Derrick Baity has a motor like a sports car.
His mouth might even go a bit faster.
So when the Kentucky cornerback mentions he’s “talking less,” it’s only natural for reporters to slam on the brakes.
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Baity, who has started 29 games as a Wildcat, decided he needed to take a different approach.
“I took a step back from the talking and it makes me look at the whole team,” said the senior from Tampa, Fla.
The vow to talk a little less came out of a long talk with cornerbacks coach Steve Clinkscale after the Cats’ Music City Bowl loss a season ago. Baity heard the clock clicking down on his Kentucky career, which has included 110 career tackles and five interceptions.
Difficult, complicated questions that some seniors have to ask themselves kept coming up as Baity and Clinkscale spoke: What did Baity want his legacy to be? What did he want his future to be?
“We recruit these guys, bring them in here and tell them they’re going to leave better men,” Clinkscale said. “Part of that is them taking the medicine and learning and growing from it.”
The Cats’ assistant coach pointed out that Baity has a massive, magnetic personality, one that other players gravitate toward.
He encouraged Baity to be a player that other players would want to emulate, not just with his big plays on the field.
“Let’s stop talking so much and focus,” Clinkscale said he told the senior. “As far as just distraction talking. Let’s focus in on the bigger picture and help the team by using your ability as a leader to make us better.”
It’s helped Baity become a better leader for a young defensive backs group that will have to take over the secondary soon.
“He’s doing a better job this year of focusing on the bigger picture and being an unselfish player, using those leadership qualities and bringing those younger players along,” Clinkscale said of Baity, who is fully healed from an off-season shoulder injury.
While nursing the shoulder back to health, Baity also worked hard on his speed and flexibility, which others will see when games begin.
But in these weeks leading up to the start of the season, Baity also worked hard on other parts of his game that might not be as apparent.
There doesn’t have to be a wisecrack after every comment. There doesn’t need to be a show on every down.
“Just holding in. Not doing so much talking as when I was younger,” Baity explained of his evolution. “I’m just holding in, really just watching my game evolve.”
The less talk, more action message was key for a secondary that took a statistical step backward last season, finishing No. 13 in the Southeastern Conference in pass defense, giving up 251.6 yards a game through the air.
Against Kentucky, opposing quarterbacks completed 64.2 percent of their passes, which was the worst defensive performance in the league.
It was among the worst in the nation. Only 16 other teams gave up a higher pass percentage.
“We hear the outside talk,” Baity said of the group. “We know we haven’t been living up to the expectations. So that’s what we want to do. We want to live up to the expectations now.”
It doesn’t all fall on the shoulders of the secondary, which went from fifth best in the SEC two years ago to second-worst in 2017.
Defense is a group project.
And the secondary has worked hard to do its part, defensive coordinator Matt House said of the veteran group that has 110 combined starts returning.
“They’ve committed themselves,” House said. “You’ve seen a heightened level of preparation. You see them around the building watching film together. You see them around the building talking about coverage.
“You see them down in the weight room working. That is the great thing about 2018: 2018 is better than 2017. It’s different. So, I think you learn from the past but you don’t go backward.”
No, sometimes it’s about going silent even if only for a few minutes. It’s not just a lesson that Baity has learned, but the other defensive backs as well, their position coach said.
“You learn more if you listen,” Clinkscale said, “and they took that to a different level.”
UK season opener
Central Michigan at Kentucky
When: 3:30 p.m. Sept. 1