UK football: Marcus Caffey's quick feet a defense asset

jsmith3@herald-leader.comApril 23, 2012 

Some of the skills that made Marcus Caffey one of the nation's top running backs out of high school are the same ones that could make him an elite cornerback in the Southeastern Conference.

At least that's what Kentucky's coaches are hoping.

"The quick feet, the change of direction are the same from one position to the next," UK defensive backs coach Mike Cassity explained. "The biggest difference is he's doing it going backwards instead of going forward."

Caffey found himself sliding down the depth chart at running back last season. So as soon as last season ended, Joker Phillips was in the freshman's ear discussing a position transition.

How did the Cats coaches convince Caffey?

"The NFL always needs defensive backs, and coach reminded me we can put more (defensive backs) on the field than running backs," Caffey said on Saturday after the Blue-White game.

The NFL angle was key.

"Look at the salaries at the next level; look at the draft," Phillips said he told the freshman. "(Corners) have been drafted a lot higher than running backs. We were able to convince him of that. It's definitely a natural position for him."

Kentucky is counting on that after the graduation of corners Anthony Mosley and Randall Burden left the Cats with little depth at a key spot.

"He's big, strong, got really good feet," Phillips said of the red-shirt freshman. "He's that corner that we see every week on the other side of the ball from us."

Even though he's never played the position in a game, Caffey was listed as a first-string cornerback when the depth chart came out at the start of spring.

After the spring, Phillips said he was more convinced than ever that the 5-foot-11, 200-pound player will be successful at that spot at this level and maybe the next.

A big interception in practice last week helped convince the coach even more.

"One of the biggest plays I've seen made here on defense," Phillips said of the pick. "I was excited to see that. Guy has unbelievable talent."

By the time Caffey leaves Kentucky, the coaches think he could be among the top cornerbacks in the country.

"He's been with us only four weeks on defense ... and he's got tremendous promise, tremendous upside," defensive coordinator Rick Minter said. "Our job is to get him to grow up as fast as possible, and start performing like an SEC player."

Much of that upside Minter sees comes from Caffey's size and toughness, which made him a solid running back at the high school level, where he was rated in the top 50 by several recruiting services.

Caffey has had to amp up his aggression since he made the switch to the other side of the ball.

"As a running back, you have to be an aggressive runner, but on defense you really have to be a lot more aggressive," he said.

The Cats are counting on Caffey to be able to line up against some of the nation's biggest, fastest wide receivers next season.

"We haven't had a big, fast physical corner around here in a long time," Phillips said. "We weren't as physical at the line of scrimmage as we needed to be. This guy has a chance to be a physical corner, can get his hands on people and re-route them."

But before he can start bouncing receivers at the line, he has to keep getting better at the basics, Caffey's position coach said last week.

"He's never played defense before," Cassity said. "But I've seen a lot, a lot of improvement in him. I'm excited about what I've seen so far, but he's got a lot more work to do. Thankfully we don't play tomorrow, and he'll get a lot more repetitions before we do."

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com, ukwomen.bloginky.com

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