This spring must have felt a bit like wading through quicksand for Kentucky's offense.
That's how slowly and deliberately the new offensive coordinator wanted the Cats' offense to be in March and April.
Even though Shannon Dawson was a part of a West Virginia offense that was among the quickest in the nation — averaging 84.4 plays a game last season — there wasn't a single sped-up snap for Kentucky this spring.
"I just don't think it's fair to the program," Dawson explained in a post-spring wrap-up with the Herald-Leader. "To me, spring football is different. It's evaluation."
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It's impossible to adequately evaluate a player when he's facing a defensive player who didn't get set quickly enough.
"The most stressful situation is letting the defense line up, letting the kid put his hand on the ground and seeing if the other guy can block him," the new offensive coordinator explained.
Dawson (and his boss Mark Stoops) wanted to see Kentucky's defensive players get set, move around, work on blitz packages.
There was no offensive trickery, just attempts to get clean looks at individual players on tape, something Dawson plans to do every spring.
"To me there's no part in spring football that going fast is productive, and it hurts the defense because I don't think it's clean looks," he said. "It hurts our evaluation."
Fast forward to fall camp, which starts later this week for Kentucky.
Literally fast forward.
From day one, Dawson will implement the up-tempo attack that he's had in place at his two previous offensive coordinator stops: Stephen F. Austin and most recently with the Mountaineers.
In his six seasons as an offensive coordinator at the Division I level, Dawson's offenses have averaged 76.7 plays per game.
That's nearly two plays more per game than former offensive coordinator Neal Brown's "ideal pace" of 75 plays per game.
For Dawson, the ideal pace is 85. West Virginia got close last season at 84.4 plays per game.
It will be a change of pace for Kentucky's offensive veterans, who had just two games last season (Ohio, Vanderbilt) with 80 or more plays in them. The average last season was 70.8 plays a game and a turtle-ish 64.5 plays in Stoops' first season.
"We play football at a certain tempo," Dawson said. "We want to change the tempo in three or four different ways. One of them obviously is just fast balling, so we'll do a little bit more of that.
"But I think you can get that fairly easy. You just play fast. That's our default anyway: to go get lined up. And if we're going to pull it back or slow it down, then we do it."
There's another method to Dawson's tempo-less madness in the spring. When a game gets tight and UK needs to run down the clock or line it up and just go head to head with the defense across from it, Dawson wants to know his players can be physical enough.
"At points in the game, when defenses start getting lined up, what are you going to do? You better be able to execute," he said. "So we're just trying to get better at executing in the spring."
His philosophy echoes what Dawson's former boss and mentor Dana Holgorsen said recently at Big 12 Media Days. Being able to play at more than one pace has become the key for an up-tempo offense. The Mountaineers' 84.4 plays a game last year was 10 more plays than they averaged the season before.
"Defenses have caught up to if you just stay in one personnel grouping and think you're going to just go as fast as you possibly can," the West Virginia head coach noted. "Defenses have caught up to that, and they can suffocate that. So being able to change is important, and then being able to vary things is important as well."
From the first day of fall camp, UK's offensive players will notice the difference as Dawson takes them from the plodding slow lane to the furious fast lane in a blink.
He just hopes they can keep up.
"I can get that fast stuff taught in the fall very easily," Dawson said. "We're going to go fast. There's no doubt about it."
Revisiting earlysigning period
Even before he had a 2015 recruiting class that splintered in the closing days, Kentucky's Mark Stoops has been a proponent of an early signing period in college football.
Stoops (and most others) thought there was enough momentum this year to make that happen. The idea seemed to have legs when it was recommended by a national committee in January.
But in June, an association of commissioners for the 32 Division I conferences tabled the idea for another season, saying they wanted to continue to study it.
That move clearly frustrated Stoops, who was asked about the toll that constant recruiting takes on the lives of coaches before he spoke at an alumni kickoff luncheon in Louisville on Friday.
"I thought the early signing period would go into effect," Stoops said. "I thought there was enough steam and momentum to get that done."
Stoops added that the frustration lies in having guys on board for two years or more and then "babysitting guys we have committed," in the weeks leading up to National Signing Day in February as other schools attempt to poach them.
"We're spending a lot of money; we're going on private planes, going to see them every week for guys we've had committed to us for two years," he continued. "If they want to sign; if you have a commitment both ways, why not give them a piece of paper and let them sign it and get it done? Get the contract sealed up."
'I trust my own eyes'
With the commitment of 2017 quarterback Mac Jones still fresh on the media's collective mind at the kickoff luncheon last week, UK's offensive coordinator was asked how he goes about assessing quarterbacks.
It's certainly not about how many schools offer or from whom, Shannon Dawson said.
"I trust my own eyes," he said. "I've done it everywhere I've ever been. I could care less if you have one offer or 30, really. If I look at a kid and I see certain characteristics that I think are important in a quarterback that's the ones I like. I've recruited kids that had 40 offers and I didn't offer. That's just the way it is. I trust my own eyes. I'm not scared to make decisions that are against the current."
So what are some of the things Dawson is looking for with his own eyes?
"You have to be able to throw the ball accurately," he said. "Period. That's No. 1. I don't care if you can throw it 70 yards or 55. ... You got to be able to have a great release and throw the ball accurately."
Many quarterback coaches don't mind bringing in a player and teaching him the throwing mechanics necessary to play his offense, Dawson said, but that's not his method.
I have "never taught a kid to throw accurately. You either have it or you don't," he continued. "There's other things you can teach them. You can program them your way, but you've got to throw it accurately."
Later in front of the sellout crowd of 700 at the Galt House, the offensive coordinator was asked a similar question by emcee Tom Leach. Dawson again reiterated the importance of accuracy before adding a few more attributes he desires in a play caller.
"An accurate passer who can distribute the ball," Dawson said. "We're not going to ask anyone to run the ball 20 times a game or anything like that. Your job is to get all of those guys around you to catch the ball or take the handoff, make people miss, stuff like that.
"Distribute the ball accurately and have an attitude about you that makes the other 10 players around you want to follow you."
A couple of weeks back, I wrote about some hidden talents and career aspirations for Kentucky football players, but there were a few other interesting side notes I didn't get in.
■ Freshman defensive end Kengera Daniel (pronounced ken-JAIR-ah) explained his name is a combination of the names of his parents: mom Kenyatta and dad Gerald.
■ Linebacker Courtney Love said in his media guide bio if he could trade places with Mark Stoops for a day, he'd call a team meeting and then not show up.
■ Safety Marcus McWilson claims that his hidden talent is walking on his hands and that he only got into football because a friend randomly signed him up for it.
■ Offensive lineman Jervontius "Bunchy" Stallings comes from a line of NFL players. Father Robert Stallings played at Southern Miss and the NFL's St. Louis Cardinals. Brother Tré Stallings is a former offensive lineman at Ole Miss and the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs who now works for the Tennessee Titans.