October 26, 2011

Lowery, Dixon break into secondary

It takes time for some players to find their role as freshmen.

Then there are guys like [ad]Ashely Lowery[/db] and Eric Dixon.

They weren't the most heralded defensive backs in Kentucky's 2011 signing class, but they caught on quickly and both became immediate contributors in the secondary for the Wildcats. Dixon, a 5-11, 171-pound corner from Alabama, had only one other offer from a school in a BCS conference when he signed to play at Kentucky. But he earned a hold on the nickelback job entering fall camp, and is still the No. 1 player there.

Lowery felt immediately comfortable when he arrived at UK during the summer. He was more famous for a highlight reel hurdle as a tailback in high school, but quickly established himself as one of the most physical defensive backs on Kentucky's roster.

"You never know," defensive backs coach Steve Brown said. "You have high hopes for them, but you don't really know what you can do until they get on campus and you work them out on summer."

Dixon's role at nickel is different from that of a normal corner. He has very few responsibilities in man-to-man coverage, unlike the cornerbacks. He's mostly responsible for covering a zone of the field. There are also a handful of blitz packages designed for him.

That plays right to his strengths - he was known as a big hitter in high school.

"You also get to play a little faster," he said.

Lowery impressed the coaches enough to earn some playing time early on, but his biggest contribution could come in the second half of the season. Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips said he'd like to rotate in a young safety in relief of junior Mikie Benton, who hasn't had much time to catch his breath this year.

Benton has played solidly, but the walk-on has a heavy workload and does plenty of work on special teams. Phillips is hoping Lowery will find some playing time alongside junior Martavius Neloms, one of the more seasoned players in the UK secondary.

"When you have an experienced guy at one of the safeties," Phillips said. "It usually gives you an opportunity to play some of the other guys at the other safety.

Phillips also said Glenn Faulkner, another true freshman, could see time at safety this season. He's been limited to special teams to this point.

Lowery, like Dixon, is a physical player. His 6-1, 200-pound frame was powerful enough to withstand three seasons as a high school linebacker. But Brown said he also the speed off to make plays in coverage.

"I can cover and like to come down on the run," Lowery said.

Dixon and Lowery both play on multiple special teams, including on kickoff and punt coverage. What set them apart from their freshmen counterparts, though, was their ability to digest Rick Minter's complex playbook.


"It's the little things the guys have to learn," Brown said. "If you make a mistake on the back end (of the defense), somebody's band is striking up."

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