LEXINGTON, Ky. — J.D. Harmon is the old man among Kentucky’s cornerbacks.
The senior from Paducah, Ky., plays behind a duo of sophomores, Derrick Baity and Chris Westry, but Harmon has seen his playing time increase as the season’s gone on.
Harmon has a knack for being a ball hawk. The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder is a couple inches shorter than Baity and Westry, but Harmon has seven interceptions in his career and two this season — tied for the team lead.
When Baity heard defensive backs coach Steve Clinkscale call Harmon one of the best athletes on the team, he shook his head smiling.
“No, definitely not,” Baity said. “I’m the most athletic guy on the team.”
But even if Harmon doesn’t have athleticism over Kentucky’s young cornerbacks, Baity said he brings the experience he and Westry lack.
“Sometimes with me and Chris out there, sometimes we’ll get caught in situations we don’t know,” Baity said. “If I’m out there with J.D., he kinda can help me, ‘Hey you should do this, you should do that.’”
JD Harmon. The “JD” stands for “just… damn.” pic.twitter.com/fC1cMbtKQJ
— Not Jerry Tipton (@NotJerryTipton) September 4, 2016
Kentucky’s secondary starts two sophomores at corner and another at strong safety. Veterans like Harmon, and safeties Blake McClain and Marcus McWilson provide an older balance to the young group, but opponents have taken advantage of the young defensive backfield.
The Wildcats are 10th in the SEC in passing yards allowed per game and 13th in passing touchdowns allowed. Harmon is a player coach Mark Stoops can rely on to fill in wherever needed.
“We are thin in the back end and he can play either safety, corner, nickel or dime, so he’s played quite a few positions for us even if it’s just in practice, backing up roles at different spots so we can execute our nickel and our dime packages. He’s been very helpful that way,” Stoops said.
That versatility has always contributed to Harmon’s athleticism. He played football, basketball and ran track in high school.
“Sometimes I would just go to baseball practice to hit balls,” Harmon said. “I didn’t play baseball, but I just loved doing stuff.”
He’ll be tasked with slowing Josh Dobbs and the Tennessee pass game at noon Saturday in Neyland Stadium. Dobbs has thrown 18 touchdown passes, fourth best in the SEC, but his 11 interceptions are worst in the conference.
Harmon’s two interceptions came in the season opener against Southern Miss, but the senior knows the possibility of snagging another on Saturday.
“In tight coverages, he may throw a bad ball, but you can’t just bank on that,” Harmon said. “You can’t just think, ‘Okay, he’s going to throw me an interception.’ We’ve watched games, we’ve watched film on him — he’s made some good throws.”
Clinkscale said Harmon sometimes stays late after practice working on ball drills, perhaps thinking the next interception isn’t far from reach.
“The ball’s in the air, he feels like he’s one of the best players on the field,” Clinkscale said. “He can go get it.”