UK football notebook: No standing on the sidelines in practice

Herald-Leader Staff WriterAugust 10, 2013 

Snap. Snap. Snap.

Anthony Kendrick snaps his fingers as rapidly as he can.

But even those snaps can't adequately show the speed of Kentucky practices these days.

"It's fast," Kendrick said. "It's very, very fast."

It's the "two spot," Coach Mark Stoops' practice plan for how to evaluate the three quarterbacks vying for the starting job most efficiently and effectively.

In his quest to get more repetitions for Jalen Whitlow, Maxwell Smith and Patrick Towles, a funny thing happened. Every other player is starting to get better.

Not just the quarterbacks, but the running backs, the safeties, the defensive backs, the linemen.

"Everybody's getting their reps, everybody's learning the defense, they're not just sitting around, sitting on the sidelines," senior linebacker Avery Williamson said. "Guys are getting a lot more reps."

The two spot is most effective when the team is on its vast practice fields where it can spread out. That's when you see the first-team players going up against the third-team players. On the field right next door, the second-teamers are up against the fourth-team players.

Every three or four plays, there's a horn and a switch. Players are always in motion, they're always doing something.

"Everybody's actually in the play," linebacker Miles Simpson explained. "This time last year we'd have people standing on the sidelines watching. This year, we go more ones and twos, twos and threes, so everyone's going at the same time."

And that helps, especially when so many players on your team are underclassmen.

Kentucky was one of the nation's least experienced teams last season, playing 14 true freshmen (sixth in the nation). A total of 27 freshmen played last season and there are loads of incoming freshmen trying to learn new positions and vying for spots on the depth chart this year.

It's been especially helpful for wide receivers coach Tommy Mainord, who probably has the youngest group on the team.

"Everybody's getting reps," he said. "There's nobody standing next to me not getting reps. Everybody's getting an opportunity right now. They're making mistakes and their fixing them today and that's what we need."

Even the older guys are learning from the huge number of drills.

"The key to learning things is repetitions," said Kendrick, a senior tight end. "You get the reps and with each rep you learn something new or different. That can only help."

It's also helping with conditioning.

The "two spot" also could have earned its name because players are rotating around so often that they feel like they're in two spots at the same time.

"It's exhausting, but you know you've gotten a pretty good workout when you're done because you're exhausted when you're done," offensive lineman Zach West said.

There have been lots of leg cramps and cases of tired guys in ice baths at the end of practices. The staff has built breaks into practice and does different tempos to help make it less taxing, said defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot.

The people who don't get a break are the video guys.

There is a never-ending influx of video to break down and edit after each practice using the two-spot. And coaches are looking at more than just the quarterbacks these days.

Coaches aren't getting much of a break, either, spending lots of time analyzing video, looking for things they missed in the blur that is the practice field.

"It's a little more work on our part just because the video lasts longer but it's good," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "Everybody gets an opportunity. Everybody that is suited up is getting evaluated."

Student ticket decline

It wasn't just the average fan that stopped coming to Kentucky home games by the end of last season, there also was a significant drop in student attendance in the final season under Coach Joker Phillips.

An open records request by the Herald-Leader looking at student attendance for the past five seasons revealed that there was a 44 percent decline in students at home games from the time Phillips started in 2010 to his final season in 2012.

The decline was pretty steep from 2011 to 2012 as well, down 36 percent.

A story in the Knoxville paper this summer reported that in Derek Dooley's final season with Tennessee, fewer than 5,000 students were in attendance each week. The Vols had one student ticket sellout (12,683) against Florida last season.

Kentucky football spokesman Tony Neely said students are allotted 10,000 tickets for each home football game, which includes the band. This past season, UK averaged less than half of that with 4,575 students. The low point of the past five years was the 3,729 students for the Vanderbilt loss.

The highest number of students in attendance during the past five years was 9,091 against Louisville in 2011, which helped bump up the average for that season to 7,154 per game.

There has been some renewed interest among students with the new staff in place. As of Monday, 3,722 student season tickets had been sold, just seven shy of the final student tally for the Vandy game last year.

Students aren't necessarily big season ticket buyers, usually opting to buy single-game tickets instead. But UK's athletics website urges students to purchase a season ticket this season because of "anticipated high demand for 2013." It notes that season tickets for students are $35 for all seven home games.

Individual student tickets will be sold once classes begin in late August.

More ticket talk

As of Monday, Kentucky had sold 44,446 season tickets (including that student ticket number above), which already is 5,791 more season tickets than it sold all of last season.

Last season UK struggled in attendance, averaging a reported 49,691 in seven home games, its lowest number since 1996.

Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said on Monday that he was happy with how season ticket sales are going.

"We're doing well," he said. "I think we'll have a better count as we get closer to the first game and we'll get a final count and get going."

Barnhart said the buzz created by the hire of Stoops has helped generate interest in football.

"We have a great schedule — very difficult schedule at home — but it's something that people are intrigued to come and see and to look at," he said on Monday. "But I'm real excited. I'm real excited for the players."

Poster 'crazy, fun'

The final poster in a three-part series is out and it features a player wearing the No. 13, but it's not holder Jared Leet or quarterback Jalen Whitlow (who has changed his jersey number).

So who is that masked man whose face is blocked out intentionally by a dark helmet visor? It's sophomore wide receiver A.J. Legree (usually No. 6) who was picked to represent the entire team for 2013.

"It was fun," Legree said. "It was crazy, I didn't expect them to pick me, of all people, to do something like that. To me, it kind of showed me (how) the coaches look at me. I've got to be that guy this year."

Legree said it doesn't bother him at all that his face is so obscured that only close friends and family might recognize him.

"I knew what I was representing," he said. "At the end of the day, I want to see UK on top."

The two other posters, which already have been released, feature Avery Williamson and Alvin "Bud" Dupree. One says "attack every day" and the other says "attack every play."

Paying for playing

Talk about whether or not programs should be compensating their football players has become louder and louder in the past few months. Both Louisville's Charlie Strong and Kentucky's Mark Stoops were asked about that this week.

Strong said he believes it eventually will happen. "With the money being made with TV contracts, we've got to find a way where we can pay players," he said. "Eventually I think it's going to happen because if enough coaches take a stance about it, it will work its way out."

He also added that coaches are overpaid and players should make some compensation for their hard work. "We're making a lot of money and the players aren't making anything, so I'd like to see that happen for them."

Stoops called it a complex issue.

"I realize it's very complicated. It's not as easy as just to say, 'Yeah, I'd like to pay the players,'" Stoops said on Wednesday night after practice. "I mean, of course I'd like to give the players more, but I also realize that's a very complicated issue. You're getting into a lot of things that I don't have the answers for.

"So would I be in favor of giving the players a little bit more money? Sure. But I would have no idea about how to go about doing that, and I don't think a lot of people do."


Student attendance

Student attendance at UK's home football games, broken down by year and game.

2008

Norfolk State 7,892

Middle Tennessee 7,989

Western Kentucky 7,716

South Carolina 7,439

Arkansas 7,568

Georgia 7,373

Vanderbilt 7,217

Total 53,194

Average 7,599

2009

Louisville 8,342

Florida 8,243

Alabama 8,198

Louisiana-Monroe 7,134

Mississippi State 7,352

Eastern Kentucky 7,729

Tennessee 6,824

Total 53,822

Average 7,689

2010

Western Kentucky 8,750

Akron 8,181

Auburn 8,188

South Carolina 8,153

Georgia 8,445

Charleston Southern 7,656

Vanderbilt 7,529

Total 56,902

Average 8,129

2011

Central Michigan 7,119

Louisville 9,091

Florida 7,529

Jacksonville State 6,510

Mississippi State 6,915

Mississippi 6,500

Tennessee 6,412

Total 50,076

Average 7,154

2012

Kent State 5,278

Western Kentucky 5,755

South Carolina 4,535

Mississippi State 4,352

Georgia 4,369

Vanderbilt 3,729

Sanford 4,007

Total 32,025

Average 4,575

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Email: jsmith3@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.

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