UK football notebook: Neal Brown working to get offense moving at faster pace

Herald-Leader staff writerAugust 2, 2014 

Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown.

PHOTO BY CHARLES BERTRAM | STAFF — Herald-Leader Buy Photo

  • MARK YOUR CALENDAR

    Important upcoming dates for UK football

    Monday: First day of practice

    Saturday: Fan Day

    Aug. 11, 12, 18: Practices open to the public

    Aug. 30: Season opener vs. UT-Martin

  • 2014 UK football schedule

    Date Opponent Time

    Aug. 30 TENNESSEE-MARTIN Noon

    Sept. 6 OHIO 3:30 p.m.

    Sept. 13 at Florida 7:30 p.m.

    Sept. 27 VANDERBILT TBD

    Oct. 4 SOUTH CAROLINA TBD

    Oct. 11 LOUISIANA-MONROE TBD

    Oct. 18 at Louisiana State TBD

    Oct. 25 MISSISSIPPI STATE TBD

    Nov. 1 at Missouri TBD

    Nov. 8 GEORGIA TBD

    Nov. 15 at Tennessee TBD

    Nov. 29 at Louisville TBD

It was an offense nicknamed "NASCAR" for its speed.

And Neal Brown was its crew chief.

That was before he got to Kentucky, which must have felt like going from running an actual NASCAR team to running the cars that putter on the tracks in the kids' section of Kings Island.

While Brown was offensive coordinator at Texas Tech, the Red Raiders averaged 80.1 snaps per game.

More snaps, more chances to score.

Kentucky didn't have nearly enough of those chances last season behind an anemic 64.5 snaps per game, the fewest by far in Brown's offensive coordinator career.

The stall weighed on him, and he vowed to get back up to speed this season.

"Our quarterbacks will operate a lot faster this year than they did last year and we're going to emphasize it," Brown promised a group of blue backers at the Hyatt on Friday. "We'll play at a faster pace. It's the threat of being able to do it, you know what I mean?"

Before last season, Brown said the goal of his offense was to run 75 plays a game. But against Florida and Georgia, the Cats didn't even manage to break 50 snaps.

Only twice did UK meet that 75-snap goal, in losses at Mississippi State (75) and against Missouri (79).

In fact, Kentucky's 774 total snaps last season were more than only six teams in the nation and dead last in the Southeastern Conference.

But Coach Mark Stoops didn't let the Cats' offensive crew chief beat himself up too badly about the pace of play on Friday afternoon.

"As you get better, you can play faster," Stoops said. "It doesn't do us a lot of good to play fast if we're not getting first downs. ...

"I'm not comfortable talking about our players not being good enough, but as you get better, you can do things much faster."

It was clear that Stoops thinks his team has much more horsepower this season, or at least potential horsepower.

And Brown has done what he can to speed up the stagnant Kentucky offense.

"We've simplified a lot of our communication, which I think is going to help," he said. "Anytime things don't go the way you want them to go — we've got a lot of reasons they didn't, but they didn't — so I think you try to simplify."

Another goal Brown articulated before the start of camp last year was a 48 percent success rate on third down, which UK's 2-10 team struggled to do.

The Cats converted on just 31 percent of their third downs, better than only eight other teams in the nation and last in the league.

'Submit to the process'

In his final major engagement on the summer speaking tour, Coach Mark Stoops was asked what his message to the players will be when they open camp.

The coach is expected to meet with his full team for the first time Sunday night, and the opening practice is Monday at 6 a.m.

Summer school ending a week later than usual has made camp scheduling more complicated, but Stoops and his staff say the message to the team is the same: "The big thing is: submit. Submit to the process," Stoops told a Hyatt ballroom full of blue on Friday for the annual kickoff luncheon.

He will urge the players to put their cell phones down, look up and pay attention to what is building around them.

"We have a saying in our program, we talk about 'All In' and that can encompass a lot of things, but just turn everything off, all the distractions, let's get in here, let's lock ourselves in this building and let's get some work done."

■ When asked about his early camp objectives, offensive coordinator Neal Brown said his plan is to figure out who UK will play with this season, especially at quarterback.

"We've got to identify that crucial spot," he said of the battle among Drew Barker, Reese Phillips, Patrick Towles and possibly Maxwell Smith.

UK also will be figuring out who will be in the running back rotation as well as potential backups at offensive tackle.

At SEC Media Days, right tackle Jordan Swindle said he liked what the Cats were seeing from redshirt freshman Kyle Meadows.

"Every day when we go outside and do position drills, I work with him and try to get him to get his technique down and tell him how to walk through his steps and stuff like that," Swindle said. "I see a lot of progression from him. He's doing really good."

Brown's other early goal is to develop a working two-deep depth chart at each of the receiver spots.

"We've got more bodies at that position than we had last year; we've got more talent," the offensive coordinator said. "Now we've gotta figure out who exactly that's going to be."

Cooking, tumbling, flying Cats?

As you kill time waiting anxiously for football season to begin, here are some fun little tidbits I found while gorging on the Kentucky football media guide.

Remember the story about UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown and line coach John Schlarman trudging through a blizzard and spending the night on training tables at a high school?

Well, the player they landed with that nightmare trip was freshman center Jervontius "Bunchy" Stallings, who reports he is wearing No. 65 in honor of Schlarman, who told him "make it legendary."

Freshman running back Stanley "Boom" Williams said he will wear No. 18 to continue the legacy of Randall Cobb and Jacob Tamme (not bad company if he has NFL dreams).

Junior cornerback Fred Tiller said he selected his No. 3 for former Cats quarterback Andre Woodson.

Freshman wide receiver Blake Bone said he plans to wear No. 8 because it's the infinity symbol turned sideways.

In their media guide bios, there are plenty of players who claim to have mad cooking skills, including offensive lineman Max Godby and quarterback Maxwell Smith. Offensive lineman Shaquille Love says his dream job is to be a chef. Defensive lineman Mike Douglas wrote that he cooks for his mom and grandmother when he goes home to Florida.

Other strange "skills" noted in the media guide bios include defensive lineman Jacob Hyde's claim that he can "wiggle his ears."

Freshman linebacker Dorian Hendrix meditates daily.

There are two reported tumblers on the team: wide receiver Javess Blue and linebacker Khalid Henderson.

Some musically inclined Cats include center Jon Toth, who plays guitar, and sophomore walk-on Jerry McCray, who plays five instruments.

Two defensive players want to get in on the Air Raid with both linebacker Josh Forrest and defensive end Farrington Huguenin reportedly wanting to fly planes.

Some interesting future professions (other than NFL dreams of course) for players include safety Marcus McWilson's goal of becoming a child psychologist, offensive lineman Darrian Miller wanting to be a virologist, and down the line from him, Kyle Meadows wanting to be a research scientist studying entomology. (Eww.)

New cornerback Kendall Randolph aspires to be an orthopedic surgeon. Long snapper Kelly Mason says he wants to be an actuary.

NFL Cats

As NFL training camps continue to churn around the country, UK notes there are 17 former Cats on rosters as of Friday: offensive lineman Chandler Burden (Bengals), wide receiver Randall Cobb (Packers), fullback John Conner (Giants), safety Winston Guy (Jaguars), wide receiver Steve Johnson (49ers), defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin (Raiders), punter Tim Masthay (Packers), wide receiver Chris Matthews (Seahawks), defensive lineman Corey Peters (Falcons), defensive lineman Donte Rumph (Falcons), running back Alfonso Smith (49ers), tight end Jacob Tamme (Broncos), linebacker Danny Trevathan (Broncos), offensive lineman Larry Warford (Lions), offensive lineman Garry Williams (Panthers), linebacker Avery Williamson (Titans) and linebacker Wesley Woodyard (Titans).

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

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