UK Football

Kentucky fullback Warren selflessly putting jolt in Cats' running game

Kentucky fullback Darrell Warren hugged head coach Mark Stoops during senior day activities.
Kentucky fullback Darrell Warren hugged head coach Mark Stoops during senior day activities. Herald-Leader

It's not often that an offensive coordinator running some variation of the Air Raid spends much time thinking about how he can use his fullback more.

But D.J. Warren's consistency and selflessness have Kentucky's Neal Brown using the right side of his brain.

"D.J. had a really good spring, really good fall, and now I'm looking for ways to get him in the game," Brown said of the senior fullback, who is averaging 20 to 30 snaps a game this season. "He's been really effective."

Rarely will Warren's name appear on a stat sheet at the end of a game. In the 46 games he's played at Kentucky, he's had just three runs for 5 yards (none since Brown arrived) and eight catches for 39 yards with one touchdown.

His primary job is to make everyone else on the offense look better.

Warren calls his role, which essentially is blocking on every down, his "craft."

He prides himself on it.

"My reps are limited," Warren said. "It's an Air Raid offense, so every rep I get in, I've got to make it count. The more I do that, the more opportunities, I'll get."

That attitude and the loss of blocking tight end Steven Borden to injury have meant even more chances for Warren and fellow fullback Jeff Witthuhn, a walk-on, to get on the field.

Both played big roles in opening holes for the Cats' run game against Georgia, even playing together on several sets.

"Those two guys, D.J. Warren and Jeff Witthuhn, they cleared some space for some of those runs, a lot of those runs, actually, especially in the bone set there," Brown said of his offense, which ran for 214 yards last week against Georgia, its best output in five games.

The UK coordinator has so much faith in his senior fullback that he even tried to go to him on a third-and-1 versus the Bulldogs.

"They covered him," Brown said. "But he's a guy that I do now ... I do, I look for ways to get him in the game. In the bone set, where we put the fullback, tight end or two fullbacks and the running back, has been one of our better sets."

Warren is a constant in an offense full of young, inconsistent players, his coordinator said. Brown knows what he's going to get from his fullback, who he said plays "physical" and has "good hands."

Don't be surprised to see Brown look for Warren again Saturday at Tennessee. The fullback grew up in Alcoa, less than 20 minutes from Neyland Stadium.

Warren spent plenty of time among the 100,000-plus Volunteers fans at the stadium on the river, making college visits and watching his cousin, wide receiver Brandon Warren, play there.

But he won't be humming Rocky Top under his chin strap Saturday. Warren never cared much for the Volunteers.

"I didn't like Tennessee at all," he smiled sheepishly. "A majority of my family there are all Tennessee fans, so I've kind of had to hear it."

He's had to avoid some of those family members a few times in recent years, especially during the past two seasons, when Tennessee has topped Kentucky by double digits.

"Every time I go home, they always tease me about how Tennessee is going to kick our butt and stuff like that," he said. "I just ignore it. I know they just do it out of fun. I expect that."

But in true selfless fullback form, Warren deflected questions this week about how fun it would be to get a victory in the beloved stadium of his home state.

"It's a business trip," he said. "When we get on that bus, we're going to win the football game. This game is so much bigger than me going home. This is a win we really need."

Notes

Nickelback Blake McClain, who sat out the last game and most of the Missouri game with a shoulder injury, has been able to practice this week and will be available for the Tennessee game.

"We got a big week this week getting ready for Tennessee and we got to have all hands on deck," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said.

Eliot also confirmed that defensive end Za'Darius Smith, the Cats' second-leading tackler with 54, was back on the practice field after spraining his ankle late in the Georgia game.

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