Lack of depth still plaguing the defense during fall camp


Members of the 2016-2017 UK Football Team goof around together on Friday, August 5, 2016 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Hunter Mitchell | Staff

Anthony Crawford

The headache over the defense that head coach Mark Stoops and defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot have suffered this offseason may have gotten worse over the past week despite a better showing in the second scrimmage of the team’s fall camp.

Initial remarks from the coaches after the scrimmage Saturday pointed toward an overall improvement from the disappointing display in the previous scrimmage. The defense put the offense in a more difficult position in the second go-around and established a presence early by forcing some three-and-outs before the offense could get going.

Tackling still seemed to be an issue, but the offense felt more pressure from the defensive line, which is something the defense worked on this past week. But the aggressive schemes and overall improvement seemed to only go so far, or more specifically, deep.

“When you’re in a scrimmage like this and you’re looking at every player, it has a tendency to get a little sloppy with the 2s and the 3s,” Stoops said. “And that kind of puts a sour taste in your mouth because we need everybody, we need them to play at a high level. We are not overly deep at certain positions and that looks ugly at times.”

Stoops said the defensive line and linebacker were the two most concerning groups when it comes to depth. With the losses of Jason Hatcher and Regie Meant this offseason, the need for some of the new guys to step up has never been higher.

Another guy at linebacker, Eli Brown, also missed the scrimmage Saturday due to a small injury he sustained during practice Friday, which didn’t help matters. The dropoff in fundamentals was alarming when the first team defense was replaced, which is something that fall camp is supposed to work on the most.

A lot of the problem with development simply stems from the nature of camp. Coaches would love for players to get as many live tackling drills as they could but that, of course, runs the risk of injury.

Eliot said they try to make drills as realistic as possible but that the difference live reps make can be seen in the improvement the defense made from the first scrimmage to this last one.

It also bodes well that many of the younger players who will hopefully in time make up this depth already look the part of it. Guys like Kash Daniel and Kobie Walker have the ability to make plays on defense already just because of their physical gifts.

Making “loose plays” was the nicer way of how Stoops described Walker making plays after being caught out of position. The team will have to settle for and build on those plays for the time being.

“When you’re trying to make them a player in short amount of time and they’re not having any success, so all they hear is negative. You have to manage that,” Eliot said. “You definitely have to push them, but you also have to find something that they are doing good and encourage them.”

UK fans should know better than just about anyone how difficult it is to play as a freshman in any sport. That is what this team will have to overcome to add some depth.

In time, that learning curve should become less of a problem.

The secondary is the position group that has the most confidence from the coaches heading into the season. But it was mentioned many times since the start of fall camp that some of those players like Derrick Baity and Mike Edwards did not even earn the starting spot until mid-season.

Depth is a glaring hole right now for the defense, but at least having young guys trying to fill those voids may lead to some welcome surprises that will relieve some of those headaches.