Stoops talks quarterbacks again

At his regular Monday media sessions, Coach Mark Stoops talked a little more about the quarterback play from Saturday’s scrimmage now that the staff has had a chance to watch film.

Patrick Towles and Drew Barker stood out the most to their head coach, but Jalen Whitlow and Reese Phillips are in the mix still.

“They all did some good things; they all missed some things, but again, I’ll give you a bone here: I’m still impressed Patrick is improving,” Stoops said. “He’s throwing some balls we all know he has the arm talent to execute. I feel like Drew is doing some good things for a young guy out there. Again, that’s not dismissing the other two guys. They did some good things as well.”

 

 

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Coaching legend takes in Kentucky practice

A mentor for more than a few of the coaches who make up Kentucky’s defensive staff was on campus to take in practice and offer some constructive feedback for Coach Mark Stoops.

Pete Jenkins, a legendary defensive line coach at both the professional and college level, pointed out to Stoops how far UK has come in one season.

“Sometimes when you see it every day, you want to make those steps faster, but he knows, and he told me, it’s a much different team, a better looking team,” Stoops said. “It looks like we’re more physical and all that. So it’s good to hear that from somebody that spends a lot of time going to a lot of spring practices and has been around the block.”

Jenkins’ name has come up many times during the UK staff’s first year.

On Signing Day, Stoops mentioned the cohesion of himself, defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot and defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh (who played for Jenkins at Auburn) was one of the pitches to land Matt Elam.

On Media Day last year, Eliot mentioned that most of the defensive line techniques that have made Stoops and himself so successful came from time spent with Jenkins.

Eliot discussed some of those techniques, too.

“Probably one of the biggest is that we coached our defensive linemen and had to make plays,” Eliot said in August. “When we were at Florida State, one of our leading tacklers was a defensive end. So those guys, you know, really concentrated not only executing their responsibility within the defense, but also how to get off a block and make a play.”

So did having Jenkins around change the tone of UK’s practice? Do coaches like Brumbaugh and Stoops get a little more demanding with their mentor watching?

Nah, Eliot said.

“I hope that they coach the same every day,” he said. “But … in anything you do when your mentor is there, you may be a little more stressed. Coach Brumbaugh played for him in college, and so I’m sure that he was on his highest.”

UK defensive end Bud Dupree said not much changed in practice Monday, but it’s hard not to pay attention when Jenkins is saying things.

“Everybody goes hard, but once the original person of the defense tells you to do something, you snap to it, go way faster than when your coaches tell you to do it,” Dupree said. “It’s great having him here.”

 

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UK’s Bud Dupree the savage?

Bud Dupree has the word “SAVAGE” hand-written daily on his wrist tape. When asked about it, the UK defensive end smiled widely.

“We wanna play like savages,” he said. “You just gotta have that mentality on defense.”

It’s something his defensive coordinator likes to see: “That’s a self-motivation thing for him. We want Bud to lead by example, a lot like Avery (Williamson) did. That means you have to play that way on the field. Right now, he’s doing that.”

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NFL was tempting for Dupree, but senior glad he stayed

Leaving early to potentially play in the NFL was something Alvin “Bud” Dupree considered for more than a few minutes this offseason.

Kentucky’s junior defensive end said on Monday that a chance to go to the next level was tempting.

“You never know when somebody wants to get some money in their hand, it’s hard to turn things down when you really didn’t have it,” Dupree said. “I just wanted to come back to benefit myself and my teammates and my coaches.”

Mark Stoops, who has had a few defensive players like Florida State’s Bjoern Warner and Tank Carradine among others go high in the NFL Draft, consulted with several people and met with Dupree about that decision.

“He told me I’ve got the same potential, could even go higher (next draft), so I just listened to him because he’s got experience in this,” Dupree said.

The UK defensive end heard that he was a likely second- or third-round draft pick and he opted to come back to school, get bigger (he’s listed as 15 pounds heavier on this spring’s roster) and grow under Stoops.

Some things he focused on improving this offseason include play recognition, playing better and faster in space. He’s also tried hard to become a vocal leader for the defense.

“I just want to be an all-around player for Stoops,” said Dupree, the Cats’ leading returning tackler with 61 last season, including a team-best 9.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks.

 

 

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Stoops, Eliot discuss spring practice

MARK STOOPS

“It was good to get out there today and put another good practice together. I thought Saturday, like I said, that was one of our better days. I thought we backed it up with a pretty good day today. We’re starting to move forward, get a little bit better in each phase of the game. Encouraged, again, we’ve got a long way to go. Got some guys banged up and bruised like you’d expect in the middle of spring ball, but nothing major and I feel like we’re heading in the right direction. Again, just gotta keep on keeping the foot on the gas and keep on getting better each day.”

On whether anything jumped out at him from Saturday scrimmage film: “I just felt like it was better, it was just better football. As the head coach, you’re not just worried about one side or one position group or anything like that and obviously, I just felt like there was more quality football being played, not perfect and obviously, frustrated and a lot of things to get corrected at times, but overall, just better and more improved.”

On defensive tackles on film: “We’re battling; we’re getting better. We’ve got a few young guys in there with Regie (Meant) getting better. Mike Douglas is doing a good job and you know Melvin (Lewis) is getting better. You know, we’re improving.”

On what he looks for out of the defense when watching film: “Well, you could be (trails off) It always comes down to fundamentals. If we’re good enough to play and handle guys, then obviously you’re going to have a lot more success. I feel like fundamentally we’re getting better. We need to continue to grow. We need to be able to cover people, you know? But it’s always like that. The better you are, the more simple you can play and execute things and give people things by missed assignments and things like that.”

On missed alignment mistakes: “Better. We’re getting much better. Things are slowing down for some of our guys.”

On how quarterbacks looked on film: “Yeah. I thought the quarterbacks — again I’ll be boring for you as usual. They all did some good things; they all missed some things, but again, I’ll give you a bone here. I’m still impressed. Patrick (Towles) is improving, he’s throwing some balls we all know he has the arm talent to execute. I feel like Drew (Barker) is doing some good things for a young guy out there. Again, that’s not dismissing the other two guys. They did some good things as well.”

 

 

On A.J. Stamps, what do you like, is he getting hands on balls? “He’s got good instincts. He’s got good size and good athletic ability. He seems to pick things up fairly quick, which is a good thing because it’s a hard position. Things go very fast; things change all the time. There’s different offenses, different plays. Offenses setting you up and all those things. So you have to have some instincts to play that position and so I’m excited about him and his progress.”

On how much will Dupree’s development and leadership will impact leadership: “Bud’s a real key part. I’ve said it over and over. But he is. He’s a good football player with good instincts. He’s really done a nice job with the leadership role. It’s key for him to have a great year and to continue to lead us.”

On how much bigger, stronger and faster is team: “We’re much better. I have a colleague that’s here watching us that comes in every year, that visits with me, with the past five or six years, studied some football with him and he’s in watching us. He’s really an expert in D-line play and he was pointing that out to me. Sometimes when you see it every day, you want to make those steps faster, but he knows, and he told me, it’s a much different team, a better looking team. It looks like we’re more physical and all that. So it’s good to hear that from somebody that spends a lot of time going to a lot of spring practices and has been around the block. Like I said, he’s really an expert on D-line play and it’s good to have him around, so that meant something to me. I’ve said that to you: I feel like we’re getting better, we’re getting there. We spent a long winter this year; we went into spring ball late so we could really have some time to lift and put on some weight and get stronger, and I feel like that’s paying off.”

On how you spell this visitor’s name: “(laughs) We got Pete Jenkins in here. Pete Jenkins. It won’t take you long to look him up.”

On how Marcus McWilson is doing: “Marcus, uh, yeah, he does some good things, he’s got some good ability. We need to continue to lean on him to play with a greater sense of urgency, a greater passion for the game. He’s got the ability. It’s our job to keep on getting it out of him.”

On if he’s made in any Calipari-like tweaks: “No, I don’t, uh … in football, with us, there’s so many moving parts in football that we change things drill by drill and look at what we’re doing schematically, offensively and defensively. We’ll be in there for hours upon hours today making adjustments and just seeing what we can do and what’s best for our team.”

On if Dupree and Za’Darius Smith reach a point where they sort of max out improving personally and end up doing more mentoring of younger guys: “Oh, no, they definitely can get better – and are. With Bud, it’s his versatility and making sure he’s getting enough quality reps to continue to progress with his hand in the dirt as a great D-lineman and then being able to get him some snaps on his feet and doing some other things and being versatile with Bud. So that’s a matter of just keep on getting reps there.

“With Z, you can never get enough reps and you’re always getting better. Again, that’s why Pete Jenkins is in here. It’s something we take great pride in. It’s something we did at Florida State. The better you play up front, the better you’re going to be. It starts up there. I think Coach Brumbaugh does a great job of developing those guys and we’ve got a long way to go with some young guys, but that’s key for us.”

On how, halfway through spring ball, new assistant Craig Naivar is meshing with the staff and players: “He’s doing a good job. He’s a high-energy guy, a lot like Coach Peve, so it’s good. We’re not missing a beat there. We love what we’re doing and, again, he’s high-energy and gives us a lot of experience with being a coordinator for a long time.”

On Naivar being an 80s glam-rock fan: “Oh, yeah, he is. That’s good. That’s good for me. I don’t know about the players.”

On if he hears it blaring from the meeting rooms: “Oh, of course, I’m in there. We’re ready to go, yeah. He puts me to sleep a little bit because every time we start kicking extra points it’s the fight song. So that kind of brings it down for me, but …”

On what’s different for him and if his comfort zone has expanded after a year on the job: “It really is. Just everything, I think putting it all together and your time demands and being stretched in so many different ways, it’s still difficult at times to find enough hours in the day to do the things you have to do with that. But much more comfortable. Obviously offensively and defensively, where we’re heading and what we’re doing, that comfort level is there. I think just as a program, all the things we’re doing within the program to help develop these players, I feel much better just where we’re headed.”

 

 

D.J. ELIOT

On what he learned from film of Saturday scrimmage: “Like I said after the scrimmage, we played pretty vanilla. Just wanted to find out who could play. Some guys did some good things. We’ve got some guys that still need to get better. We’re just building on that and trying to finish out the spring.”

On how Khalid Henderson has looked this spring: “Khalid is better. Khalid is a better player. All those reps have helped him last year during the season. You can tell going into spring he’s much further along than he was last year. He’s keying things faster. He’s assignment sound. He’s an improved player.”

On Mark Stoops saying Pete Jenkins (his mentor and Southern California defensive line coach) observed practice and said he could notice improvement up front: “Yes. Yes. He made some good comments about our improvements, which is encouraging, and we’ve just got to continue to get better.”

On if the guys who learned under Jenkins or played under Jenkins coach differently when he’s watching: “I hope not. I hope that they coach the same every day. But in anything you do — you’re referring to Pete Jenkins — in anything you do when your mentor is there, you may be a little more stressed. Coach (Jimmy) Brumbaugh played for him in college, and so I’m sure that he was on his highest.”

On what he’s learned in the first half of spring practice: “In life? (Laughter).

I’ve learned that, you know, some of the obvious things are that Bud Dupree has got some great, great skills, and not only that, he’s got some great leadership. I’m really looking forward to seeing how he progresses and plays in the fall. Along with Za’Darius Smith. Some guys like Mike Douglas have stepped up, and I’m hoping to see some great things from him in the fall as well. But, we’ve just got to take it one day at a time. You can’t rush anything. You’ve got to make sure that you’re doing little things. The old saying ‘You can’t put the cart before the horse,’ we’ve got to make sure we’re continuing to do that.”

On if he’s noticed any difference in Blake McClain since they’ve limited him to two primary positions: “Blake McClain, you know last year was a true freshman. We saw the ability and didn’t know where to play him. That’s why he played in training camp at a bunch of different spots: because we saw the ability and had to get him on the field. I think as much as growing from a freshman to a sophomore, I’ve also seen him become more specialized in his position and what he’s doing. He’s continuing to get better.”

On if the defense only having two interceptions was an anomaly last season or if they can do something specific to up that number: “No, we’ve got to get better. It’s us. We’ve got to make the plays, and we’ve got to put them in position to make the plays. It’s something that we’ve been emphasizing. We track it every day in practice. We’ve had some that we had a bunch, and we’ve had some that we haven’t had very many. A lot of it just comes down to finishing plays. Sometimes you get them in the right spot then it’s a dropped ball or it’s a tipped ball that we don’t bring down. We do practice it. We practice the fundamentals of that on a regular basis, but we are emphasizing that quite a bit.”

On if A.J. Stamps is a guy that can help create turnovers: “I hope so. I hope so. A.J. has a lot of ability, and he’s got great ball skills. I hope that transitions.”

On Stamps saying he’s gained about 10 pounds since he arrive on campus and how much it helps to have players adding that kind of weight: “If you’re bigger, stronger, faster then you’re a better athlete. As long as they continue to keep their speed and they put that size on, it’s good for them.”

On Bud Dupree writing “savage” on his wrist every day before practice because that’s how he wants to play and if that’s how the staff wants him to play: “That’s something that he’s come up on his own. I think that’s a self-motivation thing for him. We want Bud to lead by example, a lot like Avery (Williamson) did. That means you have to play that way on the field. Right now, he’s doing that.”

On if he can tell J.D. Harmon is trying to take advantage of the second chance he said he got: “Yes. I’ve seen J.D. getting better. I’ve seen J.D. doing some good things, playing hard and trying to be fundamentally sound. We’ve just got to stay on him. He’s got to continue to put that effort in to do it.”

On if there were times last year when the cornerbacks were struggling and Harmon was apparently making plays on the scout team he wished he could have used Harmon: “I don’t know. I really, I never — I just concentrated on the ones I had on my practice field, I guess. So those thoughts never went through my mind, but I am glad to have him now.”

On if he got reports about Harmon playing well on scout team: “Yes. Yes. Yes, I did. Yes, I did. I got reports — every day we got a daily report on who was doing good and who was doing bad over there.”

On if Harmon was usually good: “Yes, he did some good things. I don’t know where we’re going with this. (Laughter). I thought he did some good things. Just tell me what you want me to say. (Laughter).”

On wishing Harmon could have been an impact player: I just worried about the ones I had. But he did do some good jobs over there, did do a good job over there with the scout team.”

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Stoops, Brown after Wednesday’s practice

MARK STOOPS

ON PRACTICE DATE CHANGE: “Basically, we’re not going this Friday, we’re going the Friday before the spring game.”

OPENING STATEMENT: “Pretty good work today, good energy. The offense responded a little bit Monday, defense got after it a little bit, had good energy, good enthusiasm, probably had the upper hand in team drills. Today the offense responded a little more, a little more balanced, but I like what I see. The guys are working hard and getting better. As I always say, we’ve got miles to go, but I like their attitude and their energy and their work ethic and we’re improving. Good to see some guys back. You guys were off the basketball trail. (Turns to Lonny Demaree) Saw you at breakfast the other morning. You’ve just been on Easy Street.”

ON RYAN TIMMONS: “Timmons is, he’s doing very good. He’s more consistent of being a complete wide receiver. We know he’s good with the ball in his hands and he’s got to learn to get open, it’s not just screens and fly motions and handing him the ball and all that. He’s improving, he really is. He’s making some big plays. He’s been more consistent; he’s stronger. I like the way he’s playing.”

HAS TIMMONS GOTTEN STRONGER? “Just get in great shape and he’s working on that, yeah.”

ON RUNNING BACKS. DO INJURIES IN SPRING ILLUSTRATE HOW IMPORTANT IT IS TO HAVE DEPTH AT THAT SPOT? “It is. They’re better. We’re getting more depth at that position. Mikel (Horton) is getting a bunch of work. Josh (Clemons) being back a little bit has been helpful. He’s a tough, physical presence in there. It’s been good. We need a bunch of guys and I’d like to say it’s because we’re much more physical and we’re bigger and stronger and we’re beating them up, but I don’t know if that’s the case. I can’t say that yet. But anyway, we need some guys, need some depth.”

ON CLEMONS’ RESILIENCE, THROWING AWAY ANY CAUTION AND IS JUST PLAYING: “Yeah, that’s a good analogy. And he’s been playing very well. It doesn’t look like he really missed a beat to be honest with you. It seems like he’s moving good, has good agility along with his power. It’s been good to have him.”

ON DARRIAN MILLER AND JORDAN SWINDLE: “They’ve been very good. They’ve been more consistent. Again, they’re bigger and stronger. They’ve been taking more of a leadership role, so I like the way those two are playing. They’ve been really solid, and need to continue to improve, but I like what they’re doing, both on the field and off.”

ON WIDE RECEIVERS AND PHYSICALITY: “We’re a work in progress there, but we’re all over them. Coach Mainord’s coaching them up tough. I think defensively, we’re putting pressure on them that way. We’ve incorporated some drills and half line, things like that where maybe the defense knows screens are coming and so we’re just flying to the ball, making them put their face on the defender and learn how to block and how to be tough. We’re getting better.”

ON BASKETBALL TEAM’S RUN AND WHAT TEAMS CAN TAKE FROM THAT: “What I said was it was good for any team or any program to see how they just kind of put all the distractions aside and just went to work and put their head down and listened to their coaches and really came together. I think any team could learn from that. We’re much further off. We know that. We’ve got a lot further to go, but in the same analogy we just need to put our head down. You guys hear me talk about that all the time. We can’t worry about anything except getting better out there today. Our players are starting to take that approach. And even during practice or after practice we get all excited and sometimes in the spring it gets competitive going back and forth –  it’s not necessarily always about just winning a drill. Are we winning a winning a drill because we played very good or because the other side didn’t execute? So, I’d like to see good execution on both sides of the ball. And again, I think we’re improving in that area. We’re still not there, but we’re getting better and I think that’s one of the things we kind of can take from it: just put our head down, go to work and get better.

ON IF THERE’S BEEN ANY MOVEMENT OR SEPARATION IN QUARTERBACK BATTLE: No. You know, it’s tough, because maybe one guy will jump out at you. Jalen (Whitlow) really had a good drive today, really did a good job with the first-team offense and really did a nice job of moving them and was very effective. So, it goes back and forth.”

ANY INJURY UPDATES? Jojo (Kemp) was back out there. It was good he was back out there at full-strength looked good. Nothing new. A few little nagging things here and there, but overall pretty decent.”

ON WHO IS WORKING AT RETURNER: We’re working a bunch of guys back there. We’re getting Timmons involved and having him return some, some new guys would be. Timmons and T.V. (Williams) is back there. Of course, Demarco (Robinson). So, we’re bringing those guys along, along with some others. I’d like to get Timmons back there. If he could get comfortable catching the punts, I’d like to look him.”

ON TRAVAUGHN PASCHAL AT LINEBACKER: Yeah, he had that offseason — he had an offseason surgery, so he’s not getting a ton of work right now. But yeah, I think TraVaughn is the type of guy we can still move around a little bit, kind of in Bud’s role.”

ON HOW TIMMONS LOOKS RETURNING KICKS: He’s better. He’s better. Yeah, he’s more comfortable. He’s not as indecisive about the catching. He’s going and making good decisions and going and getting it. So he’s getting more comfortable.”

 

NEAL BROWN

ON WEDNESDAY’S PRACTICE: “We had a really good, spirited practice, both sides, some give and take. Defense made some big plays against us; we were able to regroup, made some big plays toward the end. I liked the energy we got, especially up front with the offensive line. We’re starting to get some leadership up there with Jordan Swindle and Darrian Miller and Jon Toth really coming along. It was good we had a couple running backs get back out there today, so we were better at position. The quarterbacks were all better. I’ve told you that. We’re all much-improved. Not much separation. It’s hard to tell until I get back and watch it, but that’s kind of where we’re at.”

WHAT HE WANTS TO SEE FROM TIMMONS AND IF HE’S SEEING IT: “I wanted to see him take a step. I’ve been talking to him a lot about a kid we had at Troy named Jerrel Jernigan that plays for the Giants now. He was a lot like Ryan coming in: hadn’t played just a ton of true wideout. Jerrel had actually been a quarterback – an option quarterback – in high school. Came in, we used him – use Ryan very similar to how we used Jerrel at Troy in 2007. Then from the end of the season in 2007 through spring practice, into the start of the season in 2008, Jerrel changed his body, really learned how to play receiver, and he was a first-team all-conference player, a third-round draft pick, so on and so on. So that’s kind of the guy I’ve been talking to Ryan about. I’m pleased with where he’s at. His practice habits are a lot better. He’s catching the ball more consistently. And he gives us a big-play threat.”

IS TIMMONS STRONGER? “Yeah, his body looks a lot better. Where he played three sports in high school, which is a great thing, he just wasn’t in the weight room a ton. And he had that shoulder surgery about this time last year, so he didn’t get to go through any of our offseason stuff. So his body looks a lot better.”

ON DARRIAN MILLAR AND JORDAN SWINDLE. WAS IT ABOUT WHAT THEY DID TO EARN MVP HONORS OR WHAT THE SKILL POSITIONS DIDN’T DO: “I don’t know. It’s a combination probably. They were our two best players, so probably when asked that question I answered it just from who our best players were. Those two played at the highest level. Those guys, they take it personal. I probably get on them as hard as I get on anybody, just because I think they can play at a really, really high level, and when the guys see me challenging them, I think they accept that.”

ON EXAMPLE JOSH CLEMONS HAS SET FOR YOUNG PLAYERS: “Toughness and perseverance, without question. He really attacked his rehab. He looks better now than any time I’ve seen him. Obviously I wasn’t here when he was a freshman before all the injuries took place. He looked really good on video, I’ve seen him on video from his freshman year. But I think it does, especially some of these young guys to see how important it is for him to go through what he’s gone through to get back. It sets a great standard.”

IF BROWN EVER WORRIED THAT T.V. WILLIAMS IS TOO SMALL: Yeah, I think that’s a concern. I think that’s a legitimate concern. I don’t think you can have a whole team of guys his size, but you can have small guys. We signed a kid named Jakeem Grant at Texas Tech, and he made a lot of plays when we were there and he’s made a lot of plays last year for them, and he’ll make some more in the two years you’ve got left. We’ll be careful. We know how to use him. We’re not going to ask him to be a lead blocker. We’re not going to ask him to do things that he’s not capable of doing, but he can stretch the field and he can make some plays when he gets the ball in his hands, for sure.

ON IF WIDE RECEIVERS HAVE IMPROVED BLOCKING: “They need to improve everything. But we’re better. We’re still not where we need to be. But to be honest, it’s going to take time. I’m sitting here a year ago talking to you guys, and we were in bad shape at wide-out. I don’t think there was as bad a shape anywhere in the country going back to last spring. We’re better. By no means where we need to be or where we’re going to be. It’s probably going to take another year to get it exactly where it needs to be from a depth standpoint, but they’re better. They’re more coachable now, and they’re studying the game when they’re not here. I’m excited about those guys. They’re hungry, which is an improvement from last fall.”

ON HITCH IN TOWLES’ THROW AND IF THAT HAS COME BACK IN STRESSFUL SITUATIONS: “You know, I really haven’t seen it much this spring. He’s doing a good job. I’m pleased with how he’s worked, how he’s progressed. Fundamentally, he’s a lot better than he has since I’ve been here. I’m excited about it. I’m excited about him.”

IF RUNNING BACK FEELS LIKE A POSITION WHERE THERE’S IMPROVEMENT: “Yeah. I think we’ll be more talented. I think some of them are going to be young, though, with Mikel and Boom. It’ll be to be determined. I think with Jojo, if he continues to progress he should be a better football player. Braylon’s got some experience. So I think so. I’m optimistic, but they’ve got to go out and get it done.”

 

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UK’s football coaches report basketball fever

Buried in spring football, even Kentucky’s coaches aren’t immune from enjoying the run to the national championship for the basketball team.

In fact, Coach Mark Stoops confirmed he’s flying to Dallas on Monday afternoon to see the title game at AT&T Stadium.

“I’m going to go watch the game,” he said when asked his plans for the evening. Stoops also was in Indianapolis for the region semifinal game against Louisville.

Stoops, who also was at Memorial Coliseum for the first two rounds of the women’s NCAA Tournament run, said he’s enjoyed watching Coach John Calipari’s team succeed.

“I have, I really have,” Stoops said after Monday’s practice. “It’s been exciting. We’ve been fortunate here at Kentucky to watch some fantastic games coming down to the wire, so it’s been a lot of fun.”

Calipari’s team provides an important lesson for all athletes no matter what sport they play, Stoops said.

“Just to see them persevere through some tough times and everybody’s on their case, there’s a lot of pressure on them and they just responded,” he said. “They just kept on playing and put their head down and went to work. Eventually it turned and good things started to happen to them. I think a lot of people and a lot of teams could take something from that.”

Did Stoops, who has been part of plenty of big games in his coaching career, have any advice for this young basketball team as it prepares for the biggest game of its career?

“Nah,” he chuckled. “Cal’s got that down.

“Those guys are playing with a lot of confidence, or at least that’s what it looks like and playing loose, so I’m just rooting for them, just there to support them and cheer for them.”

The Cats have turned another football coach (and his young son) into big UK basketball fans, defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said on Monday.

“I’ve loved it,” he said of the UK run. “I have loved it.

He’s been watching the games, especially the last three all won on big shots by Aaron Harrison in the final minute, on the edge of his seat.

“In a football game, I’m working, so I’m not a fan, you know what I mean?” he said. “So in these basketball games, I’ve just been a straight fan. I’m jumping out of my seat. I’ve got my 8-year-old son, we’re high fiving. Every time they hit one of those shots, I wake up all the other kids.”

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Stoops, Eliot discuss defense, some basketball

MARK STOOPS

“A little more spirited practice today. After going back Saturday and looking at the film, I was a little discouraged, a little frustrated and felt like we were not progressing as much as I’d hoped at certain positions. I didn’t feel like the defense played with much of an attitude Saturday. Today was much better, much more spirited practice, got a little bit better, much more physical today and both sides had their moments. The defense played with great energy today.”

HOW MANY MORE SCRIMMAGES THIS SPRING? “A couple more. Several more before the spring game. We’re going to go Saturday again with a bigger scrimmage, a longer scrimmage and probably the following week and then the spring game.”

SOME STANDOUT BATTLES OTHER THAN QUARTERBACK BATTLE: “The biggest thing, why it’s not as big a deal to you — or to us — is we need so much depth. It’s like the wide receiver position. We need as many guys as we can get. I feel like you can just tell the guys that played last year and most of the guys that touched the ball were first-time members of our team and those guys are getting better. And then the newcomers come in and you take a step back because they need to mature and get the reps and grow up a little bit. We just need to continue to build depth at all those positions. I understand that (battle) at quarterback because you’d like to put that one guy in there and let him roll and not alternate like you do at all of the other positions, just like running back. We need more and more guys there. You get guys banged up. As you know, it’s a big, physical league and all that. The other spots, it isn’t as big of a deal because they all play. I was at Florida State and we had three first-rounders playing at D-end. It didn’t matter who started and who didn’t.”

WHAT DISAPPOINTED YOU ABOUT DEFENSE: “Just, just some of it physical, just not being better. Maybe it’s some of the young guys not getting better. We need depth at all positions and you start losing patience because you want to progress. But we’re getting there. We just need a lot of bodies.”

HARD TO KEEP FOCUS OF TEAM WITH SO MUCH GOING ON, ESPECIALLY WITH THOSE EARLY ENROLLEES? “I’ve been pleased with those guys; I haven’t noticed anything distracting them except the normal setbacks that you would expect: the more installation goes in, the more they step back a little bit. The basics on day one and day two and they’re fine and then the more stuff you have going in, they start hitting a wall. They’ve been really good; they’re going to be good players, too. But again, it’s the same things I just touched on. The first-year guys, five practices in, they’re not be where they need to be.”

ON HORTON’S PROGRESS WITH OTHER RUNNING BACKS INJURED: “With the other guys dinged up, he’s getting a bunch of reps and it’s really good to see. He’s getting better. And he’s a long way off, but he’s exactly what we want talent wise. He’s picked things up very well. But he needs to get in better condition; he needs to play with his pads a little lower. He’s going to get bounced around as you know, but it’s good experience for him right now.”

ARE KEMP AND HEARD BACK TODAY? “Braylon went. Jojo wanted to, but he should be back full go on Wednesday. Braylon went non contact.”

ON THREE COMMITMENTS THIS WEEKEND? “We’ve been doing a nice job of getting guys on campus. That was the first Saturday and that was good. We got some good kids here unofficially and spent some good time with them. Our coaches have done a really nice job of getting prospects on campus and getting them around our players and around our coaches, so it’s going well.”

ON PLANS FOR THE EVENING? “I’m going, yeah, I’m going to go watch the game.”

YOU’VE BEEN IN SOME BIG GAMES BEFORE. ANY ADVICE FOR THOSE YOUNG PLAYERS? “Nah. Cal’s got that down. Those guys are playing with a lot of confidence, or at least that’s what it looks like and playing loose, so I’m just rooting for them, just there to support them and cheer for them. They’ve got that down.”

ENJOYED WATCHING THIS GROUP? “I have, I really have. It’s been exciting. We’ve been fortunate here at Kentucky to watch some fantastic games coming down to the wire, so it’s been a lot of fun.”

CAN YOU DRAW ANYTHING FROM THIS BASKETBALL RUN? “Oh yeah, I definitely do. It’s good. Just to see them persevere through some tough times and everybody’s on their case, there’s a lot of pressure on them and they just responded. They just kept on playing and put their head down and went to work. Eventually it turned and good things started to happen to them. I think a lot of people and a lot of teams could take something from that.”

GOAL OF THIS SPRING? “This spring it’s seeing more and more competitive play, seeing guys step up and just get better technique wise. We’ve got to get beyond the baby steps and we’ve got to make routine plays look routine and now we’ve got to go up make competitive plays. Receivers have got to make plays when they’re covered. Defensive backs have got to make more interceptions. We’ve got to get our hands on the ball more. That’s the big thing, the big focus is improving.”

WHAT DOES A DEFENSIVE LINEMAN LOOK AND ACT LIKE? “That’s a wide range. Generally I like the ones who get to the quarterback and stop the run.”

ON REGIE MEANT SAYING HE’S A MEAN PLAYER. IS THAT WHAT YOU WANT ATTITUDE WISE? “Yes, if that’s what you were getting at. I’ve commented on that before with Reggie. He is what we’re looking for. He’s long, he’s athletic. He is tough and he does have a mean streak about him. I do like that.”

IS THERE A DIFFERENCE WHEN TEAM IS PLAYING INDOOR OR OUTDOOR? “No. No. I haven’t noticed anything. It was a good spirited practice this morning but a lot of that was due to the fact that I wanted to lean on the defense a little bit because I haven’t felt like we’ve played with the edge that we need to.”

IS PART OF THAT THE DEVELOPMENT OF A VOCAL LEADER? “It is. And last week when I was a little bit agitated with Saturday, some guys just try to hold on there for a minute, now offense is going tempo, they’re getting a lot of plays, you start getting a little tired, you start just worrying about yourself and you can’t play like that. We’ve got to play as a unit and we’ve got to play with a little bit of an attitude.”

WHO ELSE HAS STOOD OUT ON DEFENSIVE LINE? “Za’Darius and Bud of course have done well. Melvin (Lewis) is improving, which is good. He’s a big body in there that we need to continue to progress a little bit.”

ON GUYS BEHIND DUPREE AND SMITH: “Yeah Jason’s (Hatcher) doing a very nice job as well. Jason is playing, depending on the package, he could be in there with the ones. But Jason’s doing a nice job, yeah. Farrington’s really had a good spring so far.”

ON PLAYERS LOOKING OUT FOR THEMSELVES. IS IT NOT SOUND ‘ASSIGNMENT FOOTBALL’? “It’s just like I said, the big thing is, I don’t want to put that on them. When you get into a team setting, tempo, getting tired, just kind of not playing with the edge that we need to.”

ON LINEBACKER: “We’re a work in progress there a little bit. Josh Forrest I think is doing a nice job. He’s really playing well. He does some things very well. He plays the pass defense very well, has a good feel for where he needs to be more physically.”

 

D.J. ELIOT

STOOPS DIDN’T SEEM PLEASED WITH DEFENSE ON SATURDAY. HOW WAS TODAY? “I thought we had great energy today. I thought the defense played with a lot better passion, emotion and effort than we did in the scrimmage, so I was pleased with that.”

WANT IN A DEFENSIVE LINEMEN? “In a defensive lineman, we’re looking for, one, you’ve got to have the tangibles, you’ve got to have the measurements. You have to have the size, length and quickness. But playing inside there is a very physical game, so those guys have to be extremely tough and they have to play with an attitude as well.”

BIGGEST TAKEAWAY FROM SATURDAY’S SCRIMMAGE? “Positives from the scrimmage, like I mentioned the other day, Bud is a fantastic player, so it’s always good to see him continue to make plays. Then on top of that, I can see guys that have been playing, that played for us a last year, maybe for the first time, I can see them getting better. I can see those guys getting better, so I see the improvement with them. The new guys, we’ve got to get them caught up, but I can see the guys who played for us last year getting better.”

ANY OF THE NEWCOMERS WHO HAVE SURPRISED? “The new guys? I’d say A.J. Stamps is probably coming along the fastest on defense. He’s been progressing really fast.”

ON WORKING CLOSELY WITH STOOPS. DO YOU EVER HAVE DIFFERENT OPINIONS ON HOW TO ATTACK PLAYS OR ISSUES? “We see things a lot the same because we’ve been together for a long time and sometimes we do see some things different and that’s what’s great about him as the head coach is I always have a guy there to bounce ideas off of.”

IS HE RECEPTIVE TO THIS DIFFERING OPINIONS? “Yes, yes. Ultimately, he’s the head coach, so whatever he decides to do, we do. We’ve got a great working relationship.”

ON YOUNGER PLAYERS HITTING A WALL. WHAT DO YOU DO TO MAKE IT EASIER FOR THEM? “If they’re working with a certain group, like a lot of those guys are with the twos or the threes, then I limit the calls in that entire group if I know they’re in there. So I might have more elaborate defenses with the ones, going with the ones. When I know the young guys are in there with some of those other groups, I only have a handful of calls I’ll call.”

SO THEY HAVE TO BE PROMOTED TO GET MORE INFO? “No, they’re being taught at the same rate, but when we go live against the offense and everything’s happening fast, then there’s a progression there for when I’ll put them in those situations.”

ANYONE TROUBLING YOU ON OFFENSE IN THOSE LIVE SITUATIONS? “Swindle is a great offensive lineman and he and Bud have some good battles, very good battles, so that’s a very good matchup for us.”

HOW’S DEPTH BEHIND DUPREE AND SMITH? “It’s going good. I’m pleased with the progress of Jason Hatcher and Farrington (Huguenin). I’m pleased with their progress and we’re going to continue to grow on that.”

ON JASON HATCHER NOW VERSUS LAST FALL: “You know what? The biggest thing probably is I’m seeing a sophomore now instead of a freshman. I’m starting to see what a typical sophomore acts like and plays like and maturity level from and with that, he’s getting better in everything he does.”

SO IS THE OLD SAYING ABOUT MAKING THE BIGGEST JUMP BETWEEN FRESHMEN AND SOPHOMORE YEAR TRUE? “With most kids, yeah. With most players, I’d agree with that. With most players, I’d agree with that.”

ON THE 10-SECOND RULE FOR OFFENSES, WHAT WAS HIS OPINION ON THAT AS A DEFENSIVE GUY? “You know, we have a spread offense, so we go against it every single day. Whatever the challenge is, I’m just up to taking it on as a defensive coach, whatever they decide.”

ANY PLANS FOR WATCHING GAME TONIGHT? “Yes. Definitely. Yes.”

HAVE YOU ENJOYED WATCHING THE BASKETBALL TEAM? “I’ve loved it. I have loved it. I mean, in a football game, I’m working, so I’m not a fan, you know what I mean. So in these basketball games, I’ve just been a straight fan. I’m jumping out of my seat. I’ve got my 8-year-old son, we’re high fiving. Every time they hit one of those shots, I wake up all the other kids. You know those games are so late so I have one boy and two girls, so I make my wife let me keep my son up with me and then we just scream and holler. It’s been a blast.”

 

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Henderson County’s Wolfe commits to Cats

If a Yahtzee is five of a kind, Kentucky is just one offensive lineman short of officially having one.

The Cats landed their fourth offensive lineman in three days when Henderson County’s Mason Wolfe tweeted that he’s committed to the Cats, alongside a picture of himself and his father with Coach Mark Stoops, offensive line coach John Schlarman and offensive coordinator Neal Brown.

Wolfe, a 6-foot-5, 270-pounder from Henderson, is listed as a three-star prospect by both Rivals and Scout. Rivals listed him as having interest from schools like Purdue, Louisville, Missouri and California.

Wolfe joins three other offensive linemen who committed to Kentucky on Saturday after taking unofficial visits and seeing the Cats practice and run through a partial scrimmage that morning.

The others include Levon Livingston, a 6-foot-7 player who also has played some defensive linemen, but told the Herald-Leader he prefers to play offensive tackle.

The others are Larry Wells (6-10, 330) out of Ohio and Logan Stenberg (6-6, 330) from Alabama also committed.

Stoops, who can’t comment on players until they sign, was asked on Monday morning about the influx of commitments this weekend.

“We’ve been doing a nice job of getting guys on campus,” Stoops said. “We got some good kids here unofficially and spent some good time with them. Our coaches have done a really nice job of getting prospects on campus and getting them around our players and around our coaches, so it’s going well.”

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Coordinators Brown, Eliot after spring scrimmage

D.J. ELIOT

ON SCRIMMAGE SET UP: “We did a situational before we did a team period. We did a third-down period before we did a team period and that’s situational. Then after that, it was just move the football in the scrimmage.”

WHAT DID YOU SEE, GOOD, BAD? “I think it was about average right now. We’ve got a ways to go, so trying to get some new guys out there, trying to get them in the right spots and build off that.”

ON HARMON’S RETURN: “I’m glad to have him back in the mix. He’s a big body that can run pretty good. It’s important for him to refous and continue to do the right things and excel on and off the field.”

ANY PLAYMAKERS? “Not really. Some guys did some good things and some guys did some bad things. Bud, we repped him in some situational stuff and then we got into that team period and we got some other guys some reps. He usually does a good job, though, and leads the team.”

ON MEANT AND DOUGLAS: “By the end of the year last year, Douglas was playing really well and so he’s built off that and he’s starting to take on some leadership roles and he’s got a chance to be a good player.”

ON DUPREE’S HAND IN DIRT, STANDING UP, ETC: “I think it’s going to be about the same as it was last year with his hand down, his hand up and he has done a good job. We’re going to try to use him the best we can.”

ON IF DUPREE IS MORE EFFECTIVE ONE WAY OR ANOTHER: “Bud’s athletic enough to stand up and make plays in space, but he’s also physical enough to put his hand down and make plays at the line of scrimmage. He may not like getting as dirty. That might be why he tells you he likes standing up more, but he’s good at both of them.”
ON LINEBACKERS: “Not right now. They’re all about the same right now.  Just need to keep plugging along and see how they develop.”

WORKING AT MIDDLE LINEBACKER SPOT? “We’ve worked, Miles (Simpson) has been working there and Tyler Brause has been working there and Dorian Hendrix has been working there was well.”

ON HOW HENDRIX IS HANDLING THAT: “About as expected. A high school kid should be going to the prom, instead he’s out here playing in the SEC. So he’s doing about as expected and he’s doing some good things.”

ON MIDDLE LINEBACKER SPOT: “In today’s day and age, you’ve got to be able to basically do both (styles). You’re going to play spread teams, pro teams. You’ve got to have a guys that can do both of those things, all three of those things.”

 

NEAL BROWN

“We did some good things today. We’re significantly better than we were last year. We’ve got a ways to go for sure but we are better, just a better overall understanding of the schematics. We’re a lot better physically — I’m struggling with that word — we’re a lot better physically than we were last year. Still making some mistakes because you’ve got some young guys. Scrimmage went pretty well. There’s some give and take, which is good. You know, defense got us a little bit. We just scrimmaged at the end, had a normal practice and then scrimmaged at the end. Defensive got us a few times. We had two touchdown passes. Ryan Timmons took a short pass and took it to the house, which was good to see. This spring, he’s making the turn. I think he can be a really good player in this league. He’s starting to make that turn. And then A.J. Legree has stepped his game up and we need him to. We really need him to. He had a touchdown pass toward the end there.”

DID LEGREE START MAKING CATCHES: “He’s had some trouble with some drops, certainly some big drops in games last year. We’ve moved him inside. We’re playing him at inside receiver and I think that’s a better fit for him. Feels more comfortable in there and he’s been productive. He’s a bigger body that can help us bock in there. He’s doing better, he’s got more confidence. That’s always been the issue with him.”

ON QUARTERBACK PLAY TODAY: “I’m going to give you the answer you don’t want to hear, but I want to watch on video.”

SO WE CAN CALL YOU IN A COUPLE HOURS? “Yeah, you can call me in a couple hours, just go through Tony, though. Here’s what I was pleased with today and this is not counting the scrimmage because it’s hard when I’m on the sidelines during scrimmages to see. But we didn’t have a very good day yesterday. Practice four was the worst day the quarterbacks have had. Really threw the ball accurately and made good decisions the first three practices, struggled yesterday and really let adversity get to them, all of them. But they bounced back today. Thought we kind of picked back up where we were at practice three, so I was pleased with that.”

ON YOUNGER GUYS PICKING THINGS UP: “Yeah, they are. There’s definitely a learning curve for T.V. and Mickel and Drew and Thaddeus, there’s definitely a learning curve. Especially (practice) one and two were playing flag football in no pads and then suddenly practice three instensity picks up and they’re like, ‘Woah. It wasn’t like this at Conner and wherever.’ So they’ve kind of gotten used to it now. It’s a lot and Thaddeus started playing faster today. He’s been a little bit overwhelmed, but he played faster today. Those guys all have talent, so that’s the important thing. We want them to leave the spring with confidence.”

ON OFFENSIVE LINE: “I thought we did pretty good. Obviously we had trouble with Bud, but I think most people we play are going to have trouble with him in one-on-one pass pro(tection). But we’re better. Darrian Miller’s put on a good 15 pounds or so, I think. He’s had a real solid spring. Jordan Swindle, I’m really excited about, not only his playing but his leadership. Zach West has improved. He needed to make that. Nick Haynes is behind him really pushing him. Ramsey Meyers is running with the ones right now and he’s showed some toughness. He had to get a tooth pulled, then came out and practiced today. I like his physicality. Jon Toth is probably the most improved player we’ve got on offense. He’s 20 pounds heavier and is playing much, much better than he ever did last year.”

ON PASS PROTECTION AND RUNNING BACKS WORKING ON THAT: “They’re good and that’s a thing. We don’t put a whole lot in our running backs in the protection game as far as memorization and those things. But they do make the O-line right a lot. They’re doing it. Mikel (Horton) is a ways to go, it’s not going to happen overnight, but he’s got the courage to do the pass protection. That’s the No. 1 thing. The older guys: Jojo’s (Kemp) got a much better understanding. Braylon knows what to do, he just needs live reps at it.”

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