Bigger isn’t always better.
Heading into the 2021 season, Kentucky appears to have an embarrassment of riches in the secondary. Redshirt senior Yusuf Corker was an All-SEC selection last season and will be a three-year starter this fall. Tyrell Ajian was a four-star recruit out of Ohio who has shown some impressive ball skills as he heads into his redshirt senior year. Super senior Davonte Robinson is back in Lexington for his sixth year after recovering from a quadriceps injury.
That’s a lot of talent and experience at safety.
There is simply no way for Kentucky to get their best 11 on the field without playing three safeties this fall. To go along with some questionable depth at both inside linebacker and on the edge, the Wildcats will need to lean on their defensive backs heavily in 2021.
“We’ve been very good, very sound defensively,” Stoops told reporters at SEC Media Days. “I do feel like there’s some things we can do to play with some smaller personnel with the experience that we have. We tried to play to our strengths, and this year some of that strength may be to play smaller, to play with five defensive backs, more than we have in the past, to give us some more versatility.”
In recent seasons, Kentucky has played its fair share of nickel defense which requires five defensive backs on the field. Mike Edwards thrived as a floating safety and slot cornerback becoming a three-time All-SEC selection in Lexington. However, the Wildcats have wanted to lean on the edge position to consistently create a pass rush. That all but disappeared last year as the Wildcats will enter the season with just five scholarship players in defensive coordinator Brad White’s position room. Former four-star recruit J.J. Weaver is currently recovering from an ACL injury. That is not much depth.
Instead, Kentucky has 10 scholarship players at the safety position and must take advantage of the quality players in that room. There are the three seniors that set the tone. The staff has given redshirt sophomore Taj Dodson snaps in some key moments. Vito Tisdale brought some big-time range to the field as a true freshman. Joel Williams was a blue-chip recruiting win out of Louisiana.
Redshirt senior Josh Paschal is one of the leaders on the team. The 3-4 defensive end has been a productive playmaker for the defense over the last two seasons. The veteran likes the potential of the guys in the secondary.
“We have a lot of depth at the safety position and the DB position as well,” Paschal told reporters. “I think we’ll be able to get into some subpackages, but we’ll see more this fall.”
Redshirt senior Cedrick Dort Jr. helps add some more experience at cornerback. The Wildcats are loaded with quality depth in the back end. We should expect to see some different looks from the Kentucky defense this fall because of it.
“So we will see,” said Stoops. “That’s something that we definitely did experiment quite a bit with in the spring. We’ll see where that goes here through camp.”