Steve Brown still around, just focusing on secondary



He’s the forgotten man of UK football, and he doesn’t mind it.

Steve Brown went from defensive coordinator and secondary coach in 2010 to co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach in 2011. It’s a small change in title, but the actual change is more drastic.

UK is no longer using his playbook (that playbook led to a defense that ranked near last in yards allowed, sacks and interceptions in the SEC). The new co-defensive coordinator, Rick Minter, is at the helm of the defense. Brown has taken a step back.

“He doesn’t mind being in the second spot,” cornerback Randall Burden said.

Though Brown might have receded into the background, he’s been able to hone in on his specialty, which is coaching up the defensive backs instead of being in charge of the entire defense.

“Now I can focus in on these guys and get them better as technicians and players,” Brown said. “They get more attention, whether they like it or not.”

The extra attention could be especially beneficial to UK, as the secondary has the most question marks of the defense. Cornerbacks Burden and Anthony Mosley are proven, but the safety position is still in flux. With Winston Guy moving to linebacker, head coach Joker Phillips singled it out as a position “we have to have really good play out of.”

Martavius Neloms has been talked about as a top performer, but he’s a converted corner who has yet to play a game at the position. The coaching staff expects him to undergo some growing pains, but also expects him to emerge as a pivotal player in the secondary.

“He has the ability to cover as a corner, but he has the physical nature of a safety,” Brown said. “Because he’s a physical player and an aggressive kid, he’s exactly what we want at that position.”

Mychal Bailey, who was fourth on the team in tackles last year, should also help at that position, although he’s suspended for the season opener. After that, Taiedo Smith took mostly starters’ reps in fall camp. And freshman Glenn Faulker, the highest-rated incoming player for UK, is expected to contribute immediately, even though he arrived on campus later than his teammates.

“We always say that talent will overcome any experience any day,” head coach Joker Phillips said.

Faulkner was walking around the Commonwealth Stadium turf in his No. 18 blue UK jersey on Media Day, replacing (in jersey number only) the highest-profile player in recent years of UK football.

“I didn’t request it,” Faulkner said. “But when they gave me the jersey, I knew I’d have to live up to the number.”

Secondary play could be even more crucial this season.  With the front seven taking more risks and attacking the backfield, the cornerbacks and safeties will be isolated more often. But with the pass rush expected to collapse the pocket faster, the cornerbacks are expecting less deep throws against them and more opportunities for interceptions.

Forcing more turnovers is a crucial part of the defense’s success. Last season, UK ranked last in deflected passes and second-to-last in interceptions in the SEC.

They want more. Mosley said the cornerbacks are working on spying on the quarterback’s eyes, even in man coverage, to find more opportunities for picks.

“The difference from us winning seven, eight, nine games last year was turnovers,” Phillips said. “Everybody has to understand how important turnovers are to this football team and this football program. It’s the difference for us, it really is.”