UK defensive coordinator encouraged with progress
With less than 10 days left before Kentucky kicks off its 2019 football season, defensive coordinator Brad White is encouraged by the progress his guys have made.
Thursday’s practice — the penultimate one of fall training camp — was one of, if not the best the defense put together this August, White said. Since UK’s second scrimmage on Saturday he’s noticed an uptick in the unit’s intensity.
“As a whole as a defense we’ve picked it up,” White said. “We felt the urgency a little bit. We did some things in the second scrimmage that were better, we did some things in the second scrimmage that maybe weren’t quite as good as the first scrimmage. I think we’ve found a little bit more consistency, especially in today’s practice.”
Guys that have been in the program for a few years now but that have stepped into bigger roles have been more vocal this week. White specifically noted defensive linemen Quinton Bohanna, T.J. Carter and Calvin Taylor as voices being heard more in practice.
“If they’re talking, that means they’re getting mental reps while those 2’s are going,” White said. “They’re not just playing around in the back, they’re not just trying to get water, they’re not just trying to take a knee. They’re dialed in from started to finish. Even if you’re not in there getting a physical rep, you can always get a mental rep, and we try to preach that to the guys. ... When you get that kind of leadership, good things happen.”
The two-deep rotations at “Jack” and strongside linebacker are coming into shape, but there’s still one spot left to be solidified.
White told reporters that he feels good about three of the four spots heading into next week’s season opener. The three names he confirmed — Josh Paschal, Jamar “Boogie” Watson and Jordan Wright — did not surprise. True freshman Jared Casey, a Louisville native, is among those contending to be part of the two-deep mix.
Wright, a sophomore who recorded four tackles in nine games last season, is talented, smart and has “a lot of upside,” White said. Him coming into each week with the right attitude is crucial, because his ability to play on both ends of the defense is important for UK’s depth.
“Last year it was a little bit of a roller coaster,” White said. “He’d have some good weeks and he’d be excited and then he’d fall off a little bit or he’d get dinged and he’d have an injury. It’s been his most consistent four weeks thus far and we need to keep that, because he’s playing at a high level right now at both (outside linebacker) positions.”
▪ Lynn Bowden took reps at quarterback behind Terry Wilson and Sawyer Smith during Tuesday’s practice, which was open to the media. Senior safety Jordan Griffin was asked whether he’d rather cover Bowden the receiver or Bowden the passer.
“If he throws it, I’m gonna pick him, and if I’m guarding him, he’s not gonna catch the ball,” Griffin said with a laugh. “No, but, I love Lynn to death. That’s a brother to me. Being able to compete against that kind of guy each and every day, you see the things that you have to work on and you see the things that you’re good at and things of that nature. He’s definitely changed me into a better player.”
▪ For all the strides a super-young secondary has made in fall camp, White confessed that the staff won’t really know where it’s at until their feet are put to the fire against Toledo on Aug. 31.
“It’s a different story when there’s 64,000 people, eyes on you, and a ball goes over your head,” White said. “Some of it we’re gonna have to see how they react. Are they gonna be able to put it behind ’em? Because in this league, against the wide receivers and the quarterbacks that you’re gonna have to face, plays are gonna be made. ... It’s the ones that can put it behind ’em and continue to compete at a high level that are the good ones and the great ones. The ones that sulk, the ones that put their head down, the ones that are thinking about it for the rest of the game, those are the ones that’ll get beat consistently and until you’re in that situation, we won’t know.”
▪ True freshman M.J. Devonshire, a defensive back, and Travis Tisdale, a running back, have been getting reps with the return teams. Devonshire has worked more on punt returns while Tisdale has been doing kickoffs.
“Obviously, Lynn’s the guy that makes us go, just like on offense, you want to try to get the ball in his hands as much as possible,” special teams coach Dean Hood said. “But we’ve got other guys working back there that are looking good and getting better every single day. ... There’s some others, but those two are really the ones that are showing themselves.”