Stoops on QB competition after spring

From the sound of it, the Kentucky quarterback competition will carry through the summer and into fall camp.

On a Southeastern Conference teleconference to wrap up spring practices, UK Coach Mark Stoops said it was nice to have a veteran quarterback returning.

But he made it clear that it’s still not Patrick Towles’ job.

When asked about having a 12-game starter back to lead the offense in Towles, Stoops said it “means an awful lot to us.”

He added quickly that Towles is “still in a competition with Drew Barker,” though.

Stoops went on to note that he’s seen Towles’ comfort level grow this spring with a full season under his belt in which the junior quarterback threw for 2,718 total yards and 14 touchdowns with nine interceptions. He also rushed for 303 yards and six touchdowns for Kentucky, which finished the season 5-7.

“He’s getting more and more of a leadership role within our team and getting more and more comfortable,” Stoops said of Towles.

There was an adjustment for both Towles and sophomore Drew Barker with new offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson, but Stoops said both of them settled in nicely.

“It was really a pretty smooth transition with the offensive coordinator,” he said. “So, I’m excited about Patrick and Drew as we move forward.”

Kentucky also is expected to return Reese Phillips, last season’s backup who played in three games. He missed all of spring practice after having surgery on a torn Achilles’ tendon.

Near the end of spring practices, Stoops said the Cats coaches were getting closer to the point where they were ready to name a starter.

“We’ll name a starter,” he said. “We’ll name one. No, we will. And I think there’s some merit to that surely with getting that leadership going through the summer and letting the guys know where they stand and being fair with them if we know.”

Both Towles and Barker had standout moments in the spring, Dawson and Stoops said regularly.

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Stoops: Stadium work ‘on target’ for home opener

With two separate snows of more than a foot in the Lexington area over the winter, there was bound to be some stoppage in work on the renovations at Commonwealth Stadium.

But Coach Mark Stoops sounded confident that it will be ready to go for the Cats’ season opener on Sept. 5 against Louisiana-Lafayette.

“Our stadium is under construction right now and on target to be ready for the home opener,” Stoops said on the teleconference. “So, getting ready for that and also the new football building is under construction and that’ll be a year away or so.

“But good things are happening and we’re excited about the future here of Kentucky football.”

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Mark Stoops wraps up spring practices

Opening statement/on UK coming out of the spring: “I was very pleased with spring practice. It felt like it was the most consistent we’ve been over a period of time. Through the 15 practices, it’s definitely the most consistent we’ve been. I felt like we got a lot of good work in and improved. Excited about moving forward and having a great summer and getting bigger and stronger and getting in shape leading into fall camp. Exciting times around Kentucky. Our stadium is under construction right now and on target to be ready for the home opener. So, getting ready for that and also the new football building is under construction and that’ll be a year away or so. But good things are happening and we’re excited about the future here of Kentucky football.”

On the SEC rule restricting graduate transfers and if that puts the league at a disadvantage: “I didn’t hear the beginning part of your question, but I think I know where you’re heading there. You know, it’s a rule in our conference. I think there’s a subcommittee looking into all the ramifications of having graduate transfers moving into your school. At this point, I’m OK with the SEC rule and we’ll live by it. I’m not sure it’s a disadvantage to us at this point in time.”

On if there are any players he’s concerned about being available for fall camp: “No. I actually think we should be at full strength. Nothing major happened throughout spring or late in spring. I feel like we’ll be in good shape. Had a few surgeries. C.J. Conrad had some surgery and should be good to go when fall camp starts. So I think we’re in pretty good shape, yeah.”

On how much time he spent in spring going over positives from first half of the season vs. negatives from second half: “Yeah, certainly you look at all aspects of your program and look at the good things that you did and the things you need to improve on. Certainly we got off to a fast start. I think was good to look at our model that we used throughout the summer and that we used through the camp, the fall camp, the beginning of camp and two-a-day schedule. I think we had a good plan. Then we’ve got to look at things to sustain that and things that we can do better, whether it’s from a strength and conditioning point of view or coaching. I think the schedule had a lot to do with that. We had some very good teams down the stretch that we need to put our players in a better position to win. So there’s a lot of things we need to look at and improve on for the second half of the season certainly.”

On what it means to have a veteran quarterback: “Yeah, I think that means an awful lot to us, I think: Patrick (Towles) playing an awful lot of games. He’s still in a competition with Drew Barker, but it is nice to have a guy that has quite a bit of experience. I think you can see Patrick’s comfort throughout spring. He’s getting more and more of a leadership role within our team and getting more and more comfortable. We had a new offensive coordinator this spring so it was a little bit different for both quarterbacks, but they settled in nicely and it was really a pretty smooth transition with the offensive coordinator. So, I’m excited about Patrick and Drew as we move forward.”

On defensive improvements, issues: “I think defensively it’s very difficult to replace a guy like Bud Dupree. He was a very good player, very instinctual. Obviously, a first-round draft pick. For us it’s hard to replace right away. We’ll have to do that by committee and get some guys going quite a bit. Overall, I’m pleased with where we’re headed defensively. I think it’s fairly well noted that we transitioned from a 4-3 to a 3-4 over the last year and a half and as we settle down and get experience within that system, we’re more and more comfortable I think. Coach Eliot has done a great job with really settling in on exactly who we want to be defensively and what we want to do and kind of building from that with the personnel we have on our team and overall, I just feel like we’re a deeper unit. We’re more experienced. I think we’re getting better in the secondary. I still think we need to improve at the corner position, outside within our defense. Through the middle of our defense, that linebacking corps, I feel like we’re getting better. I feel like we’re getting much better and much deeper at safety, nickels and dimes and our sub packages. An area we need to continue to improve is outside at corner and again replacing a guy like Bud.”

On defensive players who stood out this spring: “Inside up front, Melvin Lewis is a guy who’s played some really good football for us, who’s really doing a very good job along with Farrington (Huguenin) and had some experience, two guys that will be seniors up front that have done some nice things along with Cory Johnson. So three guys who have some experience and have done a nice job inside. A guy on the edge at outside linebacker is a guy by the name of Denzil Ware that we’re excited about. A red-shirt freshman, very talented guy, a guy we’ve known for some time. He’s going to be forced into some action and we need to see what he can do.”

On if he’s concerned about the differences in what schools can offer for cost of attendance: “Well, I think the big thing with that is it’s determined by the institution, not the athletic department, so there’s really not a lot to comment on that. I don’t think anybody within athletic departments are trying to alter that rule in any way, shape or form, so until something’s done nationally, I don’t think there’s really much for me to comment on about that.”

On what a healthy Jeff Badet brings to the team: “It was good to get Jeff out there this spring and get him back out healthy. You could see the good and the bad. He took some time off, so he was a little bit rusty out there, a little bit – had some drops and just things you would expect. So it was good for him to get through the practices, stay healthy, and get out there running around. There were also times as spring went on where you see him getting more and more comfortable and you see how explosive he is. So it’s just another guy for us in the receiving corps that can help get the ball down the field a little bit.”

On the move of DT Jacob Hyde to fullback and if that’s a real move for fall: “No, we’ll use him some at fullback, absolutely, just to give us a little bit of size in there and a guy that can get us a little movement when we need to get some tough yards. Jacob was very comfortable back there and did some very good things, so we’ll continue to use him. He’ll play both positions, both D-line and fullback. But as you know, we don’t play with a fullback a whole heckuva lot anyway, so when we need to get in our big sets, we’ll use him some.”

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It’s been ‘very emotional’ few days for UK coach

It’s been a special few days for Kentucky defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh, who has seen two players he’s coached get selected in the NFL Draft.

First, he was in Chicago on Thursday to see first-rounder Bud Dupree get picked 22nd overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Brumbaugh said it was an emotional night for all of the coaches who witnessed it, including Mark Stoops and defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot.

“It was awesome,” Brumbaugh said on Friday afternoon. “It was very emotional for me when Bud got picked.

“You’re sitting in a room with those guys for two and a half years now and you’re going through things and looking at things. And when you get that opportunity, it’s just very emotional.”

It took a little bit longer for Dupree to get picked than some analysts projected. It added to the joy in the room when the defensive end/linebacker’s name was finally called.

“It was a sigh of relief, just sat down and all of the emotions came up,” Brumaugh said. “It was a good feeling, a great feeling.”

On Saturday, he saw Za’Darius Smith, whom he’d coached at East Mississippi Community College before they journeyed to Kentucky together, go in the fourth round to the Baltimore Ravens.

Having two of his players move onto the professional ranks was special.

“Anytime you get a guy drafted, emotions go through you,” Brumbaugh said. “It’s such a special moment. … I’m happy to share it with these guys because they’ve worked so hard for this moment.”

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Za’Darius Smith picked in fourth round by Ravens

It meant a little something more to his defensive line coach to hear Za’Darius Smith’s name get called in the fourth round of the NFL Draft by the Baltimore Ravens.

Kentucky’s Jimmy Brumbaugh has coached Smith for the past three seasons, first at East Mississippi Community College and then for the past two years at UK.

Brumbaugh has had a front-row seat as Smith has grown from a 242-pound diamond in the rough at the junior college level to a legitimate defensive end in the Southeastern Conference, where he started all 24 games he played in and grew into the Cats’ most effective run stopper.

“From the very first day I was with him, he’s always worked hard to be the best player he can,” Brumbaugh said of Smith, who only played one full season of high school football, focusing most of his athletics energy on basketball instead.

“He’s always had a chip on his shoulder because he wasn’t rated coming out of high school.”

Smith’s fire and drive were some of his strongest points during the evaluation process, analyst Lance Zierlein said, noting that the end “plays like his hair is on fire and is more than happy to mix it up with tackles in the trenches.”

Smith is strong at the point of attack and is willing to “do the dirty work for a defense,” Zierlein continued.

During his two-year Kentucky career, Smith amassed 120 tackles, 14 for loss and 10.5 sacks.

The defensive end was named Most Outstanding Defensive player of the East-West Shrine Game and was invited to the Reese’s Senior Bowl. After his stellar performance in the East-West game, Smith was projected by NFL Media Analyst Charles Davis as one of his five draft day steals.

“Smith kept flashing at the East-West Shrine Game,” Davis wrote on the league’s site. “In fact, he was so impressive that he received a call-up to the Senior Bowl, where he had a very good week. He’s a high-effort player who will battle to make plays.”

A senior NFL Media Analyst, Gil Brandt, noted that Smith’s 6-foot-5, 275-pound frame coupled with his speed “will be appetizing for NFL teams.”

Brumbaugh saw Smith develop as a technician in his brief time at Kentucky.

“The transition when we came here from junior college, he really started understanding the game and understanding that you couldn’t just beat everyone with your speed and your pass rush moves,” Brumbaugh said. “You had to set things up, and I think really that’s where he got a lot better. He’s gotten bigger and stronger.”

As analysis and projections started coming out and showed Smith going anywhere from the third to the fifth round to places all over the map, the coach told his lineman to block it all out.

“The main thing I told him is don’t worry about where you’re going to go,” Brumbaugh said. “God has brought you this far. Just keep trusting that everything’s going to work out and get you to the best team for you.”

Smith is the second Kentucky player to go in this year’s NFL Draft behind fellow defensive lineman Bud Dupree, who was picked in the first round by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

This year marks the first time since 2012 that UK had two or more players selected in the draft. That season both Winston Guy (Seahawks) and Danny Trevathan (Broncos) went in the sixth round.

The Cats last had three players go in one draft in 2010 with Corey Peters, Trevard Lindley and John Conner.

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UK’s Bud Dupree headed to Pittsburgh

Wearing a crushed red velvet sports coat, Kentucky’s Bud Dupree walked the gold carpet before the NFL Draft and stopped to talk with the Wildcats TV crew.

“It’s an awesome opportunity for me and my family,” he said with a wide smile. “It’s a dream come true.”

That dream became a reality a couple of hours later when Dupree was selected with the 22nd overall pick in the draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers, who never thought they’d be able to land Dupree that deep into the draft.

Many prognosticators had the UK defensive end/linebacker going as high as No. 6 in the draft held at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre on Thursday night.

“This is a gift for us to be able to get this guy at No. 22,” Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert said shortly after the pick was made official.

“He may be disappointed at the spot he got picked in, but I think he’ll be happy he’s with us just as we’re happy to have him.”

Both Colbert and Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin were at Kentucky’s Pro Day on March 12 to see Dupree and others work out.

As Dupree kept running through drills, the Steelers general manager said he had to keep reminding himself that the senior is 6-foot-4 and 269 pounds.

“He doesn’t look that big until you get up close to him,” Colbert said of Dupree, who will start his NFL career at left side linebacker for the Steelers. “We feel like we got an impact player in Bud Dupree.”

Dupree’s versatility was a huge selling point, both the general manager and head coach told reporters on Thursday night.

It was something former NFL head coach and current ESPN analyst Jon Gruden echoed in the network’s draft coverage, noting Dupree’s “position versatility.

“It’s hard to find a young man with this combination of strength, speed and power.”

Dupree did all he could to answer questions and silence critics at the NFL Combine, where he ran a 4.56 in the 40-yard dash and had a vertical jump of 42 inches, which was second best among linebackers since 2006. He also had a broad jump of 11 feet, 6 inches, best at his spot.

“His workout numbers are ridiculous,” ESPN analyst Todd McShay said in a recent conference call. “God only makes a handful of these type of guys, so you have the tools there to develop, there’s no question about it.”

The Irwinton, Ga., native became just the third UK player to be drafted in the first round in the past 30 years along with quarterback Tim Couch (No. 1 to Cleveland in 1999) and defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson (No. 4 to the New York Jets in 2003).

He is the third UK player in as many seasons to get drafted with offensive lineman Larry Warford going to the Lions in the third round in 2013 and linebacker Avery Williamson going to the Titans in the fifth round of last year’s draft.

Before the draft, Gruden called Dupree an elite talent and continued to elaborate on Thursday.

“I like the way he competes,” the analyst said. “He even played better two years ago. I’ve seen him set the edge in a 3-4 defense and can light them up inside as he did a couple years ago. He has position versatility.”

Dupree made life difficult for plenty of offenses in his UK career, where he record the second-most sacks in school history (23.5).

He finished his career with 247 tackles, 38 for a loss, four forced fumbled and five passes defended.

Last season, in which he was Kentucky’s second-leading tackler with 74 tackles 12.5 for a loss and 7.5 sacks, he also had five quarterback hurries and a key interception to seal the win over South Carolina.

UK Coach Mark Stoops, defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot and defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh were at the draft to see Dupree have his named called.

During the spring, Stoops never tired of answering questions about one of his team leaders.

“He’s just a guy we’re all very proud of,” Stoops said at the start of spring practice when the head coach had heard from a plethora of NFL teams. “He’s worked extremely hard. He deserves everything he gets.”

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Kentucky athletics logo gets subtle face lift


The old floor at Memorial Coliseum furnished by UK Athletics.

The old floor at Memorial Coliseum (above) with the new floor featuring the slightly new interlocking UK logo (below).

The change was meant to be so subtle that Kentucky officials wondered if outsiders would even notice.

But when photos of the new Memorial Coliseum floor made their rounds on social media, fans started to notice that the UK logo in the middle of the floor had a different look to it.

IMG_9292The interlocking “UK” that has been seen on every Kentucky uniform, media guide, facility and fan since 1997 has undergone a bit of a facelift.

“We decided it was time to refresh our primary mark in a way that highlights the ‘K’ but also communicates the ‘We are UK’ message,” explained Jason Schlafer, executive associate athletic director of the change.

“The change is not dramatic or drastic and that’s because we already have one of the most recognizable brands in college athletics.”

But with athletics facility upgrades — most notably the $120 million renovation of Commonwealth Stadium and the nearby football practice facility — looming, UK decided it was a good time to make a change.

It will be a slow fazing in of the new “UK” with it first appearance at Memorial Coliseum, then as a focal point on the new turf at the stadium and in the graphics packages that are a part of the renovations around the facility.

It’s unclear when the Rupp Arena floor will be updated with the new logo.

“That’s not our surface,” Schlafer said of the downtown venue. “We don’t own that. It’s a question for them likely, but my guess is that will wait until the next time that gets updated and I don’t know the timeline on that.”

The logo will make its way onto new uniforms and other printed materials within the next year or so, Schlafer said.

While there may be some consistency issues between uniforms and field logos in the next 12 months, it made more sense to make the changes with the facilities.

“It was illogical to fabricate synthetic surface at football and re-do the court at Memorial Coliseum and invest in the graphics package at the new stadium and then come back and change it in a year for that purpose,” Schlafer said.

And maybe it’s not ideal to have slightly different logos in different places for a brief time, but it was best from an efficiency standpoint, the UK official said.

For the past year, UK has been working with Nike to develop the new logo. Part of that work included research and feedback from athletes, coaches and school administrators.

Last summer when athletics officials solicited fan opinion on their experiences through the BBN First Initiative, some fans asked for new logos, more ferocious logos and even the return of the “Power K” that was on football helmets previously.

That was discussed during this most recent re-invention.

“The fact of the matter is we didn’t want to go backward,” Schlafer said. “We wanted to move forward and this was the mark that we developed that we feel touches on our future.”

But it also reflects the Cats’ history as well.

“You want to be sure you respect your past, which is why we ended up streamlining the mark rather than developing an all new mark that folks don’t recognize as ours,” he said. “So we ended up streamlining and fine tuning our mark to keep up with a represent our future while respecting the past.”

<BULLETTE>The look of the Commonwealth Stadium turf is still in flux with a general design completed, but it may be altered slightly, which means it’s not available for the public to see yet, UK officials said.

The Secretariat checkerboard “pattern of excellence” UK has adopted as a part of its uniforms since 2007 (and now surrounds the new court at Memorial Coliseum) has been rumored to be in the end zones on the new Commonwealth Stadium turf, but Schlafer said the design hasn’t been finalized yet.

“We’ll continue to evaluate how we’ll use the pattern of excellence,” he said.

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TE Conrad likely will have surgery, return for fall

Freshman tight end C.J. Conrad is headed to Philadelphia to have a sports hernia evaluated and likely will have surgery, a Kentucky spokesman told the Herald-Leader on Wednesday.

Conrad, who was praised regularly during spring practices and had two strong scrimmages, was not able to practice every day in the spring, Coach Mark Stoops said on Kentucky Sports Radio this morning.

Conrad is expected to make a full recovery and will be available when fall camp begins in August.

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Dawson on philosophies, pace of play, other fun stuff

Spent part of Thursday morning with Kentucky offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson and there will be plenty of stories to come from that in the next few weeks. But I also picked up some interesting bits of football information from the Cats’ new play caller. Here they are:

  • Even though the Kentucky offense has been running at a normal pace during the spring, Dawson’s ideal number of plays in a game is speedy. While Neal Brown said his goal was 75 plays per game, Dawson said 85 plays is more ideal to him. Last season, UK averaged 70.8 plays per game. At West Virginia, where Dawson helped run the offense last season, the Mountaineers averaged 84.4 plays per game.
  • Dawson will do his game-day coaching and play calling from the Kentucky sidelines, not the press box.
  • After being nearly 50 percent in run/pass ratio last season at West Virginia, does he have a perfect percentage in mind? “I think it changes from game to game, I really do,” he said, going back to something a coach he knew said a few years back. “He said, ‘If they’re going to stack the box, I’m going throw it 100 percent of the time. That’s good balance versus what they’re doing.’”
  • He has two simple offensive philosophies: Attack an opposing defense where it’s most vulnerable and get the ball into your top playmakers’ hands as many times as possible. “If you’ve got a really, really good player and he leaves the game and he hasn’t touched the ball a lot and you lose, then you can only look in the mirror with that,” Dawson said.
  • While many coaches try to use a script for their first 10-15 plays of the game or the first plays of a series, Dawson said he’s been migrating away from that philosophy because too many variables can change the script. “I do have a set of plays in my mind that we’re going to run,” he said. “But I think lately I’ve come to the place where I think I’m a little more likely to go off script quicker.”
  • He loves to get a quarterback’s input in the play calls as the team prepares for an opponent, even regularly pulling plays that he considered “the best damn play on the script” when his past QBs were uncomfortable with them.



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EKU players suspended for part in incidents

Unnamed Eastern Kentucky football players have been suspended for an unspecified amount of time for their part in the incidents on Jan. 25 involving Kentucky football players.

In an emailed statement, Colonels Athletics Director Steve Lochmueller said the school is following its procedure in dealing with the events involving the players.

“Given the actions of these student-athletes, these players have been suspended from the EKU Football roster,” Lochmueller continued without naming any players specifically.

“Their future at the University will be determined pending the decision by personnel within our Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities. This type of behavior will not be tolerated.”

At least two EKU football players are named in the police reports involving two separate incidents in Richmond on Jan. 25. The first was fight at a bar involving Colonels offensive lineman Colton Scurry and UK quarterback Drew Barker, wide receiver Dorian Baker and defensive lineman Tymere Dubose.

“Suddenly, without physical provocation, Mr. Scurry charges into a crowd of people and throws a punch at an unidentified person,” the recently released report says.

Later at a campus dorm, Telford Hall security video shows Eastern defensive tackle (and former UK signee) Patrick Graffree punching Barker in the side of the head.

The video “shows Graffree taking off his sweatshirt as he enters the building and approaches Baker, Barker and Dubose. Graffree then strikes Barker, knocking him to the ground,” the report says.

Graffree is no longer listed on the Eastern Kentucky football roster online. Scurry, a 6-foot-2, red-shirt sophomore was still on the roster as of 2 p.m. on Thursday but was removed before 3 p.m.

Graffree played in 12 games last season and had 26 tackles, two interceptions and six quarterback hurries.

The Eastern Kentucky statement said it’s taken action now that the “legal process has run its course.” Last week a Madison County grand jury declined to indict any of the players involved in the bar fight at Jerzee’s Cocktail Lounge & Dance Club.

Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops, when asked about the videos of the incidents released on Tuesday, he said he had seen them and “addressed that.”

When asked if he’d seen the videos before they were made public via an open records request, he didn’t elaborate.

“Not going to comment on that,” Stoops said. “There was no surprises to me yesterday. I’ve addressed it with the players and with the team and we’ve moved on.”

In the statement, Lochmueller added that it will be an internal student judicial review and that the university will have no further comment on it.

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