Mike Edwards has waited as patiently as possible to get on the field for Kentucky.
He had to sit out his true freshman season rehabbing a shoulder injury and focusing on academics.
Behind some veteran safeties this season, Edwards again waited his turn, making plays mostly on special teams with an occasional series with the defense.
Edwards, a four-star defensive back from Cincinnati, never voiced his frustration, but you could tell he had "that itch," defensive backs coach Derrick Ansley said. "You can just tell by body language and just the eagerness to get on the field."
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The wait is more than over now for Edwards, who has been a bright spot for a Kentucky defense that has struggled the past two games.
With 15 tackles in two games, the 6-footer likely won't spend any more time on the sideline.
"I think you're going to see more of Mike," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said of Edwards before his first start last week versus Tennessee. "He's a very athletic player, he covers very well, he's very good in small spaces. He's fast."
After his eight tackles against the Volunteers, UK Coach Mark Stoops, who also happens to coach safeties, made it sound as though Edwards might be playing every down the rest of the season.
"Mike Edwards has earned the right to be on the field almost at all times," Stoops said Monday as he previewed Kentucky's trip to Georgia.
With his helmet off, Edwards is easy to spot with his bleached blond patch of hair. On the field, he's becoming easy to find, too, coaches said.
Just look for the ball.
"He's been a very sure tackler," Stoops said of Edwards, who had three combined tackles in limited action in the Cats' first six games before his recent flurry.
"What I love about him is he's making loose plays where he's a middle third safety but he made a play, a tackle for a 3-yard gain," Stoops continued. "That's having the instincts and understanding of what it takes. When it's run it's run, and when it's pass it's pass."
Those instincts were clear in high school at Winton Woods, where he had 138 tackles and 12 interceptions in his final two seasons.
"You can tell him to do something one time and he's got it," Ansley said of the redshirt freshman. "He loves football, understands football, real high IQ. Very, very pleased with his activity on the field."
Part of the learning curve for Edwards has been communication and understanding what the responsibilities are for the other moving parts of the defense.
"Just knowing what everybody else out there is doing," Edwards said last week when asked what he needs to improve. "I know what I have to do, but knowing what everybody else has to do and speed of my game and stuff like that. Knowing the calls and stuff like that better."
With some injuries at key positions in the past couple games — including linebacker Jason Hatcher (ankle) — Kentucky's defense has made some shifts in personnel.
Edwards has been a big part of that shift, with Marcus McWilson moving into more of a pass rush position with senior A.J. Stamps and Edwards working at the safety spots.
As Hatcher (and others) continue to get healthy, look for Stamps and McWilson to move to free safety and Edwards to stay on the field at strong safety.
No matter who is positioned at safety, he will be looking for passes to come his way against a turnover-prone Georgia offense.
All eight of the Bulldogs' interceptions this season have come in their last four games, including a whopping four against Florida last week by backup quarterback Faton Bauta.
Like the rest of the Kentucky defense, Edwards will be looking for his chance to make a play Saturday.
"They're counting on me," he said. "I just worry about making plays, making my team better."
And with each game rep, Edwards said he's feeling better.
"It (gets) my confidence really high, just going out there, making plays and getting more reps builds my confidence."
■ Sophomore running back Boom Williams, UK's leading rusher, is recovering quickly from his elbow injury, his position coach said on Tuesday night.
"It initially looked really, really bad and now it's gotten to the point where they're saying it's day-to-day and he's moving around a whole lot better," Chad Scott said. "The pain isn't as bad as it was before. I think it's day to day."
■ Backup quarterback Drew Barker confirmed that he was unable to practice last week because of a shoulder sprain.
"It progressed pretty quickly, but the first few days, I couldn't move it or anything," the redshirt freshman said of the injury.
Barker's short passes on the sideline before the Tennessee game were his first of the week. He was able to go through a full practice on Tuesday and said he's back to 100 percent.