Freshman cornerback Marcus Caffey has been ruled academically ineligible for the upcoming football season, head coach Joker Phillips announced Friday. It was also announced Friday fellow freshman corner Shawn Blaylock will miss the 2012 season with a knee injury held over from high school.
Blaylock’s playing-time projection as a true freshman was unclear, but Caffey was listed No. 1 on the Cats’ depth chart at cornerback. He spent his redshirt year at running back, the position at which he signed as a member of the Class of 2011, and converted to cornerback at Phillips’ recommendation just before spring practice began in March.
Caffey will practice with the team but will be ineligible to play in any games.
“I’ve always said the hardest thing about being a freshman is to get them to be sophomores,” Phillips said.
Cornerback was already a position of concern. Last year’s starters, Randall Burden and Anthony Mosley, graduated after the 2011 season. The top six cornerbacks on UK’s pre-fall depth chart—including Caffey at No. 1, as it was published before Friday’s announcement—combined for 13 tackles in 2011. Four of the six have never appeared in a game at Kentucky.
Senior Martavius Neloms will switch from safety to cornerback to fill Caffey’s immediate void. Neloms, who played his first two years at corner before switching to safety prior to the 2011 season, was originally slated to spend 2012 moving back and forth between safety and cornerback as necessary. It’s now necessary he plays cornerback full time.
Neloms showed more potential in his one season at safety—his strength is his open-field tackling—but as priorities change, so do roles. Of that Neloms is well aware. So is defensive backs coach Mike Cassity.
“As some players aren’t in the program, other players step up. That’s nothing new. Every university you go to, there’s always transition,” Cassity said.
Cassity said just because of Neloms’ experience and upperclassman status, he won’t be handed the No. 1 job Caffey abandoned. “We’re going to look at him. We’re going to look at a lot of the young guys. We’ll have four quality DBs when we open the season,” he said. Among those Cassity said will be considered are Jonathan Reed, Cody Quinn and Fred Tiller. All are true freshmen. Another true freshman, walk-on J.D. Harmon, will switch to corner to add depth.
“The freshmen kind of get a little upper hand,” Reed said. “I’m not a person to worry about starting or stuff. I don’t want to look at it that way. I want to look at it like it’s a bummer. I got somebody to look forward to learning from, and now he can’t play. I’ve got to learn some things in a different way now: on my own.”
Caffey’s ineligibility along with Blaylock’s injury throws a wrench into Cassity’s camp. Depth at safety would have been fine with Neloms. Now without it, it is questionable. Sophomore Ashely Lowery will need to step up, as will Glenn Faulkner. The two combined for 17 tackles last year, 16 of which were Lowery’s.
The other two Blaylock freshmen—Daron and Zack, who are twins but have no relation to Shawn—will now be scrutinized that much more during camp, Cassity said.
“There’s numbers out there,” Cassity said. “But until we actually get out there and work with them, then I’ll know more. I’ll know more a week or two into camp.”
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