Competition driving the defense during crucial camp stretch


Denzil Ware

Anthony Crawford

In the weeks leading up to the start of fall practices, all the talk among players and coaches was about how excited and eager they were to finally get out on the field.

Now after the team’s first scrimmage Saturday and a third of the way through camp, it’s more apparent than ever the defense will be facing an uphill challenge this season.

Following a scrimmage that was heavily one-sided in favor of the offense, the loss of safety Darius West to a season-ending knee injury came from the coaching staff.

The loss of West along with defensive lineman Regie Meant, who announced his departure from the team for personal reasons, leaves the defense without two players that were expected to be key contributors on a defense that already had its fair share of question marks heading into camp.

“We’re not taking one step back,” head coach Mark Stoops said. “We are going to push forward and guys are going to learn to fight through adversity.”

Stoops started his press conference Monday morning crediting the offense for it’s efficiency shown in the scrimmage. The effort out of the defense was not disappointing, as Stoops said he liked how the group was able to limit explosive plays. But where the offense showed its progress, the defense showed where it could improve.

“I really applaud them for what they did,” safety Mike Edwards said. “They really showed us what they are capable of and I really like that out of our offense.”

During this feeling out period, defensive backs coach Steve Clinkscale has made it clear that there are no guaranteed spots at UK, so as the offense turns it up, the defensive players will need to respond. There are always young guys waiting behind them for their chance.

“Competition is competition,” safety Marcus McWilson said. “There’s competition every day on both sides of the ball. We’re all going to play, we’re all going to be needed out there.”

Besides depth, the coaches hope that the competition could also lead to some flexibility in their sets. “We are getting creative and doing some different things, but we’ll be fine,” said Stoops.

Denzil Ware and Josh Allen were two guys Stoops mentioned when talking about this flexibility. Ware especially gives the team some comfort as one of the few returning players with experience.

The current situation is that there are many guys competing to replace Meant and that competition will surely bring out the best of the group. “Whoever competes the hardest and whoever wants it more” will earn the top spot Ware said.

The defense is entering a defining stretch. With so many different players being called on to fill voids, the few leaders and experienced men will make all the difference. But for now Stoops and the rest of the coaching staff can only hope that the competition during camp will help cement roles of players already there or give newcomers a chance to prove themselves.

“I have confidence in everybody on this side of the ball. At the end of the day, everybody has to do their own job,” Ware said. “So as long as I do my job and they do their jobs, we are going to win a lot of football games. I believe anyone who steps on that is going to be able to make plays, no matter who they are.”