When coaches said they were planning to mix and match on defense this season after injuries and defections, they weren’t kidding.
Multiple schemes, multiple players, multiple positions.
“We’re going to be three down and we’ll get in four-down fronts as well,” Stoops said after an open practice for the media on Monday morning. “We’ll do both. We’re quite multiple in what we do blitz-wise, coverage-wise and all that.”
So at times, sophomore linebacker Kobie Walker was starting in one position and backing up at another.
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“It depends on the package and depends what we’re in, but yes he’s been very good for us,” Stoops said. “He’s very active, he’s very versatile.”
It’s a similar story for De’Niro Laster, who moved from outside linebacker to inside linebacker behind Courtney Love last week.
“That’s the best position for him, but De’Niro is versatile,” Stoops added. “We’re trying to find the best spot for him, and I felt like inside was best for him.”
There were some interchanging parts with Jordan Jones and Eli Brown, who are battling still for the starting spot at weakside linebacker. Jones suffered a minor injury in the scrimmage on Saturday and was limited on Monday, Stoops said.
“Both of them have shown very good promise,” Stoops said of Brown and Jones. “Both make a few mistakes but they’re playing really good football.”
Brown, who had a stinger and was limited in the scrimmage as well, was back to full speed on Monday.
“Eli, is a guy I feel like that’s really shown some really good signs,” Stoops said. “We always knew he was going to be a good player, but how early or when, we were unsure. I think he’s a guy that’s stepping up.”
Walker, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound linebacker who missed last season with an injury and academic issues, said the versatility of the defense could be its biggest asset.
“We’ve got a lot of speed, got a lot of size,” he said. “Everybody’s athletic. All our corners. Our defense can do very well this year.”
In its base 3-4 defense, it appeared Kentucky’s starting defensive line is Matt Elam, Courtney Miggins and Alvonte Bell with Denzil Ware and Walker as outside linebacker. Courtney Love and Eli Brown were inside linebackers.
The backups at those spots in some situations were Adrian Middleton, Naquez Pringle and true freshman T.J. Carter. Laster and Nico Firios were in with that group as were Josh Allen and Walker.
“T.J. Carter is a guy that will play, that we’ll need to bring along and play,” Stoops confirmed, mentioning that middle linebacker Kash Daniel also is another true freshman that most likely will see this field this season for the defense.
Overall Stoops seemed more confident with where the defense is than where it was at the start of camp, especially with usable depth. There are a lot of interchanging, moving parts.
“I do feel like we’re getting where we need to be; when you’re piecing 3-4 inside linebackers together that can play at a winning level for you, four outside linebackers, and we need six or seven D-linemen,” he said. “We’re getting to that point.”
Kentucky running back Boom Williams was full go at practice on Monday, but played with a complicated brace on his surgically repaired elbow.
Starting nose guard Elam was wearing a cast on his right hand/wrist, but Stoops said it was just preventative, not major. As for the junior’s play: “He’s got to continue to fundamentally play better. He’s improved in certain areas. His conditioning, his weight is better, but it’s still a work in progress.”
▪ Offensive lineman Ramsey Meyers had a stomach bug and was limited. Wide out Jabari Greenwood (undisclosed) is expected to return in the next couple of days, Stoops said, and center Bunchy Stallings missed practice but is expected to return on Tuesday. Defensive back Kendall Randolph was in red (no contact) as well. He saw time at both nickel and safety.
▪ Junior Dorian Baker, who tweaked his hamstring in the scrimmage, was in full uniform, but spent most of practice working with the trainer to recover. Fellow wide out Blake Bone, who had his own hamstring issues that caused him to miss both scrimmages, was back on the field Monday.
▪ Monday night will be the team’s last day with two practices and Stoops said full game prep for Southern Miss will start on Thursday. The team gets Wednesday off this week for the start of fall classes at UK.
More walk-ons earn scholarships
About a week after making walk-on wide receiver Charles Walker a full scholarship player, Stoops added to that club on Sunday night, awarding scholarships to fullbacks Will Tom Collins and Tanner Fink as well as junior offensive lineman Dylan Greenberg.
All three of the new scholarship players are set to graduate this year.
“It was fun. It’s always rewarding,” Stoops said, noting UK had some openings after players left to look elsewhere for playing time. “It was really nice to give it to the players that bust their tail every day. They do whatever we ask them to do, whether it’s scout team, special teams.
“And it was really nice to see our team really respond and be very happy for those guys. Because they know the hard work and the effort that they put in.”