Kentucky safety A.J. Stamps grabs attention

jsmith3@herald-leader.comSeptember 3, 2014 

  • SATURDAY

    Ohio at Kentucky

    When: 3:30 p.m.

    TV: ESPNU

When A.J. Stamps sits down to watch game video, he doesn't want to see the highlights.

He wants to see his corrections.

So that SportsCenter replay of the Kentucky safety's one-handed interception in the opener against Tennessee Martin doesn't interest Stamps much.

"I'm like, 'Yeah, OK. Move onto the next subject,'" Stamps said.

He doesn't care about the glory.

He doesn't care about the headlines.

He just wants to get better, his former position coach at East Mississippi Community College said.

"He's a confident kid and that's what you always look for in defensive backs," Clifton Collins said Monday. "He's a confident kid, but he's not arrogant, and that's the key."

Some kids might pout when coaches want to move them over from a prestige position like wide receiver, a position Stamps played in his first season at junior college, to the defensive side of the ball.

Not Stamps.

He actually requested the move to cornerback. He'd played in the secondary in high school and was good at it. "I don't want to say I didn't feel comfortable, but I missed the defensive side a lot," he said of the move.

Stamps admits later that he mostly missed the hitting.

As soon as he saw Stamps in the secondary, Collins knew it was the right move for the player who helped the Lions win a 2013 national championship with 51 tackles, a sack, seven tackles for a loss, a forced fumble, four interceptions and a pass breakup last season.

"Once we got him over there, the first day of practice, I knew just looking at him in a stance that he felt more comfortable, it was natural for him," Collins said.

Then in his first game playing defense, Stamps had two interceptions, taking one of them 108 yards for a touchdown.

So when Collins saw the replays of Stamps' one-handed pick on Saturday or that upending tackle for a loss or any of his team-best eight tackles, the coach wasn't surprised.

"He does such a good job of preparing himself mentally and in film sessions to make those plays," Collins said of Stamps. "He's a kid who's going to take the coaching and then translate what his coaches tell him onto the field. That's what you want in a football player. That's a perfect football player."

Kentucky safeties coach Craig Naivar knew after a few days of spring practice that Stamps was going to be an immediate impact player.

The coaches were making corrections in post-practice video study and then at the next practice, he didn't make any of those mistakes again.

"That became a general theme for him," Naivar said. "He's by no means perfect, but he makes it a point to be that way."

Both his position coach in junior college and at Kentucky talked about Stamps' innate ability to be coached.

"He picks things up quickly; he has a sense for what's going on. He's football-smart," Naivar said. "If he makes a mistake, it's corrected and he moves forward."

It helps that Stamps also has good intuition, Mark Stoops said.

"What impresses me most is that comfort level, the instincts he has," Kentucky's head coach said.

He sees situations where Stamps is in a run-pass conflict, where he is forced to make a read in a split second and then make the tackle.

Then Stoops sees Stamps at "darn near 100 percent" on every read.

"Those are things that are very difficult to coach, all those last- minute little points," Stoops said. "You have to have some feel and some instincts at all positions, but certainly at safety."

Maybe playing at so many positions, including a little linebacker in middle school, when Stamps said he first learned he enjoy doling out hits, has helped with those instincts.

In his final two years of high school, Stamps had 210 tackles, two interceptions, seven pass breakups and two fumble recoveries.

He can do a little bit of everything and do it well.

"You always appreciate guys you trust," Collins said. "I always trusted A.J. When I went into a game, I didn't have to worry about him busting an assignment or doing something he's not supposed to do."

When Stamps saw a formation that he didn't know, he knew to call a timeout. "He knew to call timeout; he didn't panic like that," Collins said. "I miss that."

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

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