He has reason to be optimistic. Even after booting outside linebacker Deion Holts off the team last week for disciplinary reasons, Kentucky still returns nine defensive starters. The only Southeastern Conference team with more returning defensive starters is Vanderbilt, which returns all 11. Defending national champion LSU also has nine defensive starters back.
Of course, the bad news is that Kentucky's defense still ranked 11th in the SEC in total defense (382.2 yards per game) and 10th in scoring defense (26.8 points per game).
"They better be flying to the ball this spring," Archer said. "We have nine starters back. They better know what to do or we will find someone else who will."
That philosophy explains why Archer won't look back at not having Holts, who had 4.5 quarterback sacks last year.
"It hurts losing the guy, but that is the way it is in sports," Archer said. "That same person could have got hurt and never played again. You deal with it and move on. Those other guys can play. They just lack experience. That's why it does hurt losing a guy who has played a lot of football. He made all the adjustments. He played a lot and knew what he was doing. But we don't have him, so we move on."
There's a big difference this spring
Archer says a big difference going into spring practice this year is that players understand what he's saying. He came in last year with new coach Rich Brooks and installed a 3-4 defense, an alignment the current Wildcats were not used to playing.
"When you say something now, the kids know what you are talking about," Archer said. "At this time last year, they had no idea what anything meant. We are so much farther along now than we were a year ago."
That increased knowledge has allowed Archer to put in different fronts, blitzes and coverages during recent team meetings to prepare for the start of spring practice.
Archer says spring practice will set an important tone for his unit, which he feels gained confidence each week last season.
"As far as what I expect in the spring, I expect us to move to a different level," Archer said. "I expect every player to get better in the spring. The attitudes of this football team are formed the next 30 days in spring practice. These are crucial times for our defense."
It should help that Archer feels he'll have competition at every position this year. He says Holts knew last year that no matter how poorly he played, he likely would not come out because of UK's lack of depth.
"Deion knew I couldn't take him out unless he was going to drop dead. I couldn't put anybody in there and they all knew it," Archer said. "We had no depth at outside linebacker."
That's changing this year at every position. Archer has already told Mike Williams, last year's third leading tackler, and Muhammad Abdullah that even though they started last year that they could lose their safety positions to incoming freshmen Marcus McClinton and Wesley Woodyard.
"We are going to have real competition for jobs this year," Archer said. "Peer pressure is the biggest thing we have going.
"I have already told Mike and Mo (Abdullah) that we have two freshmen coming in that we are going to get ready to play. If they are better than them, I told them I was going to play them. Last year does not mean anything to me. It's what you do this year. We are going to have competition because when you deal with the fear of losing your job, it makes a difference."