Defense Meeting High Expectations in Spring Ball
On the defensive side of the ball, Kentucky is returning 10 of 11 starters and has seniors all over the field.
On offense, the Wildcats are working on replacing a quarterback who led UK to back-to-back bowl trips while one of their two best players (Benny Snell) sees only limited work and the other (C.J. Conrad) sits due to injury.
As one would expect, the defense has the edge. That continued on Saturday as they Cats suited up in Kroger Field for their first full scrimmage.
“Defensively, we have some guys that have played for a long time,” Stoops said. “I’d say defense is ahead right now and really had a pretty solid day, as we should be. We have a lot of guys who have played a lot of football for a few years.”
Experience and talent have brought high expectations for UK’s defense this spring. With less than two weeks before the spring game, the defenders are delivering.
“Defensively I was very pleased,” Stoops said. “I feel like we’re much more stout than we’ve been. Guys are pretty physical inside and didn’t miss many tackles. Didn’t give up very many big plays as well. I feel like across the board we’re improving defensively, like I would expect.”
Snell, whom the coaches elected to sit on Saturday to protect him from injury and allow the running backs behind him to get more quality reps, noticed. Watching the likes of A.J. Rose and Sihiem King running in his place, Snell saw there just wasn’t a lot of room.
“It was congested and a lot of holes weren’t there,” Snell said. “And that’s a good thing for the defense.”
In addition to the defensive front, which is benefiting from the presence of a healthy Phil Hoskins and Josh Paschal after his move inside, Stoops liked the play and leadership of Kash Daniel. The inside linebacker was mostly a special-teams player over his first two seasons, but is now stepping into a much bigger role.
“I just think it’s his time and he feels very comfortable out there,” Stoops said. “I like the way he’s taking command. He’s a great guy to step right in and replace Courtney (Love) because of the leadership that Courtney had. I like the presence that Kash is bringing right now. Obviously he makes some mistakes and needs to get better like everybody, but he has a good presence out there. He’s confident and is taking charge.”
That feeling of confidence is permeating the defense, but it’s not leading to complacency.
“We’re feeling confident, but we have some things to work on,” Paschal said. “The offense had a good second half against us also, so we just have to work on finishing and things like that. That’s all going to come with time and practice.”
The defense forced a three-and-out on the first drive of the scrimmage and didn’t allow a point over the entire first half of play, though the offense did improve afterward.
“The scrimmage was great today,” Conrad said. “A lot of guys made some plays. Offensively, we struggled at the beginning. The defense probably won the day, but in the second half – we had a little halftime – it was nice to see that our offense really came back and made some plays in the second half.”
Progress is what spring is all about.
“Offensively, we have a ways to go,” Stoops said. “But I’m confident we’ll get there. We’re halfway through spring ball and we’re just now seeing who can do some things and make plays and put it all together. I like where we’re at. We got a lot of good work and we stayed healthy today. That’s a good thing.”