Kentucky's defense is starting over new

When Rick Minter looks at film of Kentucky’s 2010 defense, he can easily point out the weaknesses.

He says it's not the talent, but the drive.

Hesitance suffocated the Wildcats at times, leading to blown assignments and a lack of toughness.

Minter, the Wildcats’ new co-defensive coordinator, is looking to toughen up this group.

“We’re going to be an aggressive, move-around defense,” Minter said. “We’re going to attack people. We’re not going to sit back and wait and we’re going to be a combination of zone coverages and zone pressures and man defenses.”

Minter, who joined Kentucky two weeks before January’s BBVA Compass Bowl, is also making things a bit more interesting by experimenting with a three-man front and operating out of a 4-2-5 alignment, while still having a 4-3 base.

He’s moving guys around, trying to get more speed on the field, especially closer to the line of scrimmage.

There is different terminology for players to decipher, a new playbook study and some new, more innovative formations to memorize.

It’s a lot to throw on his new unit, but more than halfway through spring practice, Minter said he’s pleased with how his guys have taken to all this change.

“I’m extremely happy with how hard they’re trying to do their best,” said Minter, who was the head coach at Cincinnati from 1994-2003 and was the linebackers coach at Indiana State last season.

“I couldn’t be happier with what they’re doing.”

But in January, that wasn’t the case.

With only a small window of time to work with his new players, Minter mostly worked on technique, staying away from implementing his new schemes. The preparation, Minter says, was good, but the result wasn’t as the Wildcats fell 27-10 to Pittsburgh, giving up 261 rushing yards in the process.

“We tried to make it through December, tried to prove ourselves, “Minter said. “Yet, we went out and basically did not get the job done in the bowl game.”

After seeing his defense gutted on the ground against the Panthers, Minter has put special emphasis on stopping the run. Kentucky allowed 177.1 yards rushing yards a game lat season, good enough for 11th in the SEC.

Funky formations and a more creative blitz package will be a main force against the rush, Minter said, but the key cog is 6-foot-1, 230-pound senior weakside linebacker Danny Trevathan, who was first in the SEC and ninth nationally with 144 total tackles in 2010.

“Danny Trevathan was an outstanding football player long before I got here,” Minter said. “What we want to try and do is take his game to another level.

“You can see quickly when you coach him out there on a daily basis and you’re around this kid how he did indeed lead this league in a whole lot of areas in tackling.”

It hasn’t been an easy adjustment, but Minter is starting to see guys adapt to the new system. Guys like middle linebacker Ronnie Sneed, linebacker/safety Winston Guy, cornerbacks Martavius Neloms, Randall Burden and Anthony Moseley, and defensive tackle Luke McDermott have all caught on nicely, Minter said.

Junior quarterback Morgan Newton has seen more than just a handful of guys catching on. He said working against Kentucky‘s new schemes has been both confusing and frustrating at times and he’s convinced the defense will surprise people this fall.

“The defense is as exciting as anyone out here. They’re flying around, making plays," Newton said. “Coach Minter and the guys are going to have them making plays (this fall).”

That sort of praise is nice, Minter said, but there’s still work to be done.

The defensive performance in the first spring scrimmage drew high praise from head coach Joker Phillips, but it was also marred with inconsistency.

It’s fixable, but it’s out of Minter’s hands. The next step in the maturation of this defense, Minter said, is for players to be more reliable and more devoted to applying what they learn from mistakes.

“We’re not anywhere [near] where we need to be in the sense of consistency,” he said. “They gotta understand they gotta bring their lunch bucket every day to play.”