Boogie Watson holds a high opinion of Brad White.
“He’s a football genius, in my opinion,” Kentucky’s junior outside linebacker said Thursday of his position coach.
A football genius?
“Coming from the NFL, from the first day he got here, he’s helped me out with everything I’ve done,” explained Watson.
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Now the hope is White does that for the entire defense. After former defensive coordinator Matt House moved on to the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, UK head coach Mark Stoops promoted White, his outside linebackers coach, to the coordinator’s role.
“It’s a great feeling to be able to touch all aspects of this defense,” White said Thursday after UK completed its third day of spring practice and its first day in pads. “Obviously, Coach House did a phenomenal job. So big shoes to fill there. The nice thing is I don’t have to worry about doing it by myself. I’ve got a lot of really, really capable people to lean on, people who have been there before. So in terms of being your first-time caller, I couldn’t have a better situation in that regard.”
His situation is a bit different than last season, when Kentucky’s defense ranked sixth nationally in points allowed and the Wildcats finished 10-3, including a Citrus Bowl win over Penn State. Many of the experienced pieces that played major roles on that defense are now waiting to find out where they will be take in the NFL Draft.
One is a White protege, outside linebacker Josh Allen, who set the school single-season and career records for sacks. After winning numerous postseason awards, Allen is expected to be among the first few players, if not the first player, selected in the April 25-27 draft.
Hired by Stoops after spending six years with the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, White received much credit for aiding Allen’s breakout campaign. The former Wake Forest linebacker has the reputation for being an excellent teacher of technique.
“His pass rush techniques have helped me tremendously,” Watson said. “And as a whole defense, I think he has some good schemes that he’s installing right now.”
The catch is White is teaching those schemes to a defense largely consisting of inexperienced players. In addition to Allen, the UK defense also lost safeties Mike Edwards and Darius West; cornerbacks Derrick Baity, Lonnie Johnson and Chris Westry; inside linebacker Jordan Jones and defensive linemen Adrian Middelton and Tymere DuBose.
“We’ll use the word ‘youth,’” said White. “The nice thing is it’s not like we’re starting from scratch. Our defense is our defense.”
Indeed, White doesn’t foresee any major scheme changes. Why fix what isn’t broken? A former defensive coordinator himself, Stoops spent six seasons building and molding a difference-making defense. The last thing the Cats want to do is rip everything up and start over.
“We’ve got enough veteran guys that they know the calls, they know the checks. They can set an example,” White said. “That’s what we need, we need guys to step up and set examples for others.”
One of those is Watson, who played opposite of Allen as a starter at outside linebacker a year ago. “He’s going to have to be just like this point in Josh’s career, you now have to take the next step,” White said.
As for White’s next step, the new coordinator says he will have plenty of help. White said he could not have a better resource than Stoops. White played for UK safeties coach Dean Hood at Wake Forest and coached with defensive line coach Derrick LeBlanc and cornerbacks coach Steve Clinkscale last season. The only staff newcomer is Jon Sumrall, a former UK linebacker, who replaces House as inside linebackers coach.
What kind of advice did White get from people like Stoops and Hood?
“I think the biggest thing they said was, ‘Be you. Don’t try to be Coach Hood. Don’t try to be Coach House. Don’t try to be Coach Stoops,’” White said. “The way I coach is the way I coach, but our defense is our defense.”