Kentucky’s Stoops, Brown preview spring game

MARK STOOPS
“Good, good practice. I think the guys are excited. It gets a little long towards the end of spring here at the end of our fourth week. But I was very pleased with the work we got done. I think we made progress even again today. It was good. We had no pads on obviously. We had to go another day without pads by rule. This was our last day without pads. But it was good. I thought we threw the ball well. We were very efficient. Starting to make the routine plays look routine. So it was good to see us continue to improve there. Worked the operation of the game tomorrow as far as kicks and all those things and splitting up the teams and all the organizational stuff. So good work. Not too much else to report on other than that.”

On if it’ll be ones vs. twos: “For the most part. For the most part. There’s obviously some positions where there’s some ties or some guys that are neck-and-neck and so we split it up a little bit and tried to also give a little bit of depth to each team, so you could spell some guys a few plays here and there.”

On the format: “The format, there’ll be no live kicks. So operationally, we’ll have our snapper and punters and do the field goals, but outside of that no live kicks, and no kickoffs at all. So we’ll just put the ball down and turn it around and go the other way.”
On if some players will switch teams: “A little. A little. We’re working through that with depth and see what happens tomorrow. Hopefully we’ll stay healthy and we won’t have to do that too much. But we have a few guys that could swing.”
On trying to shorten the game and how they’ll handle that: “Format-wise, I believe last year we went 12-minute quarters last year and we had roughly 147 plays. This year will be very similar. We’ll see towards the end. It’s gonna be a fun game, and we’re gonna play it very similar (to how) we did it last year. The first half will be normal outside of just shortened a little bit. So we’ll get after it the first half. The second half, if we’re getting enough plays we may run the clock a little bit in the fourth quarter. But for the most part, it’s gonna be a normal game outside of the live kicking situations. Quarterbacks won’t be live either.”
On the best thing to come out of spring: “I love the leadership. I like the energy of our team. I think we’re learning how to work, learning how to go about our business, and fundamentally we’re improving. Because we’re getting the leadership, we’re getting the guys challenging guys, we’re getting out there with a purpose and getting some work done. I just like the way, like I said, really the attitude is the biggest thing. And with that comes a lot of good stuff. Just the work, improvement. So again, I think we’re making the routine plays look routine. Starting to be able to throw and catch the ball more efficiently. Defensively we’re starting to understand what we’re trying to do. We still need to make competitive plays. That’s the bottom line. Guys are in position, and whether it’s an offensive receiver going up making plays or a defender making great plays, we need to win some one-on-one battles. But we’re improving.”
On the thing he wishes they did much better: “I think playmakers. Obviously you’re always looking for playmakers. You’re looking for guys to do things that you can’t coach.”
On if we can learn anything about the quarterback decision-making process based on who starts with the first team: “I think it gives you a little indication. I mean, sure. I’d be lying if I said (otherwise). Last year it really was a toss-up. This year, I think we’re starting to narrow it down. We’ll put the person out there with the first group that we think has earned the right to go out there with the first group tomorrow. I think it’s very close still – it’s very close – but we’ll see.”

On if that QB will have anyone to throw to: “Yeah, we’ll be OK. We’ll be all right.”

On whether we’ll be able to tell the starter after the spring game: “I don’t know. Your guess will be as good as mine. We’ll see what happens. I told you about that hypothetical stuff; I’m not getting into those any more (laughing).”

On having 50,000 at last year’s spring game, 40,000-plus this year (with a reduced capacity for construction): “Amazing. Just truly amazing. Appreciate the support. I think the 40-some thousand that come out there this year are going to have more fun than they did last year when we hit 50. We’ll be better. There will be more to cheer for. We look forward to it, appreciate the support. It’s so helpful in so many ways, so we’re going to have a good time. It’ll be a good day.”

On how much it helps in recruiting: “Oh, yeah, it definitely helps. People feel the passion, the energy. And you never know: We might have some guys on campus tomorrow for the first time and that’s the first impression they see, so it definitely helps.”

On how different his second spring at UK was: “You’re obviously getting better – I hope you’re getting better – every day, our players and coaches alike. I feel more comfortable. I think just knowing the team and what we can and cannot do helps. You’re always looking at things, how you go about practice, even the amount of good against good and how physical you are and the fine line between getting better and staying healthy and all those things. But I like where we’re at. I thought we had a good spring. I told the players that today wrapping it up, that I really like where we’re at. I like the energy and I like the fact that they’re really going about their business and working the right way.”

On if there will be separate sidelines in the spring game and who’ll be on each: “Yeah, there will be separate sidelines. The coaches are just gonna bounce back and forth. Neal and DJ will just walk back and forth and call it from their sideline for both groups. This is still a practice for us, as you know, and there’s people in the stands; we’ll see who responds, who plays well. It’s still very important for us to evaluate how we play tomorrow.”

On how hard all the spring injuries have been on High Performance coach Erik Korem, who does all he can to prevent them: “Well, yeah, I have to abide by some rules and regulations that he gives me sometimes and I don’t always do that. (Laughing) He may advise me on what he thinks we can handle and what we can’t, but as a coach you’re constantly – you want to get reps. That’s where the learning curve comes in, too. You just never know. I don’t think anybody has that – I don’t think anybody’s perfect on that. You’re always trying to find that balance. We went very hard because we needed to. And we need to improve. And with that we probably got some injuries. I can’t put that on Coach Korem. I put that on myself. But that’s OK. That’s why they call me the head coach, right?”

NEAL BROWN
On who he quarterback is: “Anybody besides quarterbacks. Let’s go. Anybody got questions besides quarterbacks? I’m going to have to talk about them all day tomorrow.”

On Mark Stoops saying the quarterback that runs out with the first team is leading the competition and if that is a reward for a long spring: “Let’s talk about something besides quarterbacks. Seriously. I’ve got to talk about them all day tomorrow.”

On the wide receivers: “We got some numbers back. Ryan Timmons is going to go tomorrow, which I’m excited about. He’s had a really good spring. Will try to get him involved early Thaddeus Snodgrass been a little banged up, missed practice earlier in the week, he’s going to go. So, we’ve got some more guys. Joey Herrick is back. So we’ll have a legitimate two-deep tomorrow.”

On if the running back competition is still as jumbled as it was at the beginning of spring: “Well, two guys have kind of raised themselves. Jojo (Kemp) and Braylon (Heard) have kind of performed the best so far this spring. I’m interested to see how it looks when the lights come on. But, I feel good about those four guys. I really do. Mikel (Horton) he’s a little ways off because he’s got to learn how to play. He’s not as consistent. He gets fatigued and really there’s a fall-off when he’s fatigued from when he’s fresh. Then Josh Clemons is doing well. I’m excited about him. We put him in the scrimmage a couple Saturdays ago, and I thought he did well.”

On players saying they are miles ahead of where they were last year on offense and if he sees it that way: “Well, we’re better. We’re better. Are we where we want to be? No. I think we’re a year away from where we’ve got a chance to be really good. Now, we’re better. I think it always goes back to where you start. So, a year ago last spring, coming off that 2012 team, you lose two O-line starters, your leading rusher, everybody that’s caught a touchdown pass. So you basically go into the fall with all rookies playing your skill positions and really three unproven o-linemen. So that’s you’re starting point, OK, which was not very good, and the results last season showed. So, we’re improved. Are we where I hope we’re going to be? No. We’ll be much better going into the 15th, but we are much improved. Our tempo will be better tomorrow. That will be for all to see. Then fundamentally we’re better. The biggest thing — and we’ve really strived on this spring — is developing a mentality. I thought last year we really struggled anytime we got any kind of adversity and we really struggled to overcome any kind of negative play, whether it was a sack, procedure penalty. I think our mentality is better, and that’s really from January on in the offseason as our mentality is better. So I hope tomorrow — not that we want to get behind the chains — if something negative happens we can overcome it.”

On how important it is players feel they’re that much better: “Well, it’s growth because the mentality is part of that. You know, the mentality that we’ve talked about is we want our guys to feel confident, regardless of who they’re playing, regardless of the situation, weather, where we’re playing at, any of those things. We want our guys to walk out there and feel like we’re going to score. If something negative happens, we still want to score. If you look at that — that’s probably the thing I’m most proud about about the units we had at Troy and about the units we had at Texas Tech: regardless of who we played, who we were playing or what happened the previous week our guys always stepped on the field and felt really really confident about who we were, about what we were doing and what was going to happen. Where I felt like last year at some points we were waiting for something bad to happen or we were waiting for somebody else to make a play. I think we’ve grown. We’re not where we need to be, but we’ve grown. We’ve got guys that are stepping up and making plays, whether it’s Jojo Kemp, Braylon Heard, Ryan Timmons. Demarco Robinson has had a really good spring. Now we’ve got guys making plays, not necessarily looking around and saying, ‘What’s going to happen here?’ or ‘Here comes another negative play.’”

On wide receivers worrying because of others getting hurt: “I don’t know about that. We’ve had some freak things like, well Javess Blue getting hurt was in a winter workout, really a previous injury that showed up. It’s good that it happened in the spring because we could’ve gotten into the fall and he could’ve missed the whole season. Jeff Badet, really, his other foot clips his shin and that’s where the break happens. So freak injuries there, but the rest have just been little groin pulls, slight, things they could probably play with in the fall that we’re being real conservative about this spring.”

On emergence of OL Cole Mosier: “He’s in the two deep, there’s no question. First of all is his size. He’s big; he’s strong. He does a really good job when he gets his hands on people. The thing I’m excited about is he’s done a really good job in pass (protection). That was his biggest area of improvement coming into the spring. He had a tendency to kind of lean in pass pro and that’s when he gets beat, especially by more athletic people. He’s done a good job fundamentally getting his head back and his change of direction has gotten better. He’s going to play for us, whether it’s this year coming up, I don’t know, but there’s going to be a time when he’s going to play a lot of football around here.”

On if the offensive line is a position where a walk-on can catch coaches’ eyes and compete because offensive lineman at high school level are hard to evaluate: “They’re hard to find. The other thing, too, and I think this is the case with Cole. Cole, he tore his ACL his junior year, so missed his junior season, so now the way recruiting works, that’s when most of your recruiting happens during your junior year, so senior year comes along, kind of gets overlooked. We’re lucky to get him. The other thing, too, with big guys is they develop later, whether it’s they’ve always been tall or they gain a lot of weight so maybe their athleticism doesn’t show or maybe they’re just growing into their body, so we always try to get guys to walk on who are big guys that are long. All of them don’t work out, but if you can get one out of every five, one out of every six work out, then you’ve got players you necessarily weren’t counting on.”

On other walk-ons who have stepped up this spring: “Yeah, Jeff Witthuhn at fullback’s done a nice job, guy that we moved from quarterback playing fullback, he’s done a nice job. He’s getting better. Like him. Cameron Fogle from Conner, from northern Kentucky, he’s shown a lot of improvement, caught a lot of balls this spring. I hope he shows that tomorrow and has a good game. Miles Thompson has a chance. He’ll get a lot of reps tomorrow at wideout, from Louisville.”

On biggest change in center Jon Toth: “He’s bigger. Last year Jon weighed about 285 when we started him the second game. Then he got the flu — trying to think, maybe the week of the Alabama game — and he played, Jon played in the low 270s the rest of the season and that’s really unheard of for a guy who had to play in the SEC at 270 pounds, so now he’s up to 295-300. He’s got a better feel. He snaps the ball better, more consistently. Knows his assignment; he’s stronger. So every area he’s made a lot of improvement.”

On T.V. Williams: “T.V., he’s a guy, his body’s still got to develop. Right now, he’d be a guy who would be maybe a return guy, a guy that we can get the ball to, maybe not play all the time. Really impressed with his route running. He can stick his foot. He’s super quick, has ability to make people miss.”

On Jordan Swindle becoming a vocal leader after he became a better player: “I think before you can be vocal, you have to prove yourself. If you come in and you’re automatically vocal and you haven’t proven yourself, those are empty words. Nobody’s paying attention. They’re just saying, ‘Who’s the loud guy?’ Now with Swindle — because at the start of our offensive team meeting — we talk about the positive plays: Who had the best performance from the day before, same thing after a game: Who played best? Who played the worst? Who’s doing things that are unacceptable? Who made the game-winning plays? Crucial plays, those types of things and Swindle was on the positive so much. So they were hearing his name and he was playing well, so we get into the season, now midway through the season he’s playing well, now he can start (being more vocal) because he’s earned it. It’s no different than like Drew Barker comes in first day, I told him, I said, ‘Listen, Drew, what you’ve done up to this point doesn’t matter. You’re a very good leader, great leader, did a good job in the recruiting process, did a good job at Conner High School, but here you have to prove yourself. You can’t come in and be vocal because these guys, they don’t know you. They don’t know your past. They don’t really care about your past, you’ve got to prove yourself to be a good player. Once you do that, you make plays under fire, then you can start being vocal.’”

On the importance or spring game to recruiting process: “It’s huge in that proof is the game last year. Our recruiting kind of took off after that game. It’s a little bit different this year because there’s a couple camps that are going on the same day in Ohio, so we won’t have the same local flair, but we’ve got some guys coming in from the south that are going to make a big difference. Here’s what they see at the spring game: the product on the field is that’s secondary. What they see is the atmosphere; what they see is the crowd. What they see is the talk about it on social media. So for us to have 51,000, I’m still talking about that a year from now. Within the first, when I first get on the phone, or when a kid first comes here and I’m having my first conversation, that 51,000 at the spring game is one of the first things I talk about. Because I’m talking about, ‘Hey, our fan base is one of the best, if not the best in college sports because — and we talked about this the other day — there’s no NBA team, there’s no major league baseball team … there’s no NFL team. So UK athletics is it. I mean, the other team doesn’t want to hear that, but it’s it. We’re the show in town, in the state. And then when they show out, 51,000 when they sell out 42,000 for tomorrow, the recruits see that and then it’s talked about on social media and our huge following with the BBN on social media is huge, too.”

On if there’s a guy who has stepped up this spring that he didn’t see coming: “Well, we talked about Mosier, he’d be a guy that would be in that initial discussion. I’m pleased with Kyle Meadows. He’s gotten better. If we had that same discussion around practice seven or eight, he wouldn’t have came up, but he’s made a lot of improvement. He’s getting to the point where I’d feel comfortable putting him in the game.”

On position battles beyond quarterback that intrigue him, that he’s excited to see in spring game: “Running back, we’ve talked about that. I think that our X-position at receiver, Badet’s obviously not going and Demarco (Robinson) is. Our Y position, when we stand up and play a receiver at that position that will be up in the air. Left guard. Zach West is getting better, but I think that’s a position that still is up in the air. Those are some.”

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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