Kentucky's defense didn't just lose its two top tacklers to the NFL.
It didn't just lose six starters, it lost some of its most important leaders.
One of the coaches' biggest question marks entering the spring was who were going to be the players to emerge as leaders, especially on defense.
Safety Martavius Neloms seems to be the answer, with an exclamation point.
The 6-foot-1 senior, who converted from cornerback to safety last year, is the Cats' leading returning tackler with 71 last season. He has emerged as not just a vocal leader, but a leader by example, too.
It's not always a role Coach Joker Phillips thought Neloms would embrace.
"They don't always do it as fast as we want," Phillips said of Neloms' leadership. "This is Tay's last year; he's getting it, which gives him a chance to lead. ... Now they're starting to follow him because he's doing what he's supposed to be doing off the field.
"When he talks now, people listen to him. And it's also helping his play. He's playing a lot better than he's played around here. He's always been a good player, but we think he can be a great player with the way he's leading."
Neloms said there's something about becoming a senior that helps you turn into a leader quickly.
"I'm one of the older guys, veterans, coming back and we've got a lot of new faces on defense, so I feel like it's my time to try to lead the young guys since I've been around a little bit," he said.
Neloms had to focus on learning and fully understanding Rick Minter's defense so he would be able to explain it to the new players.
"I have to know exactly what I'm doing out there, be focused every play," Neloms said. "I have to give 110 percent because I can't tell someone to do something that I'm not doing myself."
One key player who is improving because of Neloms is redshirt freshman Marcus Caffey. Caffey is making the jump from running back to cornerback this season. The Cats are so shorthanded at that spot (and Caffey is so athletic, the coaches say) that he already is tabbed as a starter.
"The reason why he's picking it up so fast is Tay Neloms," Phillips said of Caffey. "Tay Neloms has done a really good job with him."
All of the talk of new contracts and addendums to contracts for the men's and women's basketball programs last week, reminded me that we should talk about football deals.
UK added two new assistant coaches in 2012, wide receivers coach Pat Washington and defensive backs coach Mike Cassity. Both signed two-year deals worth $220,000 a year.
Those numbers put them roughly in the middle of the pack for other UK assistants, ahead of special teams coach Greg Nord ($215,000); linebackers coach Chuck Smith ($167,500) and running backs coach Steve Pardue ($140,000).
Washington, a veteran coach, is making $15,000 more a season than the coach he replaced, Tee Martin, who left for the same job at Southern Cal.
Cassity is making significantly less than his predecessor Steve Brown ($324,000 a year), but Brown also had the title of co-defensive coordinator last season.
After the spring game, Phillips noted that there's been some talk about the average age of the staff increasing with Martin's departure, but the head coach said he's not concerned about that.
"It's not about age," Phillips said. "It's about passion. Pat Washington has passion about this game. He has passion about being here, which is important, being here at Kentucky. If the guy doesn't have passion about being here, we don't want him here."
The assistant coaching contracts, received after an open records request by the Herald-Leader, are laid out identically, with the lone exception being Nord's deal, which lacks a key clause all of the others have.
That clause says that in the event of a parting of ways between Phillips and the university that the assistant coach's contract will be honored until he "finds any other employment, receives unemployment benefits or this contract expires, whichever comes first."
All of the assistant coaches' contracts run through 2013 or 2014 except Smith, whose contract expires on June 30 of this year. His is the only one-year deal among the assistants.
GameDay back at UK?
ESPN's College GameDay will film a promotional commercial this summer on a campus that is selected by its fans via a vote.
The contest, which runs until May 11, can be accessed at GameDayVote.com or by using the Facebook application at facebook.com/collegegameday. Fans, who can vote once a day for their school, can keep track of the progress.
Cats in the draftand beyond
Two Kentucky defenders, safety Winston Guy (Seattle) and linebacker Danny Trevathan (Denver), were taken in the sixth round of the NFL Draft last weekend.
Through a Broncos news release, Trevathan discussed being motivated by doubters, or in his words "haters."
"You have to pay attention to yourself and strive for excellence," he said. "In this world, they are looking for you to fail. You can't be one of those dudes that give up when times get hard."
Several other Kentucky players signed free-agent deals after going undrafted last week. They include cornerback Anthony Mosley (San Francisco), wide receiver Matt Roark (New England), linebacker Ronnie Sneed (Detroit), punter Ryan Tydlacka (Philadelphia), offensive lineman Chandler Burden (Tennessee) and cornerback Randall Burden (Arizona).
Draft by the numbers
■ As usual, the Southeastern Conference cleaned up in the NFL Draft, with 42 players taken in this year's draft, the most of any conference for the sixth straight year.
■ All 12 SEC teams had at least one player taken in the draft, the only conference to do that.
■ In the last seven drafts, the SEC has had 279 players taken, an average of nearly 40 a year.
Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241.Email: firstname.lastname@example.orgTwitter: @jenheraldleader.Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com