Scouting the UK secondary: Neloms makes switch back to cornerback

jsmith3@herald-leader.comAugust 17, 2012 

  • Scouting the secondary

    The main man: Martavius Neloms, who has gone from cornerback to safety back to cornerback again, has the most experience and knows every position in the secondary. The 6-foot-1 senior was third on the team in tackles last season with 71.

    The supporting cast: Safeties Mikie Benton and Ashely Lowery will carry a big load as well as Cartier Rice at the corner opposite Neloms. They also have been called on to teach a lot of young players like Eric Dixon, Eric Simmons, Jonathan Reed, Daron Blaylock and Josh Harris.

    Newcomer to watch: Junior Dakotah Tyler stepped away from football for a season, but is battling for a starting spot now that the depth at safety has come into question. He could be a big boost to a position searching for warm bodies.

    Outlook: Defensive coordinator Rick Minter refers to there being a "generation gap" in the secondary and he's right. After players like Neloms, Benton, Lowery and Rice, there is tons of unproven talent. Some of them haven't even been in a game. "We'll just do the best we can with what we have," Minter said when asked about the lack of depth, which could be a big problem if there are any more injuries like the one to Glenn Faulkner, who is out at least six weeks after ankle surgery. The returning players seem enthusiastic about the youth around them, though, and think it can contribute.

Marvin Neloms always wanted his son to follow in his cleated footsteps, but Martavius had other ideas.

"I just liked being a regular kid, just coming home and playing with other kids instead of going to practice," he said.

Marvin Neloms, a standout defensive end at Arkansas State, kept gently prodding his son.

"He was so good and he felt like I could be the same," the younger Neloms said. "I think it broke his heart a little bit that I didn't play."

So when Martavius was a junior at Fairley High School in Memphis, he went out for football to make his dad happy.

"Seeing the smile it put on my parents' faces was big," he said.

Turns out, football made Martavius happy, too.

"I liked all the attention it brought," UK's senior cornerback said with a shy smile. "Once I started playing I saw I was pretty good at it and more and more people started noticing me because it turned out I was pretty good at it."

Not only is Martavius Neloms good at football, he's quite versatile.

The former track star came to UK as a cornerback before being moved to safety last season and eventually being moved back to cornerback this season when starter Marcus Caffey was forced to sit out with academic troubles.

Neloms wasn't a huge fan of the move at first. He had gotten comfortable as a safety, a position where he racked up 71 tackles last season (third on the team only behind All-Southeastern Conference performers Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy).

Neloms, who also had five pass breakups last season and a quarterback sack, fumble recovery and touchdown against Jacksonville State, was happy at safety.

"I was a little skeptical at first because I had my mind set on trying to be the best safety I could be and be the best player I could be," he said.

But defensive coordinator Rick Minter reminded him that good players make adjustments and good players make sacrifices.

"I told myself being the best player for my team means lining up wherever they want me to play and doing my best," said Neloms, who had 10 tackles last season against Central Michigan and Louisiana State. "Whatever position, whether it's corner or linebacker or safety, I want to put my team in the best position to win."

There are benefits to having Neloms move back to the cornerback spot, defensive backs coach Mike Cassity reminded recently.

"The corners usually look to the safeties for the adjustments and the checks; well, he knows all those," he said. "He's sometimes helping some of the younger safeties."

The hardest part about playing cornerback, which he did both his freshman and sophomore seasons, tallying 69 tackles and three pass breakups, was remembering to have a short memory.

That was especially difficult as a freshman, when he was called into duty early because of injuries in the secondary.

"Getting scored on was not OK to me," he said. "I just really hated it. But my dad and coaches kept me motivated, told me to develop a short-term memory and a swagger out there."

He's bringing that swagger back out this season as he changes positions yet again.

"He's a good football player and good football players usually adjust where they need to play," Minter said. "We needed him to go to corner and he's done it; he's answered that bell and we're quite happy with him."

So is Martavius Neloms' dad.

"I know it warms his heart now to see me playing," Neloms said.

Practice report

There wasn't a ton of news out of practice on Friday, with the team's second closed scrimmage looming on Saturday morning, but it sounds like the quarterback battle is still open in the head coach's mind.

"It's a pretty good competition going on," Coach Joker Phillips said. "For the third and fourth (string) position also. Those guys are battling."

Phillips offered no timeline for when there would be a QB named.

"We've got to make sure we're fair to our football team, our football program and the guys who are competing at those positions also," he said.

■ Special teams coach Greg Nord said at least one battle seems done: punt returner.

Demarco Robinson will definitely be back there come game day, and Nord said he'd be "shocked if everyone isn't happy to see him, too."

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241.Twitter: @jenheraldleader.Blog:

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