With less than two weeks until national signing day, there's been a lot of action on the recruiting trail for University of Kentucky football.
Most of the hoopla surrounds Louisville Eastern tight end Jon Davis, who's listed as a four-star prospect by Scout.com and is one of UK's top recruits in the 2011 class. Davis had been steadfast in his commitment to Kentucky up until January, but now he has to be considered a soft verbal after his father, Reggie, confirmed last week that his son is now considering both Illinois and Louisville.
Kentucky took a commitment last week from another tight end, three-star prospect Alvin Dupree of Irwinton, Ga. While Dupree is projected to play defensive end at UK, Davis' father said the commitment and the fact that UK currently projects to have eight tight ends on its 2011 roster has his son thinking a little bit. Davis was scheduled to visit Illinois this past weekend and then check out U of L early this week.
"Jon was a little surprised by that," Reggie Davis said of Dupree's commitment. "Things are changing a little bit. He's believing he's the guy, and here comes another tight end. Now all of a sudden they've got eight tight ends. He's not trying to play games. He just wants to make sure. He doesn't want to get to Kentucky and all of a sudden after a practice wonder if he did the right thing."
Still, Davis' father said he has not de-committed from Kentucky and has not given any other schools any kind of commitment. He also said the family will give Coach Joker Phillips every chance to reaffirm Davis' commitment to UK.
"Somebody will have to derail him from Kentucky," he said.
While Davis is technically listed as an athlete, his preference is to play tight end or H-back at the next level.
"He's a football player first, but he wants to catch the ball," Reggie Davis said.
Counting Davis, UK now has 19 known commitments for its 2011 class and is awaiting the decisions of several more prospects, including a pair of four-star recruits in Boyle County linebacker Lamar Dawson, who will announce his choice on national signing day, and California wide receiver Devin Lucien, who will announce on Jan. 30.
Kentucky lost a commitment last week when Georgia cornerback Riyahd Jones, a three-star prospect, decided to reopen his recruitment.
UK to begin switch to 3-4
Kentucky defensive coordinator Rick Minter said last week that he is in the process of changing the UK defense into a 3-4 alignment that would feature one player who would swing between linebacker and defensive end. Minter said that such a scheme would allow the UK defense to be more versatile and flexible. He'll start putting in more 3-4 sets during spring practice.
"My ideal vision is what we could call a 3-4 with a hybrid linebacker who could also put his hand on the ground," he said. "That way if we needed to go with four down (linemen), we could get in and out of it without having to substitute."
Minter admitted that Kentucky's personnel isn't perfectly suited for the scheme right now, but the staff has already started recruiting to fit the system for its 2012 class.
Minter didn't mention any names of players who could play the hybrid LB/DE spot in 2011, but there are at least two candidates who would appear to have the requisite length and athleticism to fill the position: Ridge Wilson, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound sophomore who started at strongside linebacker in the BBVA Compass Bowl but also has tinkered some with putting his hand on the ground; and Tim Patterson, a 6-foot-5, 225-pound freshman who enrolled at UK for the spring semester.
Minter arrived in Lexington in December, and had just a month to get prepared for the BBVA Compass Bowl in which UK was beaten soundly by Pittsburgh. Still, Minter didn't regret his decision to go ahead and get the ball rolling for 2011.
"I think it's a big plus I was here," he said. "Anybody can argue with the results (of the Pitt game), but it was very much a positive. I was able to get in here early and start to develop player relationships. If we had just gotten here, we'd be way behind the curve."
Minter on Trevathan
Minter was no doubt pleased with the news that junior linebacker Danny Trevathan decided to bypass the NFL Draft and return to UK for his senior season. Trevathan will be a will, or weakside, linebacker in the new 3-4 scheme, and Minter said he will challenge Trevathan to become more of a leader in 2011.
"For the first time in his career, with the privilege comes obligations and responsibilities," Minter said. "How do the young players view him?
"I want them to see a great worker on the field and off the field. He's proven he can produce and make plays. Now I want him to own up to his role in the leadership department. It's his turn."
Minter said another year in school will help Trevathan put on the necessary weight to be an ideal NFL linebacker and also get past the arm and wrist injuries that have plagued him. Trevathan has played much of the last two seasons in a cast.
Minter also said that playing in what will be more an NFL-type scheme will make Trevathan more attractive to pro scouts.
"Danny has pledged to do all the things he needs to do, and my pledge to him is we'd elevate his game from a mental point of view, from how you game plan to where you expect your opponents' strengths and weaknesses are," Minter said. "One year from now, when somebody drafts him, they'll say, 'Here's a brand new playbook.' He can use the next 12 months as a training ground as to how you apply yourself to a new system."
Minter's ties to AFC title game
Minter will have a vested interest in Sunday's AFC Championship game between the New York Jets and the Pittsburgh Steelers, as the head coaching matchup will feature two of his former hires in the Jets' Rex Ryan and the Steelers' Mike Tomlin.
Minter hired Ryan as his defensive coordinator at the University of Cincinnati in 1996-97. In Ryan's two seasons at UC, the Bearcats notched a pair of winning records and won the 1997 Humanitarian Bowl, the school's first post-season appearance in 47 seasons.
Minter had never met Ryan before hiring him, but he said he saw the same traits that have made him a national name as the brazen and fearless leader of the Jets.
"I'm a believer in you don't change the spots on a leopard," Minter said. "He was a true Ryan. He was brash. He was no different then than he is now, really. He wasn't the head coach then, so he couldn't go out on a limb like he does now, but he was a loyal staff guy, and he was a great defensive mind. He could tell our guys what exactly would happen with the opposing quarterbacks, and he was able to instill an air of confidence in our guys."
Minter said Ryan's personality has played as big a part in his success as has his defensive acumen.
"People see the brash and they see the braggadocio, but what you don't see is the childlike enthusiasm he brings to the game," Minter said.
"He's like the kid in the candy store. He's about having fun and getting players to believe, and guys would run through walls for him because of it."
After current UK Coach Phillips left Minter's staff at Cincinnati to go to Minnesota following the 1998 season, Minter hired Tomlin at the recommendation of then-UC defensive coordinator Rick Smith.
"When Joker left, Rick told me there was a bright young coach at Arkansas State that I needed to bring in," Minter recalled. "I didn't know Mike at all; I had just talked to him on the phone. But when you meet Mike Tomlin for the first time, there's certainly an impression left. He was just 26 years old at the time, but you saw a star in the making when you met Mike Tomlin. He was bright-eyed, a person of good dialogue, he had charisma."
Minter said he's much closer to Ryan personally and spent 12 days with the Jets coach during OTA's (organized team activities) in May and June. When asked who he'd be rooting for, Minter said, "Well, I stay with Rex when I go up there (to New York). And Mike has a Super Bowl ring as a head coach, so I'd love to see Rex get one. But I can't lose either way."
Ex-Cats eye Super Bowl
Former Wildcats John Conner and Tim Masthay will both be vying for trips to the Super Bowl on Sunday, Conner is a reserve fullback and special teams stalwart for the Jets, and Masthay will handle the punts for the Green Bay Packers in their NFC Championship Game matchup with the Chicago Bears.