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Inexperience a major concern for UK's Archer

August 17, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

Switching Kentucky's defense to a new alignment is not a major worry for new defensive coordinator Mike Archer. What does worry him is the team's youth.

Archer will probably have only two seniors - end Jeremy Caudill and cornerback Leonard Burress - in the starting lineup when the Wildcats open the season and unveil a new 3-4 alignment. That's younger than any team he had when he was the head coach at LSU or defensive coordinator at UK under Bill Curry before leaving to coach linebackers with the Steelers in 1995.

"It's just going to be a guessing game when we get to the opener," said Archer. "We can practice and scrimmage all we want, but it is a lot different in an empty stadium than when you play against another team.

"I've been doing this for 29 years and I'm always nervous. But there is a certain apprehension about how our guys will do, particularly since college kids are so young. In the pros, you have guys that are 25, 26 or 27. You basically know what they are going to do because they have done it for years. With these guys, who knows?"

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Kentucky has had individual defensive standouts the last two years. Tackle Dewayne Robertson was a first-round draft pick after last season and end Otis Grigsby signed as a free agent with Miami. The year before end Dennis Johnson was a third-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals. On top of that, punter Glenn Pakulak was one of the best in the country last year when he set numerous school records and consistently gave the Cats an edge in field position.

"The most encouraging thing is the retention from what we did in the spring," Archer said. "You could tell the guys worked and talked over the summer. But a big concern along with our youth is depth. If we don't have any devastating injuries, we will get better. We want to be physical and take the ball away from the other team."

A position-by-position outlook for the Kentucky defense follows:

* Line.

This could be Kentucky's strongest front-line unit. Caudill shifts from tackle to end in Archer's system after making 39 tackles, sacking the quarterback twice, getting four tackles for loss and breaking up four passes last year. The other end will be preseason all-SEC second team pick Vincent Burns, the team's top tackler last year with 65 stops that included 14.5 for loss.

Archer likes the weight backup Trey Mielsch has added and loves the potential of redshirt freshman Kareem Reid.

"Reid is the epitome of our defense. He's young, talented and has not played. We will just have to see what he does," Archer said.

UK should have a dependable one-two punch at nose guard with redshirt freshman Lamar Mills and former tackle Ellery Moore, who had 28 tackles last year while backing up Robertson and Caudill. Mills emerged from spring practice No. 1 at the position and convinced Archer he could be a big-time player.

Outlook: Barring injuries, this will again be a strength for the Kentucky defense with both Burns and Caudill capable of big years.

* Outside linebacker.

This could be the key position in Archer's system and will be manned by former ends Deion Holts and Raymond Fontaine along with freshman Durrell White.

"They have to make plays," Archer said.

Holts made the all-SEC freshman team last year when he had 30 tackles. Fontaine had nine tackles last year. Archer feels both can better utilize their speed at outside linebacker.

White was hurt in the 2002 Kentucky-Tennessee All-Star Game and did not enroll at UK until January. He went through spring practice and seems fully recovered from his knee injury.

"Those guys have to know what they are doing," Archer said. "They have to be able to rush the quarterback, drop back to cover the pass the next play and then make stops in the running game. It's not an easy position to play, but for us to be successful, they have got to show up big in the stats."

Outlook: How fast the Holts, Fontaine and White develop could well determine how effective the defense will be. A serious injury to any of them could have huge implications.

* Inside linebacker.

Five players with limited experience return and assistant coach Ron McBride is also hoping true freshman Joe Schuler can provide depth here.

Sophomore Dustin Williams had 35 tackles as a backup linebacker last year and was UK's best at this position during spring practice. Junior Justin Haydock, a former walk-on, came out of spring as the other No. 1 linebacker.

Jon Sumrall, Kamaal Ahmad and Chad Anderson are others being counted on by McBride.

"If I feel confident that we have four or five who can play, but the guys I feel comfortable with are the ones who will play," McBride said.

Outlook: Williams looked like a natural in the spring and McBride loves Schuler's potential. Ahmad or Anderson needs to become a run stopper for this unit to excel.

* Secondary.

Archer knows most fans have little confidence in this unit. However, he doesn't feel that way.

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