By Matt Overing | UK football beat writer
UK’s defense struggled in giving up yards and producing turnovers last season, with no help from the safety position.
The Cats recorded three interceptions in 2013, two of which were made by linebackers. The third was made by junior Ashely Lowery in the final game of the year against the University of Tennessee.
The Cats will have more experience and talent in 2014. Senior Dakotah Tyler is the only safety that will not be on the 2014 team. UK returns five contributors (safeties that recorded at least one tackle in 2013) from last season, most notably Lowery and fellow senior-to-be Eric Dixon.
Sophomore Zack Blaylock redshirted in 2013 after starting three games in 2012 and will provide depth at the position.
Five defensive backs will join the UK roster in 2014. Two will assuredly play at safety: 4-star Mike Edwards (Winton Woods High School, Cincinnati) and 3-star Jared Tucker (Stephenson High School, Stone Mountain, Ga.).
UK head coach Mark Stoops said on National Signing Day that he was proud of the versatility of his 2014 defensive backs.
“I like guys that can play corner, nickel, dime and safety,” Stoops said. “That’s what I love about this group. In general, I think they’re tough, hard-nosed guys.”
Lowery and Dixon have strangleholds on the two safety positions. Both finished in the Top 10 on the team in tackles in 2013 and have played 20 games in the last two seasons.
Playing time behind the two seniors will be tough to come by, but if Stoops plans to use safeties in different packages and positions, more players could see the field.
Freshman Marcus McWilson played in eight games last season (eight tackles, two for a loss) and proved that freshmen can play and succeed. Edwards and Tucker may be next in line to come in and contribute right away.
How the UK defense as a whole performs in defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot’s second year in Lexington will help determine the success of safeties in 2014.
Last season, the entire secondary struggled. With more experience and help outside of the hashes and on the defensive line, UK’s safeties should have more freedom in the middle of the field to make plays.