Kentucky defender McClain is game to go at any position

jsmith3@herald-leader.comSeptember 4, 2013 

  • SATURDAY

    Miami (Ohio) at Kentucky

    When: Noon

    Records: Miami (Ohio) 0-1; UK 0-1

    TV: FS South

Mark Stoops rattles off the positions Blake McClain has played so far like a grocery list.

But instead of milk, bread, eggs, grapes it's: "field corner; he played boundary corner; he played both safeties; he played nickel and he played back."

It's definitely been a defensive smorgasbord for Kentucky's true freshman from Winter Park, Fla., who was recruited to play defensive back, but has also practiced at each of those positions listed above.

It was out of necessity when starter Kory Brown went out with an injury that McClain went in at strongside linebacker on Saturday.

"We put Blake McClain in a bad situation, so I'll take that," Stoops said on Monday. "That's on us. You know, we put Blake in a bad situation and he had to do a lot of things that he wasn't prepared to do."

McClain, all 190 pounds of him, just a few months removed from a high school football field, said he was ready to go.

"I told Coach wherever you need me to play, I'll play," said McClain, who had seven tackles and a forced fumble in the Cats' opener last week.

"It was linebacker, so I came in there and had to buckle my chinstrap and had to make some tackles, do run support and play nickel as well as linebacker."

McClain has had a full diet of defensive positions since arriving on campus this summer, but that's the kind of faith his coaches have in the 5-foot-11 freshman.

"Blake is an extremely hard worker," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "He's very focused, picks up things quick. He's tough. He's athletic. ... We knew that he was going to be one of our best 11, so we had to find a spot for him. Through training camp we worked to find that spot for him."

And McClain, who played linebacker, safety, strong safety, cornerback and wide receiver in high school, worked hard to learn each and every spot. He was productive at all of those spots for Winter Park, including racking up 60 tackles, three interceptions (one for a score) his senior season.

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Getting up to speed at all of those spots at Kentucky has meant a lot of extra time studying film, mostly with middle linebacker Avery Williamson.

It also has meant picking through a daily menu of new terminology and new techniques.

"Every position has different plays and different techniques you have to play," McClain explained. "That makes it harder. So once you get to one position, it's just better because you can play faster."

McClain spent more time studying the defense than he ever imagined.

"Every day I had to learn a new position, so every day I'd go home and look at my playbook and the plays that I was in for that position on that day," said McClain, who had nine career picks in high school.

Being a utility player for a thin defense could mean lots of playing time for the UK freshman.

"Whenever someone goes down, that's probably where they'll throw me," he said. "If they need me at safety, I'll go to safety. If they need me at corner, I'll go to corner. Knowing every spot and defensive position will just help me out more."

'We feel very good about the commitments'

Stoops knows a 35-26 loss to Western Kentucky last week did nothing but add accelerant to those who are trying to negatively recruit against Kentucky.

But on his weekly Southeastern Conference teleconference, the UK coach said he doesn't worry about that. He feels like his coaches' relationships with recruits will trump the negative voices.

"The only thing we do is build strong relationships with the players we have committed and continue to recruit other players that we are recruiting," he said. "We'll continue to battle all the way till signing day on quite a few prospects. ... We feel very good about the commitments and the relationship we have with these commitments."

What does Stoops say to those recruits, a part of the 2014 class currently rated No. 7 nationally by Rivals.com?

"The big message is that these players understand we have a lot of, you know, room for improvement, and they understand that we need them on campus," Stoops said. "These guys have been around our complex, and they like them. We've got good kids here, and so we've just got to get better. We need more talent, and we've got to continue to work. But these recruits are not afraid of that. I think they're excited to get on campus and make a difference."

Stoops OK with renewing series with WKU

The series between Western Kentucky and Kentucky may be over for now, but Stoops doesn't object to renewing it in the future despite the fact that the Hilltoppers have topped UK in back-to-back seasons.

"We'd welcome playing Western," Stoops said, noting that the Tops aren't on the next three or four schedules he's seen. "As of now, they're not on the schedule. I wouldn't be opposed to it, let's put it that way."


SATURDAY

Miami (Ohio) at Kentucky

When: Noon

Records: Miami (Ohio) 0-1; UK 0-1

TV: FS South

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

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