Stoops, Eliot discuss first day of practice

MARK STOOPS
“It was good to get out here. Good first day. I really liked the energy for an early morning practice. I thought we did a good job defensively, great communication, good competitive plays. Need to continue to clean up offensively like you’d suspect, a little rusty, but overall good first day.”

On how JUCO LB Ryan Flannigan looked, if he could tell he’s behind: “Looked good. Yeah, yeah, he’s behind. That’s one thing you could tell just from the film study and the work that our players did over the summer, it was great to see the communication you know and just the way we pattern match and just the communication, the whole deal defensively was much better. Offensively it’s a little bit different because they do so much throwing on air through the summer and there’s nothing given to them. You need to earn all your catches, earn all your yards and make competitive plays, a little behind like you would suspect offensively, but we need to continue to pick it up and execute and not see so many footballs on the ground, see some more completed passes.”

On the difference physically in the players: “Much better. Much better. Much more physical, better size, put together better. You know with the addition of the freshmen even – you know how it is in the spring, you’re always a little bit thin in the spring – so seeing the whole crew here and the depth that we have, we’re getting there. Obviously, it’s tough as you know, to count on too many young guys, but definitely they’ll be here to give us some depth and help out.”

On how many freshmen could play: “It’s hard for me to put a number on that. It really is. Certainly after Day 1 it’s too hard to make that decision. They’re a good-looking group. They are, for the most part, very matured and handled themselves the right way. They’ve been doing a good job this summer. We’ll see where it goes. It’s hard to tell. I think there’s certain positions where we need to use them.

“Certainly when you look at wide receiver, as you guys know, we’ve been thin there for a few years and (we’re) trying to throw the ball around a little bit. Those guys look good and we need to push them along and hopefully they can add some depth. You know, I hate to mention a few names, but obviously a guy like Elam could give us some size inside that we need and some depth inside. He looks good. So we’ll see where it goes.”

On the rundown of players who were limited or couldn’t go on the first day due to injury: “I’m going to stay away from that for the most part. I think Alex Montgomery was the only guy that was not able to suit up at all and doing anything. So we’re in pretty good shape.”

On what UK did on first day: “Just a normal practice. I mean, we’re not allowed to have pads on, so just a helmeted practice.  We do everything as a normal practice. The only thing is we don’t – for the first day or two – we don’t tie up and do team run against each other. We try to stay away from the banging and teach a little bit in that period. But for the most part it’s just a normal practice.”

On Elam’s weight: “Yeah, he’s working his way into shape. He carries it well, but we’ll see how many snaps he can go right now. But he’s working his way into shape.”

On Flannigan’s position: “He’ll be playing the will (weakside linebacker) position right now.”

On seeing a jump in guys just knowing what they’re doing: “It was nice. I think obviously Year 2 helps a great amount just because (players) are just familiar with how we practice, and then also the work that we did through the summer, that the players did, and the film study that we did with them. You could tell that we’re further along.”

On being a secondary guy and the frustration of having one INT out of the secondary last year: “Yeah, it was frustrating. Again, I like to point out that nobody discusses the fact that we caused so many fumbles. You know what I mean? Sometimes that happens. Do we need to be better and make more competitive plays and intercept the ball? Absolutely. But this year if we don’t get as many fumbles, everybody’s going to say, ‘Why aren’t you very physical, creating fumbles?’ You know, sometimes it happens. But I will say there was an opportunity today where we dropped it. We cannot do that. We had several opportunities last year, the same way; when you have an opportunity to make an interception, you have to make it. That’s a big difference in winning and losing games and we did have one of those today where we had a clear interception and dropped it.”

On the difference corner J.D. Harmon (ineligible last year) and safety A.J. Stamps (JUCO transfer) make in that secondary: “I was really, very pleased. A.J. is one of the guys that jumped out at me today. We improved at that position. There’s no doubt in my mind.”

On whether WR Demarco Robinson is practicing: “Yeah, he is. He’s practicing. Like I said, he’s got some obligations to meet before – we’ll let you know. He’s practicing and we’ll see where it goes from there. I’ll let you know before the first game what he has to do to meet (the criteria).”

On the QBs so far: “You know you’re not going to get much on that. I think we need to continue to improve around the quarterback. Those guys need to step up and make the big catches and we need to function as a unit much better. It’s always put on one guy, but I was a little disappointed that we dropped the ball a little bit today and put the ball on the ground when we had an opportunity to make some plays. So we’ve got to continue to push in that area. We’ll go back and look at the film and see where we’re at, but I noticed some drops today that we can’t have.”

D.J. ELIOT
On if he could tell a difference because of the install they were able to do in the summer: “Well, we’re ahead, and it’s because we already met with these guys this summer and get through some of the basics that you usually don’t get through for the couple days or weeks, whatever it takes in training camp. So that’s good. The communication is better. The assignment is better. Just working on getting better fundamentally, flying around and making plays.”

On is impressions of Ryan Flannigan on the first day: “Did a good job. He’s very athletic, caught on quick. It’s what he needed to do, so I was impressed with him on the first day.”

On how much better physically they look: “Looked a lot better. Some of the young guys, especially the redshirted, those guys, have developed themselves into good looking athletes. Some of our guys that we wanted to gain weight have gained weight, so we’re excited about that.”

On how the other linebackers looked: “Josh Forrest did some good things. Khalid (Henderson), now he knows the system pretty well, he did some good things. We’re developing that position and really leaning on those guys to step up.”

On where Ryan Flannigan slots in position wise: “Don’t know yet. He’s playing one of those inside backers. We’ll figure out which one he’s best at.”

On if the secondary players were responsible for offensive drops today: “Was he talking about the offensive drops or the defensive drops? Oh, OK, I got you. I thought you were asking me if they dropped it. I got you. I thought we had good coverage, and tight coverage always makes it harder to catch. I think we had some responsibility in that.”

On TraVaughn Paschal’s adjustment to middle linebacker: “It’s hard. It’s always hard to go backwards. It’s easier to go forward. It’s because you’re used to seeing everything. The closer you get to the line of scrimmage the smaller your box is that you work under. So, if you back up, now your window has gotten bigger. That’s tough for you to adjust to. But the good thing is we transitioned him to linebacker in the middle of the year last year, so he had a whole season playing linebacker last year. Didn’t get as many reps that I would like, because of injury, like you pointed out, in spring, but the good thing is he played a whole season last year at linebacker.”

On C.J. Johnson’s progression after saying he struggled at times in spring: “He looked better today. Had a whole spring to work on it, I mean a whole summer to work on it. He looked better today. He’s very explosive. He’s put on a bunch of weight since he’s been here, so he’s got a bright future.”

On what he saw from Matt Elam: “Elam has got all the measurements, right. He’s been very focused today and he picks up the defense fast. He can really move for his size, so he’s got a lot of ability.”

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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