Kentucky defensive coordinator Brad White: ‘There’s no cheat code’
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Scouting the Cats
University of Kentucky football beat writer Josh Moore and columnist Mark Story are examining the 2019 Wildcats position by position through a series of nine stories leading up to the start of their season on Aug. 31 against Toledo. Click below to read previous installments in the series.
Cedrick Dort Jr. gets a lot of his power from his hips. Spending extra time in the weight room has helped strengthen them, but he credits another hobby for refining their movement: marching band.
Dort played the snare drum in middle school, and was part of a drumline at a Boys & Girls Clubs chapter based in Vero Beach, Fla.
“I got a little rhythm to me, that’s why my hips are so good,” Dort said, laughing.
The Kentucky football team’s gonna need Dort to stay on beat for the long haul. He’s the lone returning letterman in UK’s cornerback room, and along with safeties Ty Ajian and Yusuf Corker, is one of three sophomores in the secondary from whom the Wildcats will need major minutes to make up for the graduation of five super seniors and absent junior Davonte Robinson, who’s lost for the season due to a torn quad.
Dort recognizes that he’s the “old head” of the group, now, despite having just six tackles on his résumé so far as a Wildcat. He was an early enrollee in January 2017 and appeared in nine games as a true freshman later that year, but a high ankle sprain kept him from seeing the field last season.
The injury itself sidelined Dort for about a month but a side effect was felt for a while afterward; his speed wasn’t where he and the coaches felt it needed to be. He took a redshirt while watching the talented upperclassmen in front of him set a high bar for what’s expected of his position group in Lexington.
Defensive backs coach Steve Clinkscale made sure he took notes.
“He’s been around going on three years, but he is young,” Clinkscale said. “He hasn’t played a lot. I have seen him (mature), because we’ve groomed him the entire time to understand that ‘when these guys leave next year, you’re gonna be a leader. You’ll be the only corner with some experience.’ So he’s done a good job.”
“I knew since my freshman year that this time was gonna come sooner or later,” Dort said. “If I didn’t get injured last year I’d have really been in there, but I don’t feel no pressure. I’ve always been a leader, even when I was little.”
Sitting out last season helped Dort “get closer to God,” he said, which started to humble him more. He got more serious about studying — “I started to get inside the books more” — and planning for his future. He’s enjoyed taking younger defensive backs under his wings while he’s still learning to fly.
“As I see their faces when they make mistakes, or in the film room when they get corrected, I see their faces and pull ‘em to the side and tell ‘em I used to go through the same stuff,” Dort said. “It’s just part of the freshman year, you’re coming out of high school and you’re starting to grow as a man and stuff like that.”
He’ll never be as tall as Baity (6-3), Johnson (6-3) or Chris Westry (6-4), but Dort is eager to match their physicality. Part of that comes with bulking up in the weight room: he stayed in Lexington this summer and added about 15 pounds to his 5-foot-11 frame.
“Some people may say he’s small or undersized or everything, but I think he’s really gonna surprise a lot of people,” said Josh Ali, a junior who’s expected to be one of UK’s top receiving threats this year. “ … Me and him, we’re close, but we go at it.”
What he lacks in length Dort makes up for with a strong and smooth base; thank you, marching band. He isn’t planning to suit up for UK’s drumline during halftime shows but Dort’s still got a knack for the snare.
“I can still play it, for sure,” he said with a smile.
Defensive backs outlook
Leading men: Uh … man? Jordan Griffin, a 6-foot, 194-pound strong safety is the only real “known” among Wildcat DBs with 33 games played along with five starts in his career. Defensive coordinator Brad White has acted like every starting job is up in the air but it’s reasonable to expect Griffin, a senior who has played since he was a true freshman in 2016, to get the nod in week one, and then see where things proceed from there. He has 41 tackles and six pass break-ups in his career. Cedrick Dort Jr., a cornerback who redshirted last season due to an ankle injury, is the only other defensive back who has suited up for the Wildcats; he played in nine games as a true freshman in 2017.
Supporting cast: Cornerbacks Brandin Echols (6-0, 178 pounds) and Quandre Mosley (6-2, 193) transferred from junior colleges and went through spring camp. Those experiences might give them a leg up in terms of contributing immediately (it stands to reason that if they weren’t going to play, their immediate services would not have been sought). Redshirt freshmen Stanley Garner (6-1, 186) and Jamari Brown (6-1, 195) could see play at corner as well. Yusuf Corker, a sophomore who played in eight games last year, is a former four-star prospect who has stepped up following Davonte Robinson’s injury. Sophomore safety Ty Ajian (6-0, 194) played in all 13 games last year and will be on the field more even if he doesn’t push to start. True freshmen MJ Devonshire and Moses Douglass have impressed in fall camp.
Outlook: Replacing four departed starters and six defensive backs (if you include Robinson) isn’t an enviable job for position coach Steve Clinkscale. There’s room for optimism, though, if you remember that the standouts from last year’s secondary didn’t turn into studs overnight. They were once in this same position as youngsters, albeit without the shadow of a 10-3 season hanging over them. Expect a step back, but if UK’s recruiting and development is as improved as we’ve been led to believe it is, the future is promising.
Scouting the Cats
This is the fourth of nine stories looking at the 2019 Kentucky football team position by position.