Mark Stoops, Neal Brown after Thursday’s practice

MARK STOOPS

“Good practice. Got some good work in today and feeling good and getting healthy and ready to get going here. It was just good work today.”

QUESTIONS? (Media: “We’re out.”) “I’m out too. What do you want to know? See you next week. See you after the game. It was just good work today. We just lightened up a little bit and went in just uppers and had about an hour and a half workout and again just worked a lot of situations and just getting ready to go.”

ON THE PREGAME SUITS PLAYERS TWEETED ABOUT IN THE SUMMER AND IF THEY’VE WORKED OUT A DRESS CODE: “Yes, we are. We’re wearing a sport coat and khaki pants and a button-down shirt. Tie’s optional, but it’s a nice, clean-looking shirt, button down and all that. So we should look good.”

ON HOW THE RECEIVERS ARE LOOKING? “I think we’ll be in good shape. I hope. We’re for the most part 100 percent healthy there. Guys have worked really hard, and we’ll see. Like we’ve talked about, they’re unproven. It’ll be the first one, right? The first touchdown. If we get a touchdown catch, right, that’ll be the first one of anybody we have on the team. So that’ll be a new experience for us, so we better know to turn the ball and give it to the official there. Hopefully we get in the end zone.”

WILL HE ALLOW A TOUCHDOWN DANCE FOR THE FIRST ONE? “No. No, no, no. No.”

ON NOT BEING ABLE TO SAY “ACT LIKE YOU’VE BEEN THERE”? “Yeah, that’s right. We cannot do that. But we have a lot of confidence in those guys. We really do. They’re just unproven. But they’ve practiced really hard, and we anticipate those guys playing real well.”

HAS HE HAD THE CONVERSATION WITH THE QUARTERBACKS YET? “Uh. We are working on that. Good question. We’re gonna talk with those guys tonight.”

ON WHAT HE LEARNS FROM HIS FIRST GAME WEEK? “Again, I’ve answered that. The big thing for me is just really thinking through all the details, from the simple things to the big things. I feel like the coaches have done a great job preparing our team. I feel like the players have worked really hard. And I got a lot of help around me, a lot of good people to help work out all the simple things, all the little details. That’s it. That’s the only thing that’s really different is just looking at the big picture and making sure we got everything covered.”

ON IF JONATHAN GEORGE GIVES THEM A 1-2 PUNCH? “Yeah. I really do. I feel good about Jonathan. I think he’s done some really good things. He’s been very dedicated, he’s played very physical and he’s done a really nice job. So we feel good with both of those guys.”

ON IF GEORGE IS THE OVERLOOKED GUY UNTIL HE MAKES PLAYS AT GAME TIME: “Yeah, you’re right. Maybe you take him a little bit for granted. He’s just a guy, like I said, he’s a joy to coach and be around. He’s always working hard and playing physical, which I like.”

ON HOW MUCH THEY’LL LEAN ON RUNNING BACKS AS THEY GET WIDE RECEIVERS SETTLED IN: “It’s just what we believe in. Even if you look at Neal’s offenses at Texas Tech and in the past at Troy or whatever, he’s more balanced than people think. We have to run the ball, and that’s a big emphasis for me, being a defensive guy, even through all of our practices. We’re gonna run the ball and learn how to play defense that way. Otherwise it just hurts you in the long run defensively. With that and with the practice of all that, I’ve been impressed. Like I said, I feel like that we do have some physicality to us.”

IS IT A PLEASANT SURPRISE THAT ALL FOUR RECEIVERS ARE GOING TO PLAY? Yeah. You’re right. I think that’s a good point. I think all of them are very good players and are going to help us. Really. I’ve said it before, but I think the whole freshman class I’ve been very pleased with, and the junior college transfers. I feel like they’re all going to be players. When? I’m not going to put a timeline on all of them, but I like that class. And it is nice to hit all four wide receivers because we needed to.”

IS THE TIGHT END SPOT STILL AMONG THE DEEPEST ON THE TEAM? “Those guys have been a little bit tweaked here and there, you know, a few little nagging injuries here and there, but in general, no, we feel good about those guys.”

ON IF ANY OTHER POSITION RIVALS TIGHT END IN DEPTH? I think those guys…They’re deep. We’re not real deep in general. You know? So it’s hard for us to put together a two deep across the board really. You know? We do feel like there’s three, four, five guys there that can play. With AK (Anthony Kendrick) coming in this year and giving us a little spark, he’s done a nice job as well.”

ON IF THE TENNIS BALL DRILL SHOES THE EMPHASIS THEY’VE PUT ON FIXING DROPPED BALL PROBLEM? “For sure. I think if you look at the coaches history, you know generally speaking, they have some guys that can catch the ball. A lot of that has to do with the style in what we do, and a lot of it has to do with the coaching. It’s been well documented. I firmly believe in what those guys do and what Neal (Brown) does. Coach (Tommy) Mainord does a great job with these guys. He told me the other day between right now and game time — I don’t know what it is — they’re going to catch thousands of these things. Without a lot of running, but now just working on the hands.”

IS CENTER POSITION STILL UNCERTAIN? We’ll be OK there. We’ll be all right. We’re getting health there too, so we should be two deep there.”

IF THE DEPTH CHART MEANS A LOT TO THEM? Well, yeah, the depth chart…Certain positions…We’re not across the board, whether it’s o-line, it’s not like we’ve got 10 guys that we can believe we can go in and win big games with. But we try to put together six, seven, eight. Just hopefully you don’t have a whole rash of injuries. You have some flexibility there. Same thing in the secondary. It’s always the next best guy. If you’re the No. 2 field corner, and the No. 2 boundary corner is better, the next guy is going in. So we have flexibility on both sides of the ball with that. We’re just trying to get the best players on the field.”

 

NEAL BROWN

Ladies and gentlemen. About time. Cutler, it’s about time man. Shoot, fire away.

HOW THE QUARTERBACKS HAVE DONE THIS WEEK? We’ve actually…We’ve been…They’ve practice really sharp. It’s kind of the way you want it to happen. When you get kind of centered in on what you’re going to do, they’re getting a lot of reps, especially the first game. I guess we’ve been repping Western Kentucky since last Thursday, Wednesday or Thursday. So we’ve got a lot of reps in the things we’re going to do. We’re going to be relatively simple, so they’ve been sharp, especially the last two days.”

IF HE PLANS TO FOLLOW THE TREND OF 60 PERCENT PASS/40 PERCENT RUN HE USD AT TEXAS TECH? “I don’t know. I don’t really go into it with thinking exactly what we want to do. I think whatever we’re better at during the course of the game is probably what we’ll do. I think we’ll be a little bit different than we were at Tech. How much? I’m not real sure yet.”

HOW HE EVALUATES THE RECEIVES AT THIS POINT? They’re getting better, getting better. We’re going to be young. I don’t think there’s any hiding. I don’t think I’m telling something Western doesn’t know. We’re going to be young. We’re going to have several new guys roll out there. But I’m pleased with their development. They’re getting better. There’s some days they make me want to pull my hair out sometimes, but overall they’ve been a fun group to coach, they’ve been really diligent and I think they’ve made steady improvement as we’ve gone on.”

ON DEMARCO ROBINSON: Well, I think we need him to be a player. There’s no question. Challenged him. He didn’t have a great day yesterday. Came back and was pretty sharp today, but we need him to be a playmaker. I think he has the ability to be a playmaker in our offense.”

HOW MUCH DID JONATHAN GEORGE SHOW YOU HE’S ANOTHER GOOD OPTION AT RUNNING BACK IN THOSE TWO SCRIMMAGES? “We definitely can count on him. I thought he was the best player in both of our scrimmages on offense. Hard-nosed kid, was physical, broke tackles. So I’ve got a lot of trust in him.”

DOES PUTTING DEMARCO ROBINSON AT RETURNER GIVE HIM MORE OPPORTUNITIES TO MAKE BIG PLAYS: “You’d have to ask Coach Peveto, but he’s good with the ball in his hand. He can make people miss. And when he’s gotten opportunities in years past, he’s made some plays. He’s one of the few guys who have a little bit of experience and we’re going to be counting on that. I expect him to play well on Saturday night.”

RUNNING GAME BEING KEY? “We need to run the ball. That’s going to be the case for most of the year. Those guys that are out there, whoever we put at wideout, we’re going to have trust in them and have confidence in them that they can make plays. We’re not going to alter from a play standpoint what we did at Texas Tech. We gave those guys an opportunity to make plays at Tech and we’re going to do the same here and have full trust in those guys.”

AS A KENTUCKY GUY, WHAT WILL THIS FIRST GAME MEAN TO YOU? WHAT WILL YOU THINK ABOUT WHEN YOU RUN OUT ON THE FIELD? “I don’t know. I don’t know if y’all really want to know that. I’ve got. It’s a… It’ll be a … You know what, I’ll think about it more before then. When that time comes, I’ll really be thinking about what we’re going to do our first series or the necessary adjustments. There are a lot of “what ifs” in this first game. I don’t know if I’ll have time to self reflect, kind of think about the full circle of what’s gone on when I’m out there. It’ll probably happen in the first home game. This first game against Western where there are so many unknowns, there’s going to be a lot of what ifs going in my head.”

WHAT ABOUT A NICK HOLT DEFENSE? WHAT ARE YOU EXPECTING FROM HIM? “Well, we’ve watched a lot of film. He’s sat out a year — and I think Coach Stoops has made a good point on this — not sat out, but he was off the field last year at Arkansas. And he’s had probably a lot of time to self reflect, especially against some tempo offenses because toward the end of his career there at Washington, they played several. And so I’ve watched him at USC and I’ve watched him at Washington. They are sound. They do a lot of zone blitzing, a lot of bear front on video. I expect to see some of that. He’s done some things that can get you off schedule, especially when you get down in the red zone. So I think they’re going to be well coached and I think they’re going to be fundamentally sound and I think they’re going to have a good idea, they’ll have a good idea of what we’re going to do. Our spring game was on television, they’ve got probably every game we had last year at Texas Tech. I think there’s probably less unknowns on their part than on ours.”

CALL PLAYS OFF SCHEDULE? “We’ll have an opening script that we’ve practiced most of this week and that we’ll open the game with. We’ll have a script when we’re in the red zone and on third downs and those things but it’ll be really flexible. It’ll be a lot fewer plays this week than normal just because we don’t have a great idea what we’re going to see.”

HOW MUCH DOES HAVING A DEFENSIVE MIND LIKE STOOPS TO BOUNCE IDEAS OFF OF HELP YOU AS A COORDINATOR? “I ask him a lot questions. That’s a great question. I ask him a lot of questions. When he pops into our meeting rooms, I’ll say, ‘OK, hey, you’ve watched us quite a bit now, where do you see our weaknesses, how would you attack our protection? Does this give you problems? There’s a lot of those questions. That’s been a big benefit to me.”

About Jennifer Smith

Jen Smith has been a sports writer at the Herald-Leader since 2000, covering everything from high school sports to auto racing to various University of Kentucky sports. A native of Louisville and a graduate of the University of Kentucky (much to the dismay of her Louisville graduate mother and Indiana graduate father), Jen now resides in downtown Lexington with her husband and two young sons. You can follow her on Twitter @jenheraldleader or send her an email at jsmith3@herald-leader.com.
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