April 7, 2012

Defense starts strong before offense takes over in scrimmage

The first full scrimmage of Kentucky's spring practice was quite a bit different than the first. Instead of the offense jumping out early, it was the defense that stepped up early before fading.

After the defense forced stops on the offense each of the first two series, the offense bounced back. A big play on the third series put the defense on its heels, and the defense never fully recovered.

"The defense came out full steam ahead," sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith said. "I don't know if we were ready for it. Then we came back, finished pretty strong. It was solid. Maybe not as good as last scrimmage for us offensively, but we did some good things."

Defensive coordinator Rick Minter said he saw an improvement from the first scrimmage even though the offense played better. With three weeks of spring practice down and two remaining

There's still work to be done, though. After the first two series, the defense didn't perform at the same level for the rest of the scrimmage.

"We got a little too relaxed," sophomore defensive tackle Mister Cobble said. "As a defense, we lost our focus and the offense kept playing. They wanted to score and they did. We have to keep the mindset that we're going to stop them this drive, then we have to come out and do it again."

Head coach Joker Phillips said linebacker Josh Forrest returned an interception for a touchdown and was pleased by the play of Miles Simpson, Marcus Caffey and Bud Dupree on defense. Offensively, wide receiver Demarco Robinson, tight end Ronnie Shields and tailback Raymond Sanders stood out, he said.

Things weren't all good from the offense, though. Much like Cobble wasn't pleased with how the effort fell off after a strong start, offensive coordinator Randy Sanders was looking for more effort from the beginning.

"We started like we didn't fee like practicing today," Sanders said. "I didn't think our intensity or our energy was very good at the start of the scrimmage. I think it picked up as we went on.

"But if we're going to be the type of team that we want to be, if these guys want to be the type of players they talk about being, you have to come out and bring it from the opening whistle."

Defensive line protects its house

On paper, Kentucky's defensive line figures to be one of the strongest groups on the team. All three starters from 2011 return, along with most of the key reserves.

The group is anchored by senior defensive end Collins Ukwu and junior tackles Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph. That trio gives the coaching staff a strong foundation for the rest of the defense to build on.

"If you're ever going to be good on defense, you better be good up front," defensive coordinator Rick Minter said. "We're counting on those guys to help set the tone for us."

Also returning are sophomores Christian Coleman and Mike Douglas, along with senior Taylor Wyndham. Travaughn Paschal and Farrington Huguenin also stood out in Saturday's scrimmage, Phillips said.

Those players are aware of what's expected of them this year. With so much rebuilding going on behind them in the secondary and at linebacker, line play will be key.

"The offensive and defensive line, it's like building a house," Cobble said. "We're the threshold. Then the linebackers are the frame. Then the DBs are the roof. We all work together."

There's a lot of pressure that comes with being the foundation. That's something Cobble is still getting used to, but learning to embrace.

"It's like the team is on our shoulders," Cobble said. "Coming back with the most experience, we're a big part of the team. We feel like we have to lead. If the big guys go hard, everybody else will follow."

Towles' spring break destination? Lexington

Quarterback signee Patrick Towles was at all three of the Wildcats' practices this week while he was on spring break. He's watched practice and been in meetings.

"I love the way he carries himself," Phillips said. "The way he interacts. We had a lot of recruits on campus, love the way he interacts with the recruits. Definitely a big time leader."

Towles is able to stay with his sister, a UK student, when he visits. He's been to every Saturday practice this spring, but this was the first week he's been able to make it to Wednesday and Friday practices.

Towles is expected to play as a true freshman, so he'll need as much experience as he can before fall camp arrives. Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said he's happy to have Towles around, but he'll still have a long way to go.

"I'm anxious to see how he is when we get him on the field and we get him to 11 on 11," Sanders said. "I think the intangible things that are there, you really like. But unfortunately, intangibles don't win games without the ability to make plays."

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