The players could almost hear the grass growing on the field during spring practice.
Gone were defensive leaders like Ronnie Sneed, Winston Guy and Danny Trevathan. Gone were their combined 90 starts and the 819 tackles.
Gone was the non-stop chatter of the team's leaders on defense.
Avery Williamson noticed the silence and it made him uneasy.
In the stillness, Williamson had a thought: "It's my turn now," the junior linebacker told himself.
He's taken that turn seriously.
"You can't halfway be a leader," Williamson said last week. "I come out here every day trying to be a leader."
Williamson, as the middle linebacker, or the quarterback of Rick Minter's defense, has embraced the new role fully.
The 6-foot-1, 245-pound linebacker's 49 tackles as a full-time backup last season make him the most seasoned of the linebackers by far.
The other projected starters, sophomores Bud Dupree (21 tackles), Malcolm McDuffen (nine) and Miles Simpson (five), don't even come close.
So the Milan, Tenn., native who once set a Tennessee record for tackles in a state championship game with 22, did what he had to do to lead the defense.
He spent most of his summer in the dark.
"I studied a lot this summer, just lived in the film room," Williamson said. "I wanted to know where everybody (on the defense) is supposed to be. That was my goal."
His coaches have noticed.
Position coach Chuck Smith said Williamson works harder than any other player.
"He worked his rear end off in the weight room in the off-season and he worked like a dog in the summer," Smith said. "He's doing what everybody else is doing, plus he's doing more. ... He's going above and beyond."
That above-and-beyond mentality is what leads Minter to call Williamson "our man ... our man in the middle."
Williamson, who had a career-high seven tackles last season against Jacksonville State and an interception against Florida, will make the defense go.
"We're going to lean on him heavily," Minter continued. "He's high character, high work ethic. He's the Pied Piper of the linebackers and almost the entire defense."
Where there once was silence in the spring, there's now a whole lot of chatter.
"It's the linebackers that talk the most trash," offensive lineman Larry Warford said. "I'll be in my stance, and Avery Williamson will just walk up to the line and smack me in my face mask. He'll be like, 'Yeah.' I'll say, 'You better watch out.'"
Running back Raymond Sanders likes this new Williamson.
He thinks the linebacker gives UK's defense an edge.
"You can definitely see and feel his presence," Sanders said of his fellow junior. "We'll all tell you how humble and quiet he is off the field, but on the field, he gets very excited. He wants to let you know he's coming for you."
Safety Glenn Faulkner will be out for six to eight weeks after he had surgery to repair his ankle Thursday. The four-star safety out of East Saint Louis, Ill., had a screw put in to stabilize the ankle.
Faulkner was not listed with the starters on the Cats' depth chart going into fall camp. But he was expected to provide some needed depth at that position. Faulkner still has a redshirt season available, and that will be considered as his rehabilitation progresses, Phillips said.
■ Running back Josh Clemons has been battling swelling in his surgically repaired knee since the spring and the trainers wanted to get a second look at it. Results of an MRI done Tuesday did not show any issues, Phillips said.
At Media Day, Clemons said his injury was unusual.
"It's not like other people's meniscus injuries where (doctors) just have to shave a piece off," he said. "They had to sew it together, so it takes a little bit of time to put pressure on it."
Phillips hasn't ruled out redshirting Clemons, but said it's too soon to do that now.
"He could come out tomorrow and not have any swelling for months," Phillips said. "We're trying to put our finger on what's causing it and make a decision way down the road."
Scouting the linebackers
The main man: Since the spring, coaches have been calling Avery Williamson "the man." The 6-foot-1, 245-pound junior who had 49 tackles last season has become a vocal leader of the defense.
The supporting cast: While Williamson is the leader, sophomore Bud Dupree could be the star from the hybrid position. He had 21 tackles last season and has added nearly 40 pounds of muscle since he arrived on campus. Malcolm McDuffen and Miles Simpson have been solid contributors and will try to elevate their status this season. Demarius Rancifer, Josh Forrest and Kory Brown are players to keep an eye on.
Newcomer to watch: He's not exactly new, but coaches are high on 6-foot-4 sophomore Tyler Brause, who emerged in the spring as a smart, versatile defender. He's seen action at more than one linebacker spot this fall.
Outlook: Kentucky has had a linebacker on the Southeastern Conference superlatives list each of the past six seasons. For that trend to continue, the Cats' young group will have to elevate their play quickly. Almost all of these players were productive backups to longtime starters last season and they seem primed to show what they can do.