Josh Allen doesn’t take it easy on his position coach
When she sees the black, blue and purple bruises dotting his arms and along his torso, Kate White eyes her husband skeptically.
“My wife will think I got in a street fight,” Kentucky’s outside linebackers coach laughs, “but that’s just part of it.”
Brad White could put some poor graduate assistant in the line of fire or a team manager maybe, but the newest Cats coach wants to make sure the outside linebackers are doing the drills properly with the necessary intensity and focus.
The only way the 36-year-old can do that is to pretend to be the offensive tackle going against them in drills.
“I can mimic the effort they’re going to receive from a real tackle,” White described during a phone call while out recruiting recently. “I try to make it a competition in that you can’t let your coach block you.”
White’s outside linebackers — most notably one of the most decorated defensive players in the country in Josh Allen — don’t take it easy on their coach.
Thus the various shades of bruises along his body.
“He’s a tough one,” Allen said of White, a former inside linebacker at Wake Forest. “He got hit a couple times on some, you know. He’s a tough one, I’ll tell you that.”
The 6-foot-5, 260-pound senior who set UK’s career and season quarterback sacks records in 2018 while working with White, punishes his position coach on a regular basis.
“If he wants to get in there, I’m going to go as hard as I can on him, so he told us don’t hold nothing back, so I’m not going to hold nothing back with him,” Allen said smiling. “He knows the consequences.”
While White has learned the consequences, players like Allen and fellow starter at outside linebacker Boogie Watson have seen the results.
“He changed our mentality,” said Watson, who had five tackles for loss and five sacks in the regular season before the Cats line up against Penn State in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1 in Orlando.
“He changed our practice habits, our moves. He’s an NFL guy and it really shows. Things we do in practice every day translate to the game.”
The former Colts outside linebackers coach got to spend a lot of time pondering pass rush while in Indianapolis.
White spent much of his time working with six-time Pro Bowler Robert Mathis and others watching film from across the league studying why players missed quarterback sacks.
“We said, ‘OK, how can we turn some of these missed sacks into sacks?’” said White, who also picked the brains of lots of coaches around the league.
They developed drills that replicated game action, specifically drills to mimic what happens at the top of the pocket and the strain necessary to get to quarterbacks in time.
Many of those drills are the ones that White is actively involved in at Kentucky now.
“What I focus on and emphasize happened to be something that Josh really needed,” he said of the top-of-the-pocket drills.
Allen has always had a great first and second step that gets him to the point of contact with the offensive tackle, but “where he struggled in years past was once he got past the tackle, turning his hips and reaching and finishing on the QB,” White explained.
“So we were able to turn some of those run-bys or missed sacks into sacks or into pressures or into hits.”
This season, Allen is one sack away from having more in this final season than in his previous three combined. He had 19.5 tackles for loss in his first three seasons and has managed 18.5 this season with a bowl game to go.
The numbers have helped the likely first-round NFL Draft pick become a consensus All-American and win most of the top defensive player of the year awards nationally.
“He’s been a big key to my success this year,” Allen said of White.
‘Steal the little inches’
It’s the slight rock of an offensive tackle, the width of his stance, the position of his outside foot.
All of those things can show something, and now Kentucky’s outside linebackers are constantly looking for the cues.
“Little keys or little tips or little give-aways from the offense, whether it’s a tackle, whether it’s the quarterback, whether it’s the how a guy puts his hands on his thigh pad, lets you know, ‘OK, this is my time I can go,’” White explained.
It’s changed the way that Watson has watched film, how he studies the players on the other side of the ball from him.
“He picks up on their tendencies very well and shows us how to see them,” the sophomore said of White.
“He’ll point out a tendency in the way a tackle stands. We know it’s a pass or run just by where his hand sits on his leg. That lets us play that much faster.”
White is a great technician, defensive coordinator Matt House said. And now players in his position group are as well.
“He’s done a great job with those outside linebackers, just teaching them the finer points of the position, how to watch film, how to steal the little inches,” House said.
Allen is a bit jealous that players like Watson and UK’s other outside linebackers will get another season with White.
“Coach White’s gotten our IQs up,” the senior said. “He’s making us more of a great football player. With (Watson) having another year or two more years to develop under Coach White, no telling what he’s going to be next year.”
Remember last season when Allen got off to such a fast start, managing 6.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss in the Cats’ first six games and then getting just one-half of a sack and two tackles for loss the rest of the way?
In fact, in his last five games of the season, Allen didn’t record either of those things.
White wanted to make sure this season wasn’t a repeat of last, so when UK’s seventh game rolled around this year versus Vanderbilt, White told Allen: “Get off to a fast start and that’s behind us.”
They studied film, discussed strategies and Allen got his first sack in the first half in that game against the Commodores.
“Sometimes you can get some sacks early,” White explained. “That was part of the goal we had going into the Vanderbilt game.”
More often than not, getting the timing down and studying the tells throughout a game can help in the second half like they have this season for Allen, who had eight sacks and eight tackles for loss in the final six games of the regular season
“It’s chess, not checkers,” White said he tells his players. “Every move throughout the game is setting something up for later.”
White knows this first hand. Remember, he plays the role of offensive tackle in those drills that leave him stunning shades of black, blue and purple.
“There’s going to come a point in my career that I’ll probably have to stop doing that, but it’s not anytime soon,” he said, laughing, of being a human tackling dummy.
And sometimes the players have a good laugh at their position coach huffing and puffing his way through fast-paced drills.
That serves a purpose, too.
White said: “It builds that trust that, ‘Hey listen, he’s not just going to tell me to work my tail off while he stands there with a whistle in his mouth. He’s going to get down and dirty and he’s going to do everything he can to help me be successful.”
No. 14 Kentucky vs. No. 12 Penn State
When: 1 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 1
Where: Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla.