The University of Kentucky defense faced a major rebuilding year with the prospect of losing juniors Trevard Lindley, Micah Johnson and Jeremy Jarmon to the NFL Draft, but with the announcement that all three players would return next season, the Wildcats will have a trio of cornerstones to build their defense around.
Lindley's return isn't the only good news the Wildcats got regarding its secondary for next season. Cornerback Paul Warford has re-enrolled at UK for the spring semester and will participate in spring practice. Warford, who has 14 career starts, was academically ineligible for the 2008 season. He'll have two years of eligibility remaining and would give the Cats a veteran corner alongside Lindley if he can get back up to speed. With freshman Randall Burden coming off a strong Liberty Bowl and Cartier Rice showing promise during his redshirt year, the Cats should be able to field a nice four-player rotation at corner. Another freshman, Winston Guy, saw action at both safety and corner.
"The competition will be better," Coach Rich Brooks said. "What I think will improve is our nickel and dime package."
That doesn't mean the UK defense won't have holes to fill. The Wildcats lost six senior starters, plus quality backups in cornerbacks Shomari Moore and Robbie McAtee and defensive end Nii Adjei Oninku.
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The UK coaching staff will have to find a complement at end alongside Jarmon and replace tackle Myron Pryor, who often occupied two blockers and plugged things up in the middle. Brooks will look to junior-college signee Mark Crawford, who's already enrolled, to help fill the void created by Pryor's loss.
The Wildcats also need linebackers to step up and replace seniors Braxton Kelley and Johnny Williams. Senior-to-be Sam Maxwell, who has four career starts and made 25 tackles as a backup in 2008, is the incumbent to Williams. The Wildcat coaches are extremely high on Danny Trevathan, who played mostly on special teams as a true freshman.
"We should be better on the offense side, and I hope we don't slip (on defense)," Brooks said. "I hope we step it up. I think we have a chance to do that."
The Wildcats are trying to shore up their linebacker position in the final weeks of recruiting. UK is scheduled to get a visit this weekend from Ryan Mosby, a three-star linebacker from Heath High School in Rockwall, Texas Mosby has offers from UK, Colorado State, Iowa State and UNLV. Devekeyan "DeDe" Lattimore, a 6-foot-1, 225-pound, three-star linebacker from Cedar Shoals (Ga.), is set to visit UK on Jan. 30. Lattimore visited South Florida on Jan. 9 and is checking out Louisville this weekend. Lattimore has offers from UK, Louisville, Oklahoma State, Clemson, South Florida and Central Florida.
The return of Trevard Lindley and Paul Warford seemingly makes cornerback less of a priority than it was a couple of weeks ago, but UK is reportedly still involved with Warner Robins (Ga.) cornerback K.J. Morton. Morton, who played for a powerhouse Northside team, visited Kentucky in December. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Kentucky coaching staff is waiting on the results of his latest ACT scores before they extend an offer. Morton told the newspaper that he'd likely commit if offered.
Memphis Whitehaven cornerback Gene Robinson, one of the nation's top remaining uncommitted cornerbacks, is visiting North Carolina this weekend and will be in Lexington next weekend.
Matthews cancels visits, firm with UK
Wide receiver Chris Matthews, a four-star receiver from Harbor Community College in Los Angeles, said this week that he canceled planned trips to Oregon and Louisville and is solid in his commitment to Kentucky.
"I had those visits planned before I committed to Kentucky, and shortly after that I told those schools I wasn't coming," he said. "I know Kentucky is the right place for me."
UK is also recruiting Matthews' teammate, four-star defensive end DeQuin Evans, who is reportedly down to Kentucky and Kansas.
"I haven't really pressured him into making a decision, but I'm going to start," Matthews said of Evans. "I'm definitely going to be in his ear to try and get him to Kentucky."
Phillips not giving up on Green
Louisville Male prospect Justin Green recently re-affirmed his commitment to Ohio State, but expect Kentucky head coach-in-waiting Joker Phillips to keep the full-court press on Green right up until national signing day to try to sway him to the Wildcats.
Green is listed as the fourth-fastest cornerback in the country and the No. 8 overall corner by Rivals, but could also be a receiver and kick returner in college. Green committed to Ohio State last June, but decided in December that he'd at least take a look at some other schools. Green visited Clemson last weekend, and won't take any more official visits according to his father, William "Jelly" Green. Scout.com reported that Green is now solid in his commitment to the Buckeyes, and Green's father said he will most likely announce his choice at a news conference on Feb. 4, national signing day.
"I think he knows where he wants to go," Green's father said.
Phillips has been a huge presence in Louisville this recruiting season, having already secured commitments from Central prospects Ridge Wilson and Mister Cobble, and he's also hot and heavy after St. Xavier running back Deuce Finch, who was scheduled to visit Illinois this weekend. The Green family is familiar with Phillips. Green's older brother, Jaysuma Simms, played under Phillips from 1993-96 when Phillips coached receivers under Bill Curry.
"You can never count Joker out; he's done a great job here in Louisville," Green's father said. "If he changes Justin's mind, he changes his mind. I know they've been selling him on the home boy staying in state to play, and I think that will have some bearing on his decision."
Winter workouts start Monday
The UK football team will begin its winter conditioning program on Monday. The program will last eight weeks and take the Wildcats right into the start of spring practice in late March.