UK's new special teams coach has defensive coordinator experience

jsmith3@herald-leader.comMarch 31, 2014 

Craig Naivar, who has been a defensive coordinator or special teams coordinator for the last 15 seasons, has joined the Kentucky football staff as special teams coordinator and safeties coach. Photo by Texas State Athletics

It's been a whirlwind few weeks for Craig Naivar.

Just a month ago, he was preparing to start spring practice at Texas State as its defensive coordinator.

Fast forward a few weeks and Naivar is in Lexington coaching special teams and safeties at Kentucky.

"It's been busy, and that's all part of it," the 16-year coaching veteran said. "It's been good being around the coaching staff and being around the players, getting my feet wet with everything."

Coach Mark Stoops hopes the transition from departed special teams coach Bradley Dale Peveto, who left for the same job at Louisiana State in February, to Naivar will be seamless.

"He's very energetic, brings a little energy to the special teams and the defense," Stoops said of Naivar, who now has two UK spring practices under his belt. "It's good to have him out there."

Specifically Stoops is happy to have another coach with defensive coordinator experience on the staff with him and D.J. Eliot.

"He's got a lot of knowledge, not just in special teams, but also in defense," Stoops said of Naivar, 42. "When you're hiring a position, a guy like that for that position, for special teams, he's in front of the team a lot, so that experience of being a coordinator for a long time really helped."

The caliber of Kentucky's staff was a draw for Naivar, an Austin native whose coaching stops have included Southern Illinois, Sam Houston State, Texas State (twice) and Rice.

It was at Texas State and Rice that Naivar worked with Eliot.

Those experiences with Eliot — as well as seeing some of the recruiting success Stoops has had early — made him eager to come to Kentucky.

"There (was) a comfort level in knowing how things would be done and done the right way," Naivar said. "This staff is extremely good staff, not only are they knowledgeable football coaches, but they get along well and that's a huge part of it.

"A coaching staff is kind of like a fraternity. We are around each other more than we're around our families, so if you can't get along, it's a bad deal."

While there might be tweaks to what UK has done on special teams in the past, Naivar and Stoops said there will be similarities.

"Coach Pev did a heck of a job with special teams last year, and I've watched every rep of it," Naivar said. "A lot of the things he did are very similar to what we will continue to do."

Naivar just wants to continue to build confidence in the special teams players.

"That's a big part of going from year one to year two: the confidence they have in what they're doing," he said. "So I'm not here to change a lot of things. Just keep building on what Coach Pev did, and he did a great job."

Blue has shoulder surgery

Wide receiver Javess Blue will miss spring practice after undergoing surgery on his shoulder late last week. The junior college transfer "got tangled up, got in an awkward situation and his shoulder slipped out" while working out with quarterbacks and defensive backs in off-season," Stoops said.

"He's had it happen to him before, wanted to go get that fast," the coach said.

Blue, Kentucky's leading receiver last season with 43 catches for 586 yards and four touchdowns, is expected to make a full recovery.

"He'll be fine," Stoops said. "He's got about three, three and a half, four months of rehab ahead of him, but he'll be back next fall."

Practice notes

 Cornerback J.D. Harmon, who wasn't eligible last season and had to sit out, is working his way back into his coaches' good graces.

"He's just got to earn his way back," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "He's got a lot of ability. He's got the talent to be a good player, but he missed all those game reps."

In 2012, Harmon led the team in interceptions with two, both picks coming at Missouri. He was second on the team in pass breakups with four.

 The starting defensive linemen early this spring have been returning defensive ends Bud Dupree and Za'Darius Smith. Replacing the graduated tackles right now are Mike Douglas and redshirt freshman Regie Meant.

 Wide receiver Demarco Robinson, who was suspended at the end of last season for an unspecified violation of team rules, is back practicing with the team this spring.

"He's on the depth chart," Stoops said of Robinson, who caught 20 passes for 213 yards and two TDs. "He's out here practicing and he's earning his way back on the team. He's out here, obviously he's back to practice. We'll see where he's at with status of games as we move forward."

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

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