Mark Stoops on SEC teleconference

MARK STOOPS
“It was a good spring. A good spring. I was very encouraged. We really had a pretty good offseason. Really went fairly late, wrapping up with our spring game just this past Saturday. We just felt the need to have a big winter. Felt like we needed to get a lot bigger and stronger, put on some weight, so we had a long offseason, felt like we improved through the winter, just like I said, getting more physical. Carried that into the spring and overall pleased with the spring. Happy to get through it without any major injuries. We’ve got a few guys banged up, like most people, but expect everybody to be back at full strength when we start in August.

“Offensively, I felt like we are improving. I think the big thing is our quarterback play. I feel like we’ve been more consistent with our quarterback play throughout this spring, more accurate. I think the guys have improved and of course we brought on the addition of Drew Barker at midterm and he helped as well. Staying on that note, throwing  and catching the ball, I feel like our wideouts got better. We had a few guys that were banged up and that hurt us a little bit with Javess Blue being out the entire spring and Jeff Badet being out half of it and Timmons was a little banged up as well, but I feel like we’re improving there. And also obviously Alex Montgomery was out the entire spring. So from that standpoint, it was frustrating at times, just not having enough depth, but I did feel like we got better just making the routine plays and just simple throwing and catching. I think we’re much more efficient than we were a year ago, so pleased with that.  Defensively, I think we’re continuing to get more depth and zero in on exactly what we want to do schematically, so overall, very good spring, very pleased and I feel like we’re making progress. We have a long way to go, but I like the direction we’re headed.”

On narrowing quarterbacks and spring game attendance if spring game attendance helped recruiting: “With the quarterback situation, we’re not ready at this point in time for me to release any starter or anything like that. I feel like — just like I’ve said really throughout the spring — I feel like we’re improved at that position. I feel like we’re improved around them as you saw. I think we ran the ball more effectively in the spring game. I feel like we have some guys with a little bit more pop that can make people miss in our run game and improving at the receiver position as well, which is obviously going to make the quarterbacks look a little bit better. I feltl like Patrick (Towles) did some really good things throughout the spring, played well in the spring game, but was also pleased with the other two. Not quite ready to name a starter. We feel very good about where we’re at, we feel like we’re improving at that position. With the attendance and the impact of the spring game and all of the excitement surrounding that game, it helped again. I’m not sure yet if it will have the impact that it did with recruiting as it did a year ago, but very excited and very much appreciate the great support we get here at Kentucky.”

On what stood out defensively and where he expects to be improved there: “I think we’ve been — for us — maybe not where we need to be at a high SEC level, but we feel like we’ve been fairly decent at the defensive line position. I feel like we’re gonna continue to grow in that area, which is very important to me. With Bud (Dupree) and Za’Darius (Smith) both coming back and a year older and more experienced and better leadership, I feel very good about them. And I feel very good about the guys behind them with Jason Hatcher really playing well and being a starter in certain packages we run. I feel like Jason is really improving. And also Farrington (Huguenin) at the other d-end spot has been very consistent and playing well. We need to continue to bring some guys along inside. Mike Douglas gives us everything he’s got. He’s a little undersized but plays extremely hard. And very pleased with the progress of Regie Meant. With them along with Melvin Lewis and Cory Johnson we feel like we’re starting to get the depth we need inside there. The secondary was a big concern of mine. I feel like we’re getting better. We missed Nate (Willis) most of the spring, which is gonna hurt his development. He needed that work. But the addition of A.J. Stamps, he helped us fill a need with an athletic safety, a guy that can come down and play some man and be versatile. So very, very pleased with the addition of A.J. coming in midyear as a junior-college player. Overall, I feel like we’re improving. Linebacker, as you know, is a big question mark. With TraVaughn (Paschal) being out all spring with an injury, that sets back his development because he’s a little bit of a hybrid as well playing d-end and linebacker. But TraVaughn, he needed that work, so we missed him in the spring. He got some work towards the end of spring, which helped him a little bit. I thought Josh Forrest is really coming along. He’s an athletic guy, gives us really good height in there that we like. He’s very long. He’s a really athletic guy, can run. We just need to continue his progress playing linebacker. And also with Khalid (Henderson) at linebacker, we just need to get some more depth there and continue to grow. But overall we’re working there. We’re working in that direction.”

On what kind of spring Reese Phillips had: “Reese really did a good job. Again, I think Reese is a guy that the coaches and our players have a lot of confidence in. That’s a great compliment. He’s a guy that we feel is always very steady. He at times throughout this spring was the guy that was most consistent and would move the team the best. So, he seems to do some very good things and has good command of the offense. Reese is still very much in the hunt, and I really like the way he’s playing. He’s a great kid and has got a bright future.”

On if he was in favor of the 6-1-1 schedule format to keep the “rivalry” with Mississippi State: “That really — the traditions of this league go a lot deeper than myself. I’ve only been here one year, so I really left that up to the leadership of our school to make the best decision with having the most information on the history of this league, with them having a better understanding of the other people, as well, within this league. So, I really left that up to our athletic director and president to do what they felt was right both for the league and for Kentucky. So, it really didn’t matter to me, to be honest with you.”

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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