know it."

With Louisville coming up next, Kentucky hopes Ridge Wilson is starting to kick it into gear.

Reach John Clay at (859) 231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.

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