By LARRY VAUGHT
LEXINGTON — Zack Blaylock says he’s fully recovered from the knee injury that forced him to miss last season after he played in seven games for Kentucky as a true freshman in 2012 and had 15 tackles, including seven against Georgia.
“I am healthy. My knee is better and it is good. I am just trying to get back in football shape,” said Blaylock, who is backing up junior college transfer A.J. Stamps at one safety going into Saturday afternoon’s Blue-White Game at Commonwealth Stadium that will end UK’s spring practice.
He can play either free safety (more run oriented) or strong safety (more pass oriented) and has worked at both spots this spring.
“I like to hit, so I like defending the run,” Blaylock said. “But mainly I just can’t wait to play. Being hurt was tough. Just watching everybody go out and play while I did therapy was hard, but there are no more worries. I’m ready.”
Coach Mark Stoops has watched Blaylock’s performance to see how he has progressed off his injury.
“It’s the first time he’s been able to get out and practice consistently, so he’s getting better. He needs a lot of work. He’s missed a lot of time (with the injury). He’s been able to go every practice through the spring, so that’s been good for him,” Stoops said.
Craig Naviar is new to the Kentucky staff this year and also is learning what Blaylock can add.
“He is doing a good job. He is working with our second and third group right now. Trying to fit into the rotation. We have not seen anything to show any issues with his knee and he’s got a lot of good work with the second group,” Naviar said.
Kentucky’s secondary struggled to make game-changing plays last year, something Blaylock did consistently in high school. He intercepted 11 passes as a senior at Walton High School in Marietta, Ga., returning five for touchdowns, while facing various quarterbacks that have gone on to play in the SEC. He was named Defensive Player of the Year by the Atlanta Touchdown Club and was ranked as the No. 34 safety in the nation by Rivals.com and No. 52 nationally by Scout.com.
“I still have my hands, but it’s more now my lower (body) half that I am trying to work on and get in shape,” Blaylock said. “I just have to get back in football shape and get my legs under me.
Playing behind Stamps has been a learning experience.
“He is good. He looks like he will be really good and it is great to work with him and learn from him,” Blaylock said.
He’s on his third position coach in three years, but says Naviar reminds him of last year’s coach, Bradley Dale Peveto (who is now at LSU).
“It was a disappointing to see him leave, but was good for him and coach Naviar kind of reminds me of him,” Blaylock said. “We are more focused on turnovers as a defense and I hope I can help create those big plays. The guys up front are doing a great job and that makes our job easier, especially when it comes to the run game. But I just can’t wait to play.”
His twin brother, Daron, has moved from the secondary to linebacker this spring.
“I think it is going good. He has to learn new stuff, but I think he is doing really well,” Zack Blaylock said. “He is getting better at just calming down and reading what he has to read and do.”