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By: ASHLEY SCOBY
It was a clean slate for Kentucky football when Coach Stoops and his new staff came into Lexington about four months ago.
At the cornerback position, that might be especially true.
According to corners coach Derrick Ansley, nobody in the rotation has stood out in spring practice enough to warrant a first-string position. Everyone is at the same level, going through similar highs and lows.
“Immaturity” has been an issue so far during spring practice with the cornerbacks, according to Ansley.
“They’ve just got to be more consistent,” he said. “They show flashes of being able to get the job done and play winning football, and they also show flashes of immaturity and youth. We’ve got to bring those guys along and keep them going in the right direction.”
With the youth at the position, showing each of those “flashes” is not too surprising. At maybe the youngest position on the field for Kentucky this year, the cornerback corps consists of five true sophomores, one junior-college transfer, two redshirt freshmen and one true junior.
Three of those true sophomores, however, played significantly last year: J.D. Harmon, Cody Quinn and Fred Tiller. Those three combined for 76 tackles, 11 pass breakups and 2 interceptions during the 2012 campaign.
That kind of experience will help take the edge off of such a young bunch being thrown into SEC competition. With so many players having competed as true freshmen, the team may also find some guidance from those younger guys.
“We were all freshmen and we all contributed last year so they’re looking for us to come up and be leaders and step it up this year,” Quinn said.
Ansley focused more on the individual aspect of playing as a true freshman – although several of UK’s corners got quality game-time experience last year, it all depends on how they use it.
“It differs from person to person,” he said. “Different people are more mature than others so it kind of varies. Playing as a freshman is good depending on how you can handle it.”
Something else these young corners have to handle is the tempo of practice: Going against an Air Raid-style offense sometimes takes its physical toll on the guys having to run with the receivers. Quinn said that most of the corners’ conditioning comes when the offense runs its up-tempo system and the defense has to keep up.
Ansley agreed that the tempo of practice has been wearing on his cornerbacks.
“The tempo hurts us a little bit at the end of practice when you’re kind of winded,” he said. “The guys kind of feel sorry for themselves a little bit. That’s the hurdle we’re trying to get over. We’ve got to finish practice just as fresh as we started practice. Once we get that mentality, then we’re going to be fine.”
Finding which of this year’s cornerbacks dig deeply and find that kind of mentality within themselves will be the determinant of who starts. It may take some time for this coaching staff to evaluate all the youngsters, but Ansley believes whoever is meant to start will show himself.
A clean slate at the corner position will eventually be a picture of who persevered the most through the physical pain of practice and the mental challenge of grasping the new defensive system.
“My biggest thing is to make sure someone takes the spot and not just be content with being a one-guy right now or a two-guy or a rotating guy,” he said. “Who wants to be great? That’s what I want to know.”