The biggest news for the University of Kentucky secondary this off-season was the return of Trevard Lindley, who bypassed the NFL Draft for what could be an All-America senior season.
But there have been other developments that should pay huge dividends for the UK secondary, including the rapid climb of several young defensive backs on the depth chart.
It all started in the Liberty Bowl, when redshirt freshman corner Randall Burden stepped in for an injured Lindley and delivered a standout performance that included two second-half pass breakups.
Burden has carried that momentum over to the spring and is now starting opposite Lindley.
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But the Wildcat who could be in position to make a quantum leap is Winston Guy. Guy played mostly on special teams and saw some action at cornerback as a true freshman last fall. With UK facing uncertainty at safety, the coaching staff decided to stick Guy there this spring, and he's already with the first unit.
UK Coach Rich Brooks called Guy the most talented defensive back he's signed since arriving in Lexington in 2003, and defensive coordinator Steve Brown concurred.
"Without a doubt," Brown said. "It's not even close. He's instinctive, he's athletic, fast he's got size, he can cover, and he'll hit you. There's just so many positives. His deal is being comfortable with his assignments. Once he does that, he's going to be very, very special."
Guy, a Lexington Catholic graduate, wasn't always comfortable with his assignments last year, something he admitted was mostly his own doing. He said he didn't take film work seriously and would even doze off in the film room on occasion.
"I'm not going to lie; I kind of thought it was a joke, sleeping in meetings and stuff, but it catches up with you," Guy said. "If you come out there and don't know your assignments, the coaches are going to yell at you, especially Coach Brown."
But with the coaching staff now counting on him, Guy said he's turned over a new leaf.
"I'm real focused now in the film room and on my assignments," he said. "I sit in the front so I don't fall asleep. My mind-set is different from last year. I'll come in on my own time and watch film. I'm more comfortable now."
Burden is the latest in a long line of UK defenders from the famed LaGrange (Ga.) High School program, and the coaching staff thinks his breakout performance in the Liberty Bowl could be a sign of things to come.
"He's got a really big upside," Brown said.
"Randall's always had talent. Now he's got game experience, and since he made some plays, he's got confidence to go along with it," UK secondary coach Chris Thurmond said. "And we all know how important confidence is when you're playing the cornerback position."
UK has been thin in the secondary the past few seasons, but depth shouldn't be as big an issue in 2009. Sophomore-to-be Taeido Smith and Cartier Rice, who was redshirted as a freshman last season, will be key cogs in the nickel package. And don't forget about senior-to-be Paul Warford, who has made 14 career starts at corner but is out for the spring with a broken foot. Sophomore-to-be Anthony Mosley has made a nice transition from receiver and provides another option at corner.
There's also depth and experience at safety alongside Guy. Calvin Harrison, Matt Lentz and Ashton Cobb have all started games.
Brown said that while the Wildcats' secondary might have more overall talent, the contributions of Shomari Moore and Robbie McAtee, last year's nickel guys, shouldn't be overlooked.
"I think we've got as much if not more talent, but it's really hard to say how much improved we'll be at this point," Brown said. "Taeido and Cartier Rice are very talented players, but it's so hard to beat that knowledge that Shomari and Robbie had. Time will tell. Talent doesn't really pay off if you don't know what you're doing, but athletically we're in good position."
And Brooks added that while young players can look good in practice, it won't be until the lights come on that you get a true verdict.
"They've still got to do it consistently in games, but I'm very excited about our secondary," he said.
Kentucky will hold its second full scrimmage of the spring on Saturday at 10 a.m. at Commonwealth Stadium. The scrimmage is open to the public.