How’s everybody doing? It’s been a good couple days. It’s been a good start. I’m very pleased with where we’re at. Our players worked extremely hard in the off‑season this summer. We’re much improved. We’re a deeper football team. I think our freshmen really help us in that area. I think there’s about 12 or 13 freshmen that will play. So we’ll see. We’ll see where it goes from there. I like the progress of the team, and I like where we’re at.
Q. Mark, can you define the word pressure and how you felt last year on this day versus this year on this day?
COACH MARK STOOPS: Pressure is all self‑induced. I really ‑‑ all coaches, I think, will tell you the same thing. We expect a lot of ourselves and of our teams and a lot of that pressure is just on you and what you expect of your team and your coaches and all that.
Q. You had a bad practice the other day. How did they respond to that?
COACH MARK STOOPS: They responded well, just like I thought they would. I feel great about the leadership of this team, and I feel like they bounced back well yesterday and have a good attitude today. We’ll have a good workout this afternoon as well.
Q. Mark, of the 12 to 13 freshmen you’re talking about playing, are you starting them on offense or fairly well split between the two?
COACH MARK STOOPS: It will be fairly well split. A good majority of them will probably be offensive. I think we have to play the receivers. Those guys have really looked good, really all the freshmen receivers can help us and looking forward to having that depth. Running backs as well. Feel good about the depth of our running back position, but the freshmen can help us there as well.
Q. Do you have any more idea of a time line for starting positions?
COACH MARK STOOPS: No, we’ll see where it goes. Obviously, as we get further and further in the camp, things amp up a little bit, scrimmages, full pads, and all those things as we move forward here. So we’ll see how they respond to that.
Q. Are you happy with all the quarterbacks’ work over the summer? Have they come in improved?
COACH MARK STOOPS: Yeah, definitely. I’ve said it over and over. Whoever takes the first snap will be improved. The guys have really done a nice job. They’re better rounded, and I expect them to go out and play well. I think we have good competition there. They’re all doing some good things. They’re not perfect, but they’re much improved.
Q. Mark, what do you think is the biggest area of improvement?
COACH MARK STOOPS: As I said, I think just the mentality of our team, the leadership of our team, and accountability and dependability, all the little things. It’s a lot, as you know. There’s a lot of positions that go into fielding a football team, and everybody needs to take care of their business. I think we’re a more reliable football team. Mentally, we’re just much tougher, much more leadership, more accountable mentality. Physically, we’re better as well, and we’re deeper, as I just said. I think those are the big things. The little things, we always talk about the little things. When you’re dealing with so many guys, you’re dealing with hundreds of football players, the little things are big because, if we continue to do the little things well, then the big things won’t be so big.
Q. Who went in the locker room and righted the ship for you guys? Which leaders kind of took charge?
COACH MARK STOOPS: I have a good idea, but I wasn’t in the locker room. And I know, as soon as I walked away, I could tell some guys were in the meeting or in the huddle talking to them. I’m not sure who it is. I have a good idea because I know who the leaders are on this team. I’ve discussed them before. Guys like Bud and guys like Jordan and guys like Z. So I would expect those guys had a good talk.
Q. Mark, are you still giving all four quarterbacks equal reps?
COACH MARK STOOPS: Maxwell has not been 100 percent yet. Max is still coming off the shoulder surgery. So he’s not gotten as many reps. He’s been every other day to this point. So the other three have gotten equal reps.
Q. How long do you think you can keep doing equal before you decide
COACH MARK STOOPS: I’m not sure, when we have a decision.
Q. Where do you see Jacob Hyde fitting in with your plan of defensive linemen?
COACH MARK STOOPS: Jacob is doing a very good job. He’s a great young man, works extremely hard, does everything right. I love his attitude. He’s good to have on our football team. He’s trying to earn his way to get on the field a little bit right now. We have a mixture of guys inside that are doing a nice job. He’s in there. He’s trying to get some reps. We’ll see where it goes from there.
Q. The players talk about Jacob as one of the strongest guys on the team. Can you talk about his work ethic?
COACH MARK STOOPS: Really proud. When Jacob got here, he needed to change his body a little bit. He was really too heavy and needed to change his body. He thinned down for a while and then gained the weight back the right way. He’s very strong, as we talked about. He’s a very hard worker and a great young man.
Q. Mark, I know, when you came to this job, you had a plan, an idea of what you wanted to do. After having been in the job for a year, did you have to tweak or change your plans?
COACH MARK STOOPS: Not really. I mean, we always change, as you know. With football, there’s so much that goes into it schematically that we constantly ‑‑ that’s why we stay here all day and night. We spend a lot of time schematically always changing. As far as the overall plan of the program and where we’re headed, no. We’re staying the course, and I really love the direction of the program. I’ve said that over and over. I feel like there’s a great buy‑in. I wasn’t here for Mitch’s press conference, but I’m sure you heard all the good things that are going on. That makes us excited as a coaching staff, as a football team. Our players, our recruits, everybody feels the excitement that’s going on right now. There’s been a great buy in from the whole state and certainly from our administration. So that definitely helps.
Q. Anything in this first week of camp change the order of the quarterbacks from where you saw it coming out of spring?
COACH MARK STOOPS: It’s hard to answer that. It is wide open, Kyle. It is wide open. I think they all ‑‑ somebody needs to take the reins and be the clear‑cut winner of this job, and they need to do that. We’re giving them plenty of opportunity. Somebody needs to take it and run with it. As we move forward and as the pressure of practice amps up in the next week ‑‑ somebody asked me a timeline. I’m not going to put a timeline on it, but, sure, in the next three, four, five, seven days, we absolutely would love to have somebody take the reins of that position and say, that’s my spot. Right now it’s just too even. I’ve said it before, it would be too reckless just to make a decision because I want to make a decision and not answer those questions. I’m not going to do that. It’s not fair to the players. It’s not fair to our team. It’s not fair to the future of our program. It’s a very important decision, and, sure, we’d like to have that done, but it’s not. We’ll see how it plays out. I’m confident we will play better at that position regardless of who’s in there.
Q. What’s your impression of Matt Elam so far and how he’s done?
COACH MARK STOOPS: Been very impressed with Matt. I’ve heard some of the comments, some of our players talking about it. He’s so big, but he’s so athletic for his size. He’s a very unique player. Guys like that don’t come around all the time. He’s got a bright future because he picks up on things well. He’s extremely athletic for his size. I’m very excited about Matt and his future. He needs to continue to work to get into shape so he can play at a high level in this conference. No matter what position you’re playing, that’s hard to do as a freshman, but I really like where he’s at, and I anticipate him playing in the first game and being ready to go.
Q. Is the kick returning job Ryan Timmons’ to lose?
COACH MARK STOOPS: I think kick returning of the kickoffs we have plenty of options there. The punt return is the one that sticks out to me that probably you’re talking about. Yes, I would love to see Ryan do it. He’s been very reliable so far in camp. He’s done a very nice job, and I’d like to see him win that job.
Q. How are you on depth, especially after losing Darius West at safety?
COACH MARK STOOPS: Darius, it’s a shame what happened to Darius. He ‑‑ let me just start by saying the whole freshman class, a lot’s been talked about and written and everything, but after being here for four practices, they’re everything we thought they were going to be and more, a great group. Really talented players, really have a good feel for the game. So I’m really disappointed in Darius. He is a great football player and will be once he gets healed up. The safety position ‑‑ two spots a year ago that I didn’t feel like we played very well, the will linebacker position and the free safety. A.J. Stamps comes in right away, and he’s been here since the spring, but he’s a guy that you haven’t seen play yet in a game besides the spring game. He’s a guy that helps fill a big void right there because I just love the way he’s playing. So that helps us right there. The guys that we have are getting better. A guy like Marcus McWilson is much improved from a year ago. That will help us as well. So I feel a lot better about that position. What was the second part of that? That was it, yeah. Oh, I wanted to talk about the will position with Flannigan. Ryan Flannigan just got here, really impressed with him. We needed him. We talked about the depth at linebacker, and he’s a guy that will definitely help us. We love the way he’s playing. He came in in really good shape, which you’re always worried about because you haven’t seen him all summer. I love the way he’s playing, and he’ll continue to battle at that position. So we’ll see.
Q. What about Middleton and Tubman?
COACH MARK STOOPS: Middleton and Tubman, absolutely love them. They’re going to be very good football players. That whole freshman D‑line group, they are some big guys, very big and very athletic. Middleton, Adrian, we’ll see where he goes. He may need to redshirt, but he is an athletic, big guy. He put on a lot of weight between the end of his senior year and right now. We need to restructure some of that weight, but he’s very athletic and very good football player. He’s going to have a good future. And Tubman, same way. He’s coming off shoulder surgery. We’ve got to be cautious with him right now. I don’t want to bang him up and reinjure that shoulder, but he is a very good football player, very good looking guy. Our team looks at him, and everybody wants to compare him ‑‑ he looks a little bit like Bud did just maybe a year ago. He gained an awful lot of weight between the end of his senior year and right now. But Lloyd is a very big, good looking, athletic guy that has a bright future.
Q. You mentioned redshirting. At SEC media days, Derek Mason said they don’t believe in redshirting. What’s your position on it with the team so young?
COACH MARK STOOPS: After four days, I feel like there’s 12 or 13 guys that have a good chance of playing as freshmen. The other 12 or 13 for me or for us ‑‑ I’m not saying anything about what he does, but for us, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense for us to play them if they weren’t going to have an impact, where maybe five years down the road, they would have a big impact. Some guys just physically need it, some guys are just coming off injury, things like that. The guys we redshirted a year ago, guys like Ramsey Meyers, he’s probably going to start at right guard. That was a good redshirt. He had time to get acclimated, get stronger. It really helped him. It really helped Regie Meant. I don’t ever have it where we’re definitely going to play a guy or definitely going to redshirt him. We’ll see how it works out.
Q. Mark, where are you along the lines of where you want to be from a physical standpoint? Not only in size and weight, but from the physical nature of playing the game?
COACH MARK STOOPS: Improved. Improved. I don’t know if anybody will ever ‑‑ any head coach will sit up here and say we’re as physical as we want to be. You always want to be more physical. It’s like that old saying there, you can’t have too much money, all that stuff, or too much fun, right? But we always want to be more physical. I like the look of our team. I love the way the new bodies in our program look, and we need to continue to develop those guys, but we’re bigger and more physical.
Q. How much use do you think the freshmen corners are going to be
COACH MARK STOOPS: I’m not sure yet about the corner position. Tucker, I’d like to ‑‑ we love him. Physically, he may ‑‑ it would help him probably to have a year, but if we need him, we’re going to play him. So we’ll see. But I really like the way he’s playing. We’ll see where it goes. He’s not one we definitely need to count on right now.
Q. Is Randolph in the corner?
COACH MARK STOOPS: He’s playing our nickel, and he’s going to play. Yeah, he’ll play. I’m very impressed with him. He’s a guy that we thought all along that was a little bit like Blake McClain, and he is. He’s all that. He’s a guy we feel like, if we need him to play at nickel ‑‑ which you know, you’ve heard me talk about, it’s a very unique position. It’s not easy. You’ve got to have instincts and unique ability. I love the way he’s playing there. He could play safety, or he could play corner.
Q. A lot of positive results on the recruiting side. How big is this season on the results side?
COACH MARK STOOPS: It’s always important on the results side. We are always trying to build our program, but the bottom line is win and losing games. We want to win games. It’s extremely important for a lot of reasons. We have a lot of great momentum here in football right now, and we need to keep that. We have all the great things. Like I said, I haven’t listened to Mitch, but the construction and the complex that we’re building, the recruiting’s going well. Aside from all that, our players that are here, the seniors that are here that have paid the price and really turned the corner and went through a coaching change and done all the things necessary to be great leaders and great young men, they deserve to win.
Q. Statistically in your second season with coordinators and two other places, you guys really improved. Do you expect to see that sort of improvement?
COACH MARK STOOPS: I do. Just from the first day of practice and the first four days, I like where we’re at defensively. We haven’t arrived yet or anything like that, but I see drastic improvement, and a lot of it comes from confidence and communication and understanding what’s going on.
Q. Mark, when you talk about true freshmen receivers coming and are going to play, does that depend on what you count as your need for depth there so much or their talent that they’re going to play?
COACH MARK STOOPS: A little combination of both. I think we need them, and a couple of them, early signs show that they’re going to deserve to play. Dorian Baker is just an awfully big, strong, good looking receiver that’s really impressed us so far in camp. Garrett Johnson is a guy that definitely ‑‑ from things we heard all summer from just the quarterbacks out there, they’ve loved him all summer. He’s a very polished, very skilled receiver. He’s going to help us. Blake Bone is a big receiver with great ball skills working his way in there. And Thaddeus ‑‑ Thaddeus was here in the spring, but Thaddeus is a guy that really I saw drastic improvement in him. Going back from last spring, what he did all summer, and coming in the first four days, I’m really impressed with what Thaddeus has done.
Q. On running back position:
COACH MARK STOOPS: It’s not as big a deal to you or to us at that position because you need to play so many running backs. Who takes the first snap really isn’t a big deal to a football team. I’m sure it is to those players, and we’ll see what happens, but they’re going to all play. You need them to play. It’s a long season. So that’s why it’s not as big an issue. Maybe we’ll start the game with three tailbacks. You never know.
Q. Neal talked about looking for a third and fourth offensive tackle Can you talk about that?
COACH MARK STOOPS: I feel very good about Kyle Meadows. He’s a guy that really used the redshirt year like he needed to, got acclimated to school, got a lot bigger, a lot stronger, and really did a good job. Ramsey Meyers, the same thing. The benefit for those guys, if they do redshirt, they’re on a totally different weight lifting plan than the rest of those guys. Guys like that, that’s where you see the great benefit because all weekend, the guys are traveling and going to nice hotels and eating good meals, those guys are in the weight room and really banging it and really lifting and putting on that weight, and they’re in a totally different weight lifting program than the rest of the crew. So that was really important for us to redshirt those guys a year ago. With that, this freshman O‑line class, the same way. Fortunately, we should not be in a situation where we need to use them this year. I hope it stays that way. But very talented group. I think a year from now they’ll really be what you’re looking for. They really have great size. Two of them are coming off of an injury. So it’s good to just let them heal up and lift and get bigger and stronger. But Krok is a guy that he could possibly work his way into the mix this year if we needed him. Hopefully, we can redshirt him, but we’ll see. He’s been impressive as well. So he’s in the mix a little bit.