As he progresses through his first spring practice season and closes in on the one-year anniversary of his arrival in Lexington, Kentucky defensive tackle Matt Elam continues to grow as a football player.

Interestingly enough, however, that growth as a player has involved some shrinking as a physical specimen.

Elam arrived at Kentucky last summer as a 6-foot-7, 375-pound, five-star defensive tackle prospect from Elizabethtown, Ky., and he immediately served as one of the program’s most polarizing figures. As an in-state product and easily the largest Kentucky signee in recent memory, fans clamored for the opportunity to see Elam wreak havoc up the middle donning UK’s blue and white.

But that’s not exactly how Elam’s freshman season played out last fall. While he appeared in all 12 of Kentucky’s games, he recorded just 10 tackles and two passes breakups on the year. Elam was large, but he was out of shape. He struggled to stay on the field for long stretches, and although his weight often pegged him as the heaviest man on the field, he had a hard time using that weight to gain a physical advantage.

So Elam’s goal since the end of last season has been to work himself into better football shape and to refine his skill set to make a greater impact as a sophomore in 2015. Having a full offseason in Lexington, including the benefit of a full spring practice season, will go a long way toward Elam earning more playing time this season, but he’s had to put in plenty of work on his own as well.

He’s already dropped close to 20 pounds since he arrived at Kentucky, and plans to drop another 15 or 20 pounds by September.

“He’s a work in progress, no doubt about that,” Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “He’s by no means a finished product, but he knows that.”

In addition to dropping weight in an effort to improve mobility and stamina, Elam is also working on developing his skill set as a defensive tackle. Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said he’d like to see Elam generate more push in passing situations, collapsing pockets up the middle rather than allowing interior offensive linemen to get a push downfield.

Upon losing star defensive ends Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith from last season, Elam could be a huge part of this season’s pass rush if he can collapse pockets and make the task of getting to the quarterback easier for UK’s new edge rushers. And at 6-foot-7, a push up the middle would allow Elam to continue batting down passes at the line of scrimmage, something he did twice last year in limited time on the field.

“He’s getting better. He’s worked hard. He needs to continue to work hard, get in great shape and play every down to his ability level,” Stoops said. “That’s our job to get him to do that. He’s a wonderful kid. Great to be in our program. He’s a good football player but we just need to continue to push him to make sure we get him at the highest level he can play at.”

The coaches are pushing Elam to work his body into shape while developing a greater skill set, but the rising sophomore is pushing himself just as hard. He sees the opportunities available along UK’s defensive line, and knows the kind of impact he can make this fall if he puts in the work.

The former five-star prospect would love nothing more than to live up to that billing for his home-state Wildcats. This fall could be his first real shot at doing so, and if this spring is any indication UK fans can expect Elam to seize the opportunity.

“I just have big goals, and I’m feeling like I’m trying to reach them,” Elam told the Courier-Journal, noting he is far from content with the progress he’s already made at UK. “I feel like I’m definitely improving. So that’s good.”