This week, the CU Independent’s Justin Guerriero reached out to Derek Terry of Rivals.com to get some intel on new Colorado defensive coordinator and linebacker coach D.J. Eliot, who formerly held the same position at the University of Kentucky. Terry, a senior at the university, covers athletics at UK for Rivals.com and serves as Sports Illustrated’s Campus Correspondent for the university. Guerriero asked him some questions about Eliot and his time at Kentucky. Here’s what we found out:
Justin Guerriero: D.J. Eliot served as the Kentucky Wildcats’ DC and LB coach from 2013-16. What is your overall assessment of him and his defensive capabilities? Are there pros and cons about his him as a coach and/or his system?
Derek Terry: Eliot had an interesting four years at Kentucky. He was the first coach hired by head coach Mark Stoops in 2012, as the two had coached together at Florida State and also a few other schools. UK never had a strong defense while Eliot was at the helm. The highest the Wildcats ever ranked in total defense was 59th in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The Wildcats were void of talent outside of just a few spots when he and Stoops arrived (linebackers Za’Darius Smith and Bud Dupree played in their first two seasons and are now in the NFL) and the results often showed. It’s hard to get a full assessment of Eliot because Stoops was so involved in the defense. This season was by far the worst for Eliot as Stoops took over play-calling duties after just two games. UK allowed 1,084 yards in those two games.
JG: Eliot inherits a Colorado defense that has lost eight senior starters from last year, including two defensive backs, two linebackers and the entire defensive line. Needless to say, he’ll be working with a crew of some younger guys and it is imperative that he helps develop them if the Buffs are going to have a winning season in 2017. Has he had experience with younger players starting at Kentucky? Do you think he’s got a knack for quickly developing guys?
DT: UK had a bit of bad luck in the front seven before the season. Two projected starters — Jason Hatcher and Regie Meant — either left the program or were dismissed, which left UK with only one returning starter in the front seven. It showed early on but the defense improved once Stoops took over. Stoops often complimented Eliot and talked about how he was still a critical part of the defense, even though he wasn’t calling plays.
JG: Have you heard any player feedback on him? How’s he get along with his guys? Does he seem to be a disciplinarian? Does he form good relationships with players? What’s his coaching style?
DT: In the practices I saw, Eliot never seemed to be a disciplinarian. That’s not to say he doesn’t hold guys accountable or anything, but he never seemed like an “in-your-face” kind of coach. He always seemed like a laid back coach, but that was just my impression.
JG: Given that he has been a linebackers coach in addition to his role as defensive coordinator, what do you think his strengths are in regards to that position group?
DT: The outside linebackers really improved this year for Kentucky. Jordan Jones was one of the leading tacklers in the conference and Josh Allen was among the league-leaders in sacks. He coached inside linebackers prior to UK’s switch to a 3-4 defense, so he would seem to have outstanding knowledge on coaching linebackers.
JG: In terms of pass coverage, what did he like to do at Kentucky? Man or zone coverage? Or was there a combination?
DT: It was a combination of both. You have to understand how limited UK was on defense when Eliot and Stoops arrived. The team had a few good pass rushers when they arrived in Dupree and Smith, but the secondary was pretty bad. In more recent years the secondary has been a strength while pass rushing has been an issue.
I wish I could give more concrete answers, but it’s tough to judge Eliot’s tenure. Part of me wants to give him the benefit of the doubt because the talent level is just now getting to a point where the defense should be really improved, but at the same time the defense was much better when Stoops took over.
Contact CU Independent Head Sports Editor Justin Guerriero at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @TheHungry_Hippo.
Follow Derek Terry on Twitter @DerekSTerry.