UK Football: Young backups not a worry for UK coach
Junior defensive tackle Mister Cobble (97) put a big hit on Tennessee running back Marlin Lane in last year¿s final game. Now he hopes to start this season helping UK¿s defense stop Louisville Sunday. (August 28, 2012)
No spot is younger and less experienced than the secondary where three true freshmen — Daron Blaylock, Fred Tiller and J.D.¿Harmon — are second on the depth chart at their positions and a fourth player, junior Dakotah Tyler, missed last season and spring practice when he was not in school for personal reasons.
One of the starters, safety Ashely Lowery, is a sophomore while the other three projected starters going into Sunday’s game at Louisville are seniors Cartier Rice, Mikie Benton and Martavius Neloms.
Phillips for the first time Monday talked about the true freshmen in the secondary as well as Tyler.
“Daron Blaylock is the number two guy at safety. He's a guy that's really smart, really physical. He was a guy we originally penciled in when we signed him to be a Sam back, the hybrid guy (at linebacker),” said Phillips. “He came in here. He's more athletic than we thought. Smart kid. So we moved him to safety.
“We actually had to do it one day when we had a bunch of safeties out. You come out of the lineup, somebody goes in. This guy goes in, was able to get lined up, was able to come down here and make plays for us. Therefore, he will be the backup (behind Lowery).”
Tiller is No. 2 behind Rice at one cornerback.
“He's a guy that is a really smooth athlete, he's long. He looks lean, but he's thicker than he looks. He doesn't look like a fifth¿year senior. Sixth¿year senior, Trevard Lindley, he's even thicker than him. He's a guy that got into our two¿deep,” Phillips said.
Harmon is a walk-on from Paducah Tilghman who hoped to secure a roster spot at receiver. Now he is backing up Neloms and will be the first of the four backups in the game most likely.
“Our strength and conditioning coaches saw him this summer, saw his athletic ability. When we get down in numbers at the corner position, the one guy that we thought could go over there and line up would be J.D.,” Phillips said. “He's done an unbelievable job.
“He's a real physical guy. He's a real long guy. Stronger than most freshmen that come in here in the secondary. Therefore, he'll be one of the backup corners also. Be probably our first guy to go in in our nickel (five-back) situation.”
Phillips said Tyler pushed Benton for the other starting safety position.
“I think a lot that hurt him, he wasn't here in the spring and missed a lot of reps. But he's a guy that's capable of being a starter before the season is over. Excited about getting him back,” Phillips said.
One true freshman who will start is punter Landon Foster, who was expected to step into a role Tim Masthay and Ryan Tydlacka successfully filled in past years.
“He can handle the pressure. He's a different breed. We've had two freshmen (Masthay and Tydlacka) out there at that position since we've been here. He's no different than those guys,” Phillips said. “He's a relaxed guy. He's been an athlete in games. So I feel good about him. He'll do well for us. Need him to be consistent in punting, punting the right direction.”
True freshmen running backs Dyshawn Mobley and Justin Taylor are not on the two-deep chart, but with sophomore Josh Clemons out with a knee injury for at least this game Phillips admitted both should play.
“I'm very confident and comfortable about the running back position. Again, those two young guys give us the ability to have even more depth than we originally thought we'd have before the season,” Phillips said. “Again, there are four guys that have played significant roles since they've been here at the tailback position. Just adding those two guys gives us even more depth.”
Freshmen receivers Demarcus Sweat and A.J. Legree are not on the depth chart, either, despite being the talk of preseason camp. Instead, seniors E.J. Fields, Gene McCaskill and LaRod King are listed No. 1. Even sophomore Demarco Robinson, the receiver Phillips has raved about the most during August, is second on the depth chart behind King. Seldom-used senior Aaron Boyd is also No. 2 behind Fields and above Sweat and Legree.
However, Phillips said the freshmen would play.
“You worry about those guys getting big¿eyed right off the bat. But they'll play. They'll play a lot,” Phillips said. “But those three guys have done a really good job and deserve to be the guys that run out there first.
“I'm really proud of Aaron Boyd. He's done a really good job. Really proud of E.J. Both those guys we've been waiting and waiting and waiting, and now I think the time has come for those guys to play big roles for us. They've done a really good job of helping the young guys also.
“Then Gene McCaskill, it's been two years that he's been battling injuries. Really happy that he'll have an opportunity to play this season also. I mean, Gene is a guy we had really high hopes for, especially after year two when we thought he would be our number three receiver with Randall (Cobb) and Chris Matthews. He hurt his knee. Hasn't gotten back to form until this year.”