UK Football

Kentucky cornerbacks hungry after ho-hum, sometimes humbling 2016 season

Kentucky cornerbacks Derrick Baity (29) and Chris Westry, right, combined to tackle Vanderbilt running back Ralph Webb (7) at Commonwealth Stadium on Oct. 8, 2016. UK won 20-13.
Kentucky cornerbacks Derrick Baity (29) and Chris Westry, right, combined to tackle Vanderbilt running back Ralph Webb (7) at Commonwealth Stadium on Oct. 8, 2016. UK won 20-13. cbertram@herald-leader.com

It’s a matter of statistical subtlety, but Kentucky’s cornerbacks and coaches considered last season a disappointment for that group.

Much like the season before that, the Cats finished fifth in the Southeastern Conference in pass defense, allowing eight more yards through the air than it did the season before.

But there are other numbers that stick with junior corners Derrick Baity and Chris Westry.

That includes the six additional passing touchdowns allowed than the season before, including a 13 TD-to-three interceptions ratio in league play last year.

“As we watch film from last year, and the film doesn’t lie, there are situations that if we play better in the secondary, then the outcome could have been different,” secondary coach Steve Clinkscale said. “And there’s no pointing the finger, that’s for me to get fixed.”

Westry and Baity don’t mind pointing fingers at themselves. Even with 42 starts between them, the duo says there’s plenty of room for improvement.

“Last year wasn’t my best year,” Westry said. “I was a little disappointed in myself. I felt like I let my team down. I feel like I owe it to the coaches, my mom, my family — more importantly myself — to do better. The game humbled me.”

The former SEC All-Freshman Team member who has started every game of his Kentucky career saw his statistics slide in his second season.

After a rookie season in which Westry had eight pass breakups and two picks, the 6-foot-4, 195-pound player from Orange Park, Fla., managed just three pass breakups and one interception.

“The game of football is a humbling game,” he said recently. “You could be at the top at one point, you could be at the bottom.”

Baity had solid stats in 2016, including seven pass breakups and three interceptions, but the vocal leader in the secondary wasn’t satisfied. He harped on better communication.

Pre-snap keys and hand signals all have had extra emphasis. “We’re making it known that this is our call,” said Baity, who finished tied for 13th in the SEC in passes defended.

The list of things the duo has been working on this offseason is long.

“They’re aware that if they want to be the best DBs in the country, there’s a lot more they need to do,” Clinkscale said. “Our football IQ has to increase, our physicality has to increase and we have to win our one-on-ones. At the end of the game, we’ve got to show up. That’s something I’ve been harping on since after the bowl game.”

Defensive coordinator Matt House said Baity and Westry, who have long arms and superior height, need to finish more 50-50 balls.

“Just play smart, understand situations, formations and make the sure tackle when the ball is thrown out there,” House said.

Much work has been done to make both players comfortable playing both the boundary (short side) and field corner spots. Throughout fall camp, Westry and Baity have been playing on the left and right sides to help with muscle memory and confidence.

“We left too much on the table,” Westry said. “We were kind of one-dimensional. We weren’t comfortable on the left and the right sides as far as corners. Now we’ve settled in on both sides. … This is our year to show what we can do. I’m excited for it.”

So is their defensive coordinator.

“I mean they’ve got length, they’ve got speed, they’ve got athleticism,” House said at UK’s media day. “And now they’re hungry because they kind of got punched in the mouth a little bit right and I think both of those guys will answer the bell.”

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader

Season opener

Kentucky at Southern Miss

4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2 (CBS Sports Network)

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