By LARRY VAUGHT
Junior defensive end Collins Ukwu is being counted on to help anchor KentuckyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s defensive line this season and heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s pretty clear on some things the Wildcats must do to have an improved defense.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We have to be together as a defense. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not somebody over here doing their own thing and somebody over here doing their own thing. That is what got us in a bad situation last year,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Ukwu. Ã¢â‚¬Å“We just have to be more together and we have to all know the plays.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I felt like that was some of our trouble last year. We werenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t communicating real well on the field.Ã¢â‚¬Â
DidnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know the plays. Not communicating.
Those are drastic problems and make it easy to see why the Cats struggled to stop most Southeastern Conference opponents last year. Was the coaching too complicated or did the players just not pay attention?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I think it was a little bit of players not paying enough attention, especially in meetings. That is why we try to emphasize now everybody staying awake in our meetings and stuff like that,Ã¢â‚¬Â Ukwu said.
Staying awake? Certainly that would help players learn more about what is going on.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t go to sleep and I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want to say any names, but there were some people who were not attentive. We need everybody attentive on the field and in meetings as well,Ã¢â‚¬Â Ukwu said.
Given the disciplinarian reputation that new defensive coordinator Rick Minter has, one has to believe thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s no way any UKÃ¢â‚¬Ë†defensive player has been sleeping in meetings recently or would during the upcoming season.
What would happen if Minter caught a player sleeping?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“He will go crazy and probably throw an eraser or something at my face,Ã¢â‚¬Â Ukwu said.
Who could blame him?
However, Ukwu believes Minter is going to make the defense better.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Coach Minter is a great guy. Sometimes he can talk us to death, but we love him at the same time,Ã¢â‚¬Â the defensive lineman said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“He really knows what he is talking about. He is real technical when it comes to the little things and us knowing different steps and different ways to do plays.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“My personal goal is just to be a leader on the defense and the D-line. I want a lot of these young guys to look up to me. Just lead by example on and off the field. Just try to get better every day.Ã¢â‚¬Â
He says heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s confident Kentucky will stop the run better despite shifting from a 4-3 defensive front to a 3-4 look and also having a lack of depth in the defensive front.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It all matters about the defensive line. It counts on us. If the big guys go, the other guys behind us follow,Ã¢â‚¬Â Ukwu said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the kind of mindset we have. Just us being together and working hard will help us out.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ukwu says the philosophy change on offseason workouts that has led to more weight training and less running has helped him and will also help the Cats stop the run.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I have gotten about six or seven pounds (heavier). I am currently 260.Ã¢â‚¬Ë†I feel the strongest IÃ¢â‚¬Ë†have ever been,Ã¢â‚¬Â Ukwu said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I am a guy who burns a lot of calories really easily. Just running twice in a week has made it a lot better for me to keep that weight on me. It has really benefitted not just me, but the whole team. We are a lot stronger and are a bigger club.Ã¢â‚¬Â
And maybe even a team now that can stay awake in meetings.