Arguably Western Kentucky University’s best offensive player, Antonio Andrews has been almost an afterthought with the arrival of high-profile first-year WKU coach Bobby Petrino and a battle for the starting quarterback position.

But there’s no denying the Fort Campbell product – who racked up 3,161 all-purpose yards in 2012 and is on the 2013 Paul Hornung Award watch list – wants to grab headlines again once the season starts. The senior running back said this week he is pleased with how the offense has looked early on and pointed to senior offensive lineman Sean Conway as a vocal leader within the unit.

“I was surprised to see how in shape a lot of people were,” he said after Monday’s practice, the first of the fall. “It was a really good day. It’s been a while since we got together like that at that intensity, so it was a great feeling.”

Andrews has also remained in the fold as kick returner.

After totaling 726 kick return yards and 234 punt return yards in 2012, Andrews admitted he wasn’t positive he’d remain in that role under Petrino.

“I’m pretty excited to still be back there,” he said. “In the spring, I was iffy to see if I was going to be back there or not, and then after going through the summer and the first day of camp to be back there was a great feeling. It’ll give me a chance to go get that (all-purpose) record again.”

Defense has reason to be hyped

The sense around WKU camp when talking defense is cautious optimism.

Despite losing all four starters on the defensive front, the Tops are loaded in the back end with depth and talent. Senior linebackers Andrew Jackson and Xavius Boyd are back along with defensive backs Cam Thomas and Arius Wright and safeties Jonathan Dowling and Tyree Robinson.

Those names have been working with the first-string defense, meaning redshirt senior Kiante Young (100 career solo tackles and three career picks) and redshirt junior Ricardo Singh are backing up the secondary, and Chuck Franks and Terran Williams (64 career tackles combined) are backing up at linebacker.

True freshman linebacker Devante Duclos has been working with the first defense in front of sophomores Daquall Randall and Eric Robinson-Berry.

“I think in the back end, if we stay healthy, knock on wood, I think we can be pretty good,” WKU defensive coordinator Nick Holt said. “We get out there with the first group, they look, obviously, way ahead of all the other guys. We do have some numbers and we have some guys that weren’t there in the spring that now are with us and I think that eventually they’re going to help us.

“Overall, though, after the first three days, I think we’re getting better. We still have a long, long way to go.”

WKU led the Sun Belt Conference in rushing defense, pass efficiency defense, total defense, sacks and tackles for loss in 2012, was second in pass defense and scoring defense and third in rushing defense.

Against Kentucky last year, it’s opening-game opponent on Aug. 31 in Nashville, WKU allowed 332 yards passing but just 41 yards on the ground. Thomas said the first few weeks are basically being used to just get back in the flow of things.

“Just to rekindle the fire with the whole defense,” he said. “Just install is crazy, we just want to keep getting coherent with the defense and techniques just to make sure that we’re set and we do just let loose when we get into other things we’ll be perfectly fine with handling the different things that come at us.”

<\Bz14>Media day today

The WKU football program will hold its annual media day at Houchens-Smith Stadium today.

Petrino will answer questions in a news conference setting starting at 9 a.m. inside the Jack and Jackie Harbaugh Club. Select student-athletes will meet with the media later in the morning.

The Hilltoppers held their fifth practice of fall camp Friday at Houchens-Smith Stadium. It was the first full-squad session this week with veterans and newcomers coming together. The team also dressed in full pads for the first time.

— Chad Bishop covers Western Kentucky University athletics for the Daily News. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MrChadBishop or visit bgdailynews.com.

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