VAUGHT: What are linebacker's strengths?

There's nothing that helps a coach more than having star players. Chuck Smith understood that perfectly when he was at Boyle County High School in Danville, Ky., and won five straight state championships and went to six straight title games with talent that included numerous Division I signees.

That's why the UK linebacker coach knows having three returning starters -- Wesley Woodyard, Braxton Kelley and Johnny Williams -- should make him look like a better coach this year.

Here is Smith's breakdown of the strengths of each returning starter:

Williams: "Johnny is going to be a junior, but he has obviously got some experience now. He is a physical hitter. He will hit you hard. He also runs pretty well. There is no substitution for speed. Johnny's biggest asset is he uses his hands very well to get off blocks. He never gets tied up on blockers. That is what he does better than anything right now," Smith said.

Kelley: "Braxton in the middle is very instinctive. He is just naturally instinctive. He just reacts very well. He always makes good reads," Smith said. "He works harder than anybody I have ever been around ever. He practices like he plays. That is really a key to being a great player. You talk about it a lot but do you actually practice like you play with that kind of intensity and speed. But he really practices every day like he plays. The thing that separates him is his natural instinct. He has a nose for the ball and just knows where the ball is at. He plays very fast, very quick and very explosive."

Woodyard: "Wesley's biggest asset is his speed. He uses his feet really well. He is a hitter,too," Smith said. "He is a headhunter. He doesn't carry a lot of weight, but when he hits you, they know they have been hit.

"He is the backbone and leader of our defense. He is just a natural leader. He represents himself well on and off the field. I think he is one of the best linebackers in the Southeastern Conference."

Smith doesn't think the broken hand that will briefly sideline Woodyard when practice starts will be a long-term problem.

"Wesley will do what it takes to get back on the field. He's too much of a competitor to let this ruin his senior year," Smith said.

Even with better players, Smith has learned to take nothing for granted, especially with eight Southeastern Conference games on the schedule.

"The SEC is so competitive. Everybody in there can just flat play and everybody in there has good players. Maybe there is a tougher conference, but I couldn't imagine any tougher. From top to bottom, you have to be at the top of your game to win every time out and that's not easy," Smith said.

AllWildcats Top Stories