Spring practice strengthens ‘last line of defense’


Sophomore free safety Winston Guy Jr. runs the ball for Kentucky during their game against EKU on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2009 at Commonwealth Stadium. The football team was leading EKU 17-6 at the half. Photo by Allie Garza

In the game of football, you can’t win if you don’t tackle.

A simple fact UK head coach Joker Phillips realized all too well following his team’s scrimmage Saturday.

“We’ve got to tackle, we just didn’t tackle on defense, which cost us getting off the field a few times,” Phillips said. “We rally to the ball and you miss a couple of tackles and now they’re back to a first down and still moving the chains.”

Phillips said on one particular series, the defense forced the offense into a third-and-21 only to surrender the big play and undo all the work up until that point.

Unlike the Cats’ offense anchored by experienced leaders, such as wide receiver Randall Cobb and tailback Derrick Locke, Phillips said not as many leaders have emerged on a youthful defensive corps as he would’ve liked.

Phillips did note the leadership abilities of linebacker Qua Huzzie and defensive linemen Mark Crawford, DeQuin Evans and Collins Ukwu this spring.

Conspicuously missing from this list of defensive leaders was a member of the secondary.

One potential candidate to emerge from a secondary that lost two key cogs to graduation in likely NFL draft pick and cornerback Trevard Lindley and safety Calvin Harrison, is junior-to-be Winston Guy, now in his second-year at free safety after converting from cornerback.

“Winston (Guy) has a lot of potential, but potential means you haven’t done it yet,” Phillips said. “We think (Guy) could be a big-time player for us, and we expect Winston Guy to be one of our leaders on defense also because he’s been around here a long time.”

The role of leader isn’t one that Guy wants to shy away from either.

“It takes time to become a leader, it takes things you do on the field and off the field to become a leader,” Guy said. “(But) that’s my goal, to become a leader for this defense.

“I criticize myself a lot because I feel like the safeties are the last line of defense so I feel like that it’s my job to make that tackle because if I miss it there’s no one else to make that tackle,” Guy said.

The key to making those tough open-field tackles lies in discipline and making sure you wrap opposing players up, not simply “tapping them on the butt,” said Guy.

Joining Guy in the starting secondary will most likely be cornerback Randall Burden, who was pressed into a starting role in the fall when the secondary was depleted by injuries. Burden is yet another promising alumnus of LaGrange High School, the same high school that produced former UK defensive stalwarts Wesley Woodyard and Braxton Kelley.

Aside from these two players, the competition is wide open for the remaining cornerback and safety positions.

Candidates for cornerback include sophomore-to-be Martavius Neloms, another player forced to see action earlier than anticipated in the fall, is benefiting from the unexpected reps. Also returning is senior-to-be Paul Warford, who was ahead of Burden on the depth chart at the beginning of last season.

Meanwhile, junior college transfer safety Josh Gibbs has been making strides learning the playbook.

Whoever fills the starting roles, Phillips knows the quality he wants in his leader.

“We need someone that’s going to step up and be a guy that grabs them by the throat and gets them back in the huddle for us when things aren’t going good for us,” Phillips said.

Guy has an opportunity to seize the moment.

“I feel like this a big year for me, I’m just trying to stay focused, do the little things to help me become a better person because I want to be at the next level,” Guy said. “When that first game comes, I’m going to be ready.”