By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky has to basically replace its top five secondary players off last year’s 10-3 team — a much bigger concern than even replacing national defensive player of the year Josh Allen and all-time leading rusher Benny Snell Jr. for coach Mark Stoops and his staff.
Kentucky has players that were in backup roles last year in the secondary that Stoops believes can do what the team needs — except they lack the experience his senior defensive backs had last year.
“There’s no replacing that experience. We had the opportunity to watch a lot of those secondary guys. We had the ability to watch them go through the ups and the downs, and they grow and they mature,” Stoops said.
“It was unique to have that amount of experience in our secondary with one group. And that is hard to replace. I feel like we have some inside guys — some nickels, dimes, safeties — that have played, that got their feet wet. Outside of corner, that’s going to be the biggest issue with the experience out there.”
Cedrick Dort could be one of those rising stars that UK needs. He played two years ago before redshirting in 2018.
“He would have been the fourth corner last year, but he got a severe high ankle sprain late in camp and missed most of the season. And we had those veterans that you were talking about, and so we were able to redshirt him,” Stoops said.
“We get him back, he’s played some. Brandin Echols comes in from junior college, so he has some experience as well. Jamari Brown is guy that redshirted a year ago that has the physical tools to be successful.”
Stoops is not only a former defensive coordinator, but he was also a secondary coach and keeps his hand on that position at UK and certainly will this year. He will be looking for ways to hide the secondary’s inexperience against high-powered offenses but knows there’s only so much schemes can do and then players simply have to make plays.
“There are ways you could try to protect a corner here and there in the way you go about your defenses, but not always,” Stoops said. “Let’s face it. That’s a position where they’re going to be on an island and you have to win some one-on-one battles.
“There’s just no getting around it. So there’s times you can protect and help and lean, but then there’s times when you have to win.”