Mark Stoops sees a Tennessee team that is improving
There is nothing flashy about Davonte Robinson’s recent uptick in playing time for Kentucky.
The sophomore safety has simply done what he was asked, filled as many roles on the field as he could and worked harder than he had been before.
“We just felt like it was time to get him on the field for significant snaps,” Coach Mark Stoops said recently of the 6-foot-2 sophomore defensive back. “We needed to throw him out there in pressure situations and I really loved the way he played.”
And when the former Henry Clay star got his opportunities, he seized them.
Robinson had been playing well on special teams, which coaches noted early this season, then they moved him into a hybrid linebacker/safety spot where he was in mostly on third downs.
More and more, Robinson started showing up on game film and practice film.
“You saw him be tough, you saw him be physical,” defensive backs coach Steve Clinkscale said after the Vanderbilt win. “They tried to block him a few times and he’s a bigger guy, really strong. Then you saw his speed and athleticism, so he could close in and make some plays in the box.”
That uptick in playing time has equaled increased production. Robinson has had 17 of his 26 tackles in the last three weeks, including both of his tackles for loss. The redshirt sophomore is seventh on the team in tackles this season.
Against Georgia on Saturday, he had a career-best nine tackles, including a tackle for loss. For his efforts, he earned defensive player of the game from the Kentucky coaches.
“I’m excited about him,” Stoops said of Robinson, who played some free safety early in the season, then moved to the hybrid spot mostly. “He’s getting more and more opportunities and making the most of it and doing a good job.”
The opportunities are going to go way up this week at Tennessee while Kentucky (7-2, 5-2 Southeastern Conference) plays the first half without senior free safety Darius West, who was called for a targeting foul versus Georgia. It means Robinson will step in and take those snaps as well as some at other spots of need.
Losing West for a half isn’t ideal, but Stoops likes what Robinson has shown in his expanded role.
“Certainly we want Darius in there all the time,” Stoops said of West, who leads the Cats in tackles with 60, as well as a team-high three interceptions. “He’s a leader and plays extremely tough.
“But when opportunities like that arrive, it is interesting to see how those guys are going to step in. I anticipate (Robinson will) play very well.”
It’s a moment Robinson has been preparing for since he arrived on campus from Henry Clay. He’s been trying to do even more behind the scenes as his role has expanded.
“I’ve been working harder, getting in the film room, watching film,” he said, noting that more snaps has been a little bit more pressure, before adding: “I was just excited to get in the game with the guys.”
Tennessee (4-5, 1-4) will be a big test for the Cats’ secondary. The Volunteers are completing 64.6 percent of their passes this season for 12 touchdowns and a league-low two interceptions.
Players like Josh Palmer, Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway lead the way.
Palmer has been the most explosive of the group with nine plays of 20-plus yards, two for touchdowns. The 6-foot-2, 201-pound sophomore leads the Volunteers with 414 receiving yards, averaging a team-high 23 yards per catch.
“Tennessee has some really dynamic receivers to throw the ball to,” Stoops said on his radio show Monday night. “They’re dynamic play-makers — and they’re using some deception to give (the quarterback) some time — and get the ball in those play-makers’ hands. They’re doing good.”
Kentucky at Tennessee
When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
TV: SEC Network