March 28, 2012

Neloms not making move to cornerback for now

Martavius Neloms has already swapped places in the secondary once in his career. But he might not be doing it again.

Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips told reporters in December that Neloms, could return to cornerback from free safety for the 2012 season. It's still early in spring practice, but Neloms appears to be staying put for now.

"He's our starting boundary safety," defensive coordinator Rick Minter said. "And that's where we'll leave him."

A move to corner appeared logical on the surface. Neloms moved to safety before the 2010 season. He arrived at UK as a cornerback and even earned a start as a true freshman when injuries forced him into the lineup.

Kentucky loses starting cornerbacks Anthony Mosley and Randall Burden. Senior Cartier Rice, who was the No. 3 corner last year and rotated with the starters at times, is the only returning corner with any significant experience. Moving Neloms would fill one hole in the secondary while allowing sophomores Ashely Lowery and Glenn Faulkner to compete for a starting job at safety.

But Neloms, who was third on the team with 71 tackles in 2011 despite missing the final two games with an ankle injury, entered spring camp listed atop the depth chart at safety. That hasn't changed.

"He's been safety the whole time," secondary coach Mike Cassity said. "I think somebody asked me earlier if he was going to be a corner. I said that I don't even know who our corners are right now. He's taken every rep so far at safety."

Neloms said the coaches didn't speak with him about the possibility of changing positions. While he'd be willing to make the move for the team, he'd rather stay at safety.

Neloms, who changed jersey numbers from 15 to 1 in the offseason, has even been making preparations and changes planned around staying at safety. He weighed 183 pounds in January, but now is up to 195. That was a challenge for the 6-foot-1 Neloms, who said he can be full on one meal in a day.

"I have to force food down just to stay up there and try to keep my weight on," he said.

If Neloms is out of the mix, a handful of young players will compete for the other corner spot. Sophomore Eric Dixon was the Wildcats' nickel back last year. Eric Simmons played sparingly in 2011, and Marcus Caffey, currently listed as the starter opposite Rice, redshirted as a running back. Caffey took the No. 15 jersey worn by Neloms last year.

Neloms will still help out the cornerbacks, though. He said he's spent more time in coverage in man-to-man defenses so far this spring. He'll also be responsible for keeping an eye on the corners and calling out adjustments in the secondary.

"I feel like in my previous years, I was a little more quiet, a little reserved," Neloms said. "I kept to myself. I called myself 'The Quiet Assassin,' but now I'm more vocal. I just try to bring the young guys along by being vocal and with my play."

Neloms and fellow safety starter Mikie Benton will both be responsible for calling out the defense in the secondary. That job becomes even more critical now, with such young players at corner.

So Neloms is staying put, and working on improving his skills as a safety. For now, there are no plans for him to move elsewhere.

"Right now he's just trying to learn one position, let alone two positions," Cassity said. "I'm just trying to see where we are with our other cornerbacks right now. I've been pleased with what I've seen."

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