Defensive backfield looks for improvement in year three

By Caitlin Schwartz

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UK football head coach Mark Stoops wants to see improvement on the defensive side of the ball this season. Statistics show he has taken his past teams to the next level by the close of his second season. However, UK does not fall into this category.

The Cats lost two of their best players in defensive ends Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith to the NFL. Both started in all 12 games last season. Dupree led the defensive line with a total of 74 tackles on the season. He also led the Southeastern Conference in tackles. Smith was close behind with 61 tackles on the season. Junior Jason Hatcher has important shoes to fill this upcoming season, as the Cats do not have any other experienced ends that have seen action on the field.

Despite losing Smith and Dupree, the Cats will return six players on defense.

Defensive backs A.J. Stamps, Cody Quinn and Fred Tiller are back. Stamps had four interceptions last season, Quinn had 24 tackles, 11 assists and defended six passes while Tiller had 31 tackles, 15 assists, defended nine passes with two interceptions.

Stoops seemed hopeful at the SEC Media Day for this upcoming season’s group of players to bring UK’s defense to the next level.

“Taking about the defense, really looking forward to this year and this group,” Stoops said. “We have some key players to replace, but overall, our unit, I feel very good about.”

Among the new defensive backs that the Cats brought in for the upcoming season are Chris Westry, Derrick Baity, Marcus Walker and Kei Beckham. Stoops said at Media Day that he was pleased with the incoming defensive backs.

“I feel good about the group of guys that we have coming in… if you look at them, they’re all big and tall and rangy.”

The question still remains whether or not Stoops and defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot can live up to SEC standards on the defensive end to keep the momentum in the Cats favor this season.