Neloms return to cornerback to lead young secondary



By Cody Porter

With the Governor’s Cup lying in the balance, head coach Joker Phillips’ team still has to face a potential weakness of lack of depth and experience in the secondary.

A move by freshman running back Marcus Caffey to cornerback was supposed to provide the SEC-level size that the Cats haven’t been accustomed to having in recent years.

Then bad news hit the program on media day.

“I’ve always said the hardest thing about being a freshman is to get them to be sophomores. We have an academic casualty in Marcus Caffey,” Phillips said. “Marcus Caffey is ineligible for the 2012 season. He will practice and still be a part of our program, but will be ineligible to play in the 2012 season.”

The Cats turned to senior safety Martavius Neloms to return to his former position to aid the team.

“It’s unfortunate with that happening, but we’ve got a philosophy here, ‘next man in,’ so we’ve just got to be able to play,” senior safety Mikie Benton said during UK media day.

After playing, and eventually starting corner during his first two seasons, Neloms made the switch to safety last season, where he ranked third on the team with 71 tackles.

According to defensive coordinator Rick Minter, Neloms didn’t seem to be thrilled by the move, but that’s something the senior said he can move past.

“With the skills that I learned at safety and the knowledge I learned back there, knowing how to line guys up, I should be fine,” Neloms said.

Sophomore Glenn Faulkner was one player vying for Neloms’ former position, but an injury to his ankle during a scrimmage required the one-time four-star recruit to undergo surgery, sidelining him for six to eight weeks.

In branching off the seemingly safety-by-committee part of the depth chart, expect junior Dakotah Tyler or sophomore Ashely Lowery to play alongside Benton.

Being that Lowery and Tyler have 29 tackles in their five combined seasons of play, Phillips looks for Benton to help lead the secondary.

When asked, Benton said he is trying to take a leadership role that involves helping the team’s youth adjust.

“I’m willing to help any and everybody,” he said.

“Between myself, Martavius and Cartier (Rice), we’ve all been playing since a very young age,” Benton said. “So there’s a lot of experience between us. And you know with Ashley Lowery being able to play last year that helped us.”

Neloms is also entering the first week with the understanding he is being looked up to by a lot of youth in the secondary.

“We have a lot of young freshmen that are coming in to play cornerback. It is important for me to be a leader for them so that they can come in and know what to do,” he said.

Senior cornerback Cartier Rice said that many of the freshmen, such as Josh Forrest, J.D. Harmon, Josh Harris and twins Daron and Zack Blaylock, are hungry to get on the field, something Joker Phillips said will eventually happen.

“I wasn’t here last year, but anytime your graduate seniors that means younger guys have to elevate their game,” defensive backs coach Mike Cassity said.

One component of game elevating is adjusting to SEC-level competition.

“That is really big, because at the South Carolina game I was a true freshman getting thrown out there to the wolves. I’ve been out there and I know what to do,” Neloms said.

Now a week away from playing former SEC defensive coordinator Charlie Strong, Louisville’s current head coach, the Cats will get to see an offensive similar to that his offensive cohorts used in Gainesville, Fla.

In preparing, Cartier Rice said it’s important to “stay persistent, as well as consistent.”