UK football: Stoops leads Cats in first spring practice

jsmith3@herald-leader.comMarch 18, 2013 

  • 2013 Kentucky schedule

    (Home games in capital letters)

    Aug. 31 x-W. Kentucky TBA

    Sept. 7 MIAMI (OH) TBA

    Sept. 14 LOUISVILLE TBA

    Sept. 28 FLORIDA TBA

    Oct. 5 at South Carolina TBA

    Oct. 12 ALABAMA TBA

    Oct. 24 at Mississippi St. 7:30

    Nov. 2 ALABAMA ST. TBA

    Nov. 9 MISSOURI TBA

    Nov. 16 at Vanderbilt TBA

    Nov. 23 at Georgia TBA

    Nov. 30 TENNESSEE TBA

    x-LP Field in Nashville

The first time Coach Mark Stoops met with his new Kentucky team, he was fiery and engaging.

That demeanor didn't change on Monday, when they met up for the first day of spring practice.

"He was fired up when he first got here and he's still fired up," senior linebacker Avery Williamson said.

And even though the weather didn't cooperate — rain forced the first practice indoors — the new UK coach seemed pleased by what he saw from his team.

"I was encouraged," he told the media on Monday. "I really feel like there's some things to work with there. You know, we've got a long way to go, don't get me wrong, but I feel like they are good guys and they have a good attitude. That's a good start."

The players already seemed to have a good grasp of their playbooks, Stoops said, but it doesn't mean the first practice wasn't without its issues.

"The execution was very sloppy," he said.

UK needs work at skill positions, he noted, citing a high number of dropped balls.

But Stoops also said spring jitters were partly to blame.

"I hope some of that was a little bit nervousness, a little bit anxious," Stoops said. "Some of that, maybe they were pressing a little bit hard."

Players said that could be the case.

"I imagine some players were a little nervous to get out first day in front of the coaches in an actual practice," senior running back Jonathan George said. "It can be some nerves, emotions to come out and try to impress the coaches and be on point and know everything that you have to know."

No official depth chart was released Monday and likely won't come for a while. Players got repetitions at the one, two and three spots for each position, but those were not divulged and practice was closed to the press and public.

"I didn't feel like it was right to release it to anybody," Stoops said. "Nobody has earned anything yet. So we are going to make them all earn their spots and we'll evaluate that as we go."

Along that vein, each quarterback got equal time and repetitions. The coaches have indicated it will be an open competition between the three returning sophomores: Maxwell Smith, Patrick Towles and Jalen Whitlow.

"All of them had their ups and downs," Stoops said. "Each of them looked really good at times and at times, you know, they struggled just putting it all together, which you can understand."

But that wasn't just a quarterback problem on Monday.

"There's not one position on our field that we don't need to improve," Stoops said, offering few specifics.

For their part, the players seemed excited about starting over, even players like George, who is on his third head coach at UK.

"We all see it as a fresh start," George said. "Last year's gone and we have expectations for this year that we're going to come out and attack every goal we have set, and the intentions are that we're going to have a great season this year."

Notes

Cornerback Shawn Blaylock missed all of last season after injuring his knee. According to the spring media guide, he has had "some tough luck recovering from a knee injury." There was no immediate explanation offered.

Also on the injury front, Stoops was asked directly about the knee injury that sidelined running back Josh Clemons. The new coach said only "we are going to be very smart with him."

Spring rosters aren't necessarily the picture of accuracy, but there has been plenty of weight gained and lost in the off-season, if the newest roster is to be believed. Of the four top returning defensive linemen (Donte Rumph, Tristian Johnson, Mister Cobble and Farrington Huguenin), there has been a total weight gain of 60 pounds. Rumph has added 22 points and Huguenin has put on 14. The biggest weight loss was offensive lineman Jordan Swindle (11 pounds), and the largest listed weight gain was offensive tackle T.J. Jones (30 pounds).

Numbers game: Freshman QB Reese Phillips, who is participating in spring practice, has taken over former QB Morgan Newton's No. 12 jersey. Juco players DE Za'Darius Smith will wear Taylor Wyndham's old No. 94, and TE Steven Borden will wear Gene McCaskill's old No. 85. ... Senior fullback Cody Jones changed from No. 37 last season to No. 43 in the spring guide.


2013 Kentucky schedule

(Home games in capital letters)

Aug. 31 x-W. Kentucky TBA

Sept. 7 MIAMI (OH) TBA

Sept. 14 LOUISVILLE TBA

Sept. 28 FLORIDA TBA

Oct. 5 at South Carolina TBA

Oct. 12 ALABAMA TBA

Oct. 24 at Mississippi St. 7:30

Nov. 2 ALABAMA ST. TBA

Nov. 9 MISSOURI TBA

Nov. 16 at Vanderbilt TBA

Nov. 23 at Georgia TBA

Nov. 30 TENNESSEE TBA

x-LP Field in Nashville

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.

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