Jen Smith on UK Football

Q&A: Eliot on stopping Southern Miss weapons, progress on defensive line

UK defensive coordinator DJ Eliot, right, talks with UK head coach Mark Stoops in the second half at Vanderbilt in 2013.
UK defensive coordinator DJ Eliot, right, talks with UK head coach Mark Stoops in the second half at Vanderbilt in 2013. Herald-Leader

D.J. ELIOT

“We had a good practice today. We got to put ‘em in a lot of situations, situational practice, so that’s important. Play in situations are critical to success, you know? Being able to understand and execute in tough situations, and that was the emphasis today and we were pleased with the practice. Still have a couple more days before a game and we’re gonna rock and roll on Saturday.”

On what makes Southern Miss quarterback Nick Mullens so good:Well I think along with having a very accurate arm, he makes very good decisions. He manages the game well. He knows the situations. He knows what to do with the ball, and so he’s not only an excellent passer. He’s also an excellent decision maker.”

On if Mullens reminds him of any quarterbacks UK has faced recently: “I can’t think of anybody offhand. We’ve played plenty of good quarterbacks but I can’t think of anybody that’s quite like him. He’s still effective in the run game, too. He’s pulled it a few times and gotten some good yards, you know what I mean? He’s effective running the ball and scrambles well at times, too. And on top of that, like I said, he’s an excellent passer that makes good decisions. I can’t think of anybody offhand who he reminds me of.”

On running back Ito Smith:Very good runner. He’s more a slasher type. He finds a hole and hits it. He’s a guy that he’s not gonna dance. He’s gonna make his decision and hit it hard.”

On stopping Southern Miss RB Ito Smith: “He was very effective last year along with the senior they graduated. He’s a veteran player, you know he’s been there before. He’s got a lot of confidence, he’s had success, so he’s a guy that we’re going to have to corral and get a lot of hats on. Make sure that he doesn’t get going.”

On the defensive lineman listed at second string, specifically Calvin Taylor and Naquez Pringle: “With Naquez, he came in December of last year from junior college and had the tools, he’s one of the strongest players on our team, he may be the strongest player on our team. He just didn’t have the techniques or assignments down last spring. This fall we saw huge strides from him, that’s why it’s good to get in in December because they get to work out all those kinks before the season starts, before training camp starts. And so Naquez, we’ve seen him become a technician, he’s a guy that now understands how to use his strength and being a good nose guard. We’re pleased with where he’s at coming from junior college. And Calvin, Calvin’s a guy we redshirted last year and really we didn’t know what to expect. He’s a long-bodied guy that was mainly a basketball player in high school and he’s been able to put on a lot of weight, now up to 300 pounds. He has length, he can extend well, and he’s doing everything we asked him. He’s in the right spots, he’s executing his techniques, so we’re pleased with where he’s at too.”

On what kind of camp Matt Elam had: “Matt Elam has had a good camp. Matt has been able to get all the reps with the ones at nose guard, so he’s been able to go against Jon Toth every play. He understands what it takes to play at this level when you go against Toth. That’s one of the best centers you’ll see out there, so it’s been good experience for him and he’s going to have his hands full this week because Southern Miss has a very good center too. So, he’s done well this camp. He’s got a good center he’s got to face on Saturday.”

On if they have to strike a balance between confidence and focus for DBs that have been hyped so much: “I don’t think so. I think we have a good group. They’re pretty mature now. They’ve been there. They got a lot of game reps last year. I look at them like veterans even though they’re all just sophomores. I feel pretty good about where they’re at mentally as well as physically.”

On if he expects all the inside linebackers to play or if someone has separated in the Elli Brown/Jordan Jones competition: “Eli and Jordan still are neck and neck. I think Courtney (Love) has really stepped up his game (at middle linebacker). Courtney, I think has played very well in the last couple weeks of training camp.”

On playing Josh Forrest and Avery Williamson almost every snap at MLB the last three years and if he would like more rotation for Love: “I think at every position we would like to have a good rotation. We would like that, but you don’t always have that option. Sometimes your starter at that position, maybe he’s well conditioned like Josh and Avery. I still think those guys could play all day. I don’t know if they ever got tired. So, we were able to keep them on the field and they were able to stay healthy throughout the season and play at a high level. At every position I would like to have the ability to rotate them all, but I don’t know if you’ll have that at every position.”

On what key things Josh Allen and Denzil Ware learned last year: “I think that Josh was a true freshman. Denzil at least got a year to practice and go against our No. 1 offense and kind of grow into it. Josh came here in August and at the end of August he’s playing. I think for Josh, he really got a chance to grow from high school to college and then on top of that, he’s gained a lot of weight. He’s in the 240s now in his weight and his confidence is up and his understanding of the game is much better. I think he’s really improved quite a bit from last season.”

On if Ware is playing less timid like he says: “I think when you put a newcomer out there at times, if they’re not sure of themselves or they haven’t been there then they do play timid and I think some of that is gone with Denzil and with Josh.”

On what he will be looking for early in the game to know if the defense is feeling OK: “I want to make sure that our group of young players are confident and they can execute. I want to make sure our young players that are stepping up and playing for us understand where they’re supposed to be and that they’re quick and they’re sharp and precise and they’re urgent in what they’re doing. So I’m going to be looking for those things early in the game to make sure those guys are on cue and locked in.”

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