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Last football season paved the way for then new UK defensive coordinator Rick Minter to install his new defense that included a hybrid linebacker position.
Coming off a season that saw him struggle, Winston Guy took to the role and thrived.
His 120 tackles were second on the team, and in the SEC, only trailing teammate Danny Trevathan.
Now looking towards success in the NFL, UK head coach Joker Phillips and his staff has eyes on another in-state guy to replace the ball hawk that was Guy.
“Everybody is replaceable. Everybody better understand that,” Phillips said before spring practice began in March.
Attempting to fill the void left by Winston Guy is redshirt freshman Miles Simpson.
His name is one that many who follow football in the state of Kentucky will probably recognize, but his accomplishments when recruited by UK at Simon Kenton, came as a running back.
But weight gain and practice have help transform Simpson into one of the bright spots of the spring.
Since signing with the Cats, Simpson has grown from his 195-pound weight then to 228-pounds when the Cats were allowed back in action at the Nutter Training Facility in early March.
Although he may be replacing Winston Guy, the redshirt freshman’s body now reflects a player more similar to the likes of Danny Travathan.
Due to Rick Minter using a 3-4 defensive package, the role that Simpson is taking on isn’t one that is widely seen.
Simpson said it is basically a down safety that plays in and out of the box.
“You play a little bit of coverage and you play up in the box so you have to be big enough to go down and handle those 300 pounders coming on you, but you have to be quick enough to go handle the receiver,” he said.
During the 2011 season, Simpson made an appearance in 10 games backing up Guy, collecting five tackles in his limited action.
Simpson will have a chance to flourish in the role Guy had for just one year.
“It’s hard to compare. They’re not the same player or the same athlete, but he’s doing a good job for us,” Rick Minter said. “He understands the position pretty well and he’s farther along cause he’s in the package for the second year so the knowledge helps him. His experience will get better and better all the time.
Following last Saturday’s scrimmage at Commonwealth Stadium, Joker Phillips said, “Miles Simpson, who is playing Winston’s (Guy) position, makes big plays for us. We play them (defensive newcomers) in coverage, we play them coming off the edge and in blitz.”
Simpson said it’s been somewhat tough learning the spot because of his familiarity with the offensive side of the ball, but “learning to be more aggressive.”
“I’m getting it now. Coach Smith is a great coach. He’s showing me the ropes and Coach Minter is a plus in that too.”
Some of the things coaches are assisting with are what Simpson referred to as some of his weaknesses, such as “being more physical when receivers come on the ball, I like to just catch and run with them, but I need to learn to be more physical.”
“What makes him good is the fact that he is a smart kid, he is a heady kid, he’s coachable, he works on what you tell him to work on, and you can see that after 10 practices he gets progressively better and better and better at the position,” Chuck Smith said.
Guy’s affect on Simpson has yet to have an opportunity to be seen on the field, but he says he has studied tape of the soon-to-be NFL player.
“I used to watch how he (Winston Guy) was really violent with his hands when he was trying to get off blocks. I try to mirror that because that’s another weakness,“ Simpson said. “He’d always come in there swinging his arms. He was fast enough to get past them, but if he got caught up he would always be using his arm.”
Having the opportunity to play for three more years in a system that he is growing into thanks to a very skilled tutor makes his future bright, according to Rick Minter.
“His experience will get better and better all the time,” Minter said.