A somewhat underappreciated story within an otherwise wildly unorthodox University of Kentucky football season is the utterly elite performance of the Wildcat secondary in 2019. The defensive backfield ranked second in the nation in passing yards per game allowed, behind only Ohio State, who two cornerbacks drafted in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
The difference? Kentucky isn't reloading its dangerous secondary this season; it's stacking talent on top of it.
Former four-star prospect Kelvin Joseph – who ranked as high as 35th nationally on some recruiting trackers – is finally able to make an impact for the Wildcats. The sophomore had to sit out last season after transferring from LSU due to NCAA rules, but played in 11 games with the Tigers a true freshman. His stats were modest (12 tackles and one pass break-up), but showed his potential.
Despite being highly touted and coming from a football powerhouse, coach Brad White expects him to compete and earn his time.
"Kelvin is getting comfortable with everything that's within our system," White said. "We have a lot of guys that are going to push, and it forces Kelvin to stay locked into his playbook. He's really working hard with that."
"It's not a small playbook and there's a lot of nuances in it, he's going to make mistakes," White continued. "Sometimes you gotta touch the stove to realize it's hot, but he does a lot of natural things that you can't teach."
The addition of Joseph only serves to improve the Cats' loaded back end. What's even more impressive is that Joseph may not even be the most important addition to the group.
Davonte Robinson is healthy again, returning from a quad injury that derailed his 2019 season before it began. Cornerback Brandin Echols is more than excited to have him back.
"With all the experience he has and all the talent he's bringing back to the table, I feel like he's going to make a big impact," Echols said. "If there's one person I feel like people are sleeping on, it's D-Rob."
Robinson had off a highly productive 2018 season, in which he totaled 42 tackles and four pass break-ups. His most popular play from that year is undoubtedly his scoop-and-score to cap off Kentucky’s streak-snapping victory over Florida.
Echols himself was named to the Pro Football Focus's Preseason All-SEC Second Team after stellar 2019 season. He didn't even think he was playing at his best, which could bode well for this upcoming season.
"I wasn't going out there relaxed like I wanted to be, I wasn't going out there with the confidence I needed to have,” he said. "This year, I'm way more confident. I've prepared myself better. Last year I was playing to survive, just to get on the field, just to show what I could do a little bit."
"I was playing scared… but this year I gained full confidence and I'm ready to take on the season."
If the secondary's confidence can predict anything, the group may be bound to repeat 2019's effort.