There’s been boundless brotherly back-and-forth this fall camp.
“They’re out there to get better and I’m out there to get better and I’m going to do whatever it takes to win the drill,” junior outside linebacker Denzil Ware said recently of going against Kentucky’s offense.
“If it takes trash talking, then I’m going to trash talk.”
And it’s not like the offense has quietly twiddled its gloved thumbs.
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“Benny, we always gotta hear Benny; he’s always talking,” said UK’s other outside linebacker, Josh Allen, of running back Benny Snell.
Quarterback Stephen Johnson doesn’t need to see the defense in the film room every day to know it’s spending a lot of time there.
“You’ve got Derrick Baity out there calling plays before they happen,” he said after the scrimmage on Saturday at Kroger Field.
That is definitely happening, Allen assured.
“We study them,” he said of the offense. “Little cadence that we see, that we pick up on and since (Baity) knows, he tells the whole defense, then we all know. That’s just making us better, and if he can pick out keys like that, means we can find ways to stop them.”
Sometimes this familiarity breeds contempt.
There have been practice dust-ups and irritable exchanges, with Ware calling left guard Logan Stenberg the offense’s “punisher” and “enforcer.”
Senior Courtney Love took it a step further.
“He’s just nasty,” Love said when asked about Stenberg, a 6-foot-6, 318-pound sophomore guard. “He’s a nasty player. We need somebody who’s going to be nasty and hit somebody in the mouth. That’s what he does.”
But within that nastiness, a respect has developed on both sides of the line.
“Basically, the whole offense is just pushing us to be better, we’re pushing them to be better,” Allen said.
The linebacker who goes up against left tackle Landon Young every day in practice has taken to working with the sophomore on his technique.
“Every time I beat him on a move, I tell him, you sat too high, you need to get lower,” Allen said he tells Young.
If Allen manages to get more than the 8.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks he managed last season, he’s going to credit Young.
“Every time he beats me, he’ll say, ‘All right, Josh, you stick your arm (out),’” Allen continued. “We work on it.”
It’s not just something that happens during practice, either.
“We see each other in the indoor, and we tell them, ‘Next time you should do this.’ And I feel like he’s going to have a breakout year this year, stopping a lot of pass rush this year. I’m going to help him out with that.”
They’re tangible examples of a maturity that coaches and players on both sides of the ball have been discussing in the days leading up to UK’s opener at Southern Miss on Sept. 2.
“Guys know the playbook, know exactly what coach expects with effort and leadership and accountability,” Love said. “We’re policing each other and making each other better.”
A leader on the other side sees that, too.
“Everybody is locked in and focused, and that comes with leadership and maturity,” Johnson said. “Guys are stepping up into roles they need to, and people are catching on to what we want to do.”
‘It hurts so bad’
Probably more than any other season of the Mark Stoops era, the Kentucky offensive line is equipped to deal with the loss of a player like Cole Mosier, who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in a scrimmage last weekend.
But just because there are backups doesn’t mean the veteran left tackle is easily replaced. It was an emotional meeting room when the offensive linemen learned the fifth-year senior’s career is over.
“Cole was the powerhouse of the team or the powerhouse of the line definitely,” said Young, his likely replacement. “Losing him during his last season especially, that’s really hard considering he was such a big role model.”
Seeing Mosier go from a walk-on to a starting left tackle in the Southeastern Conference and then watching it end that way was heartbreaking, senior Kyle Meadows said.
“Worked his (behind) off to get that, and then it’s taken away so easily,” Meadows said. “It hurts so bad. It hurts.”
It’s a hurt that is felt all through the practice facility, offensive line coach John Schlarman said.
“That guy’s given everything to this program that he can give,” he said of Mosier. “I just hate it for him that it happened and we all have to deal with that.”
On Twitter last week, Mosier’s father confirmed the senior’s surgery went well. The player said he plans to go through rehab and try to be ready for UK’s Pro Day in the spring.
Schlarman hopes Mosier considers coaching when his professional playing days are through, perhaps even starting later this season when he’s feeling better.
“He’s very smart, brings a lot to the table,” Schlarman said of the former standout at Walton-Verona. “He’s very calm and collected. So out here at practice, coaching some of the younger guys, getting them to understand assignments.
“He does it in a way that it’s non-threatening to them and they learn a lot from him. He can be a tremendous asset to us and to them. I hope he does in some capacity.”
Kentucky at Southern Miss
Sept. 2, 4 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)