Jen Smith on UK Football

Q&A: After second scrimmage, Stoops says Kentucky had ‘a really good day’

MARK STOOPS

“I thought it was a really good day — Day 9. I feel like we’re making a lot of progress this spring. We’ve been fortunate because we haven’t had any major injuries, but we’ve been playing very physical. Good day today. We know we need to improve in some run defense. We know our offense can run the ball very efficiently, and we’re gonna continue to do that. Today I thought it was a good mixture where the offense was efficient. I thought they were very good with the football — very few pre-snap penalties, very few drops. You see the ball on the ground not very much today, maybe with the threes. Other than that, we protected the football. Defensively we need to create turnovers, but I thought we’re making some progress. We still have a ways to go but I feel like we have some young D-Linemen that we’re really challenging, really pushing. If you can be a good run defense team against our offense, you know you’re making progress. I thought there were some moments where the scrimmage went both ways. I thought the offense was very efficient at times, but I thought the defense stepped up and made some plays and is making some progress. We still have a ways to go.”

On if anyone stood out during the scrimmage: “I don’t know. I didn’t notice it myself, trying to watch the whole picture. I don’t know if anyone jumped out at me.”

On how the emphasis on first and second down defense is coming along: “It’s, you know, we’re getting better. We’re making much fewer mistakes, we’re not beating ourselves nearly as much. I feel like we’re executing. But again, I think you’ve got to give our offense credit. They can keep you off balance. I think we’re doing a nice job offensively of being able to throw the ball a little bit better, which puts more pressure on the defense. We still don’t have everything in defensively on third down, so, in these scrimmages, I don’t get overly concerned if we’re not getting some third down stops. We have just probably 10 percent of our third down package in at this point, but we are concerned with first and second down.”

On who he likes at the nickel with McClain gone and Randolph hurt: “Yeah, Kendall had surgery as well. Kendall’s out for the rest of spring. He had some lingering effects of that high ankle sprain that cost him much of last year, so we went ahead and put the screw in and tried to do the surgery. So, he’ll be out for awhile. We are thin right now in the secondary. Lonnie (Johnson’s) got a bit of a hamstring so he wasn’t out there today. So, we have the ability to put Mike Edwards at nickel. Mike could be an exceptional nickel, but we know Mike could do a lot of good things for us. It’s just a matter of where we want to play him. We’re working Jordan Griffin at nickel. And you’re seeing so of those things that you’ve heard me talk about for so long, much like the outside linebacker position, there’s so many nuances to that position. I think it’s a very hard position that needs some experience, and you’re seeing Jordan go through some growing pains. But we wouldn’t put him there if we didn’t believe in him and think he had the ability to do it.”

On if C.J. Conrad is back: “He wasn’t in the scrimmage today, no. Drew (Barker) took maybe 10 plays, I wanna say, in the scrimmage today and led them to a touchdown drive and looked very good. He looked a little more comfortable than I thought he might in a game-like situation. I thought he looked good.”

On how Matt House is adjusting to defensive coordinator: “Yeah, that’s no issue. Matt had been a defensive coordinator prior to coming here and been a special teams coordinator here. He was a defensive coordinator at a couple different stops before he ever came here as a linebacker coach. So, it’s second nature to him and I’m working very closely with him and the defensive staff so it’s been good.”

On Dean Hood feeling more comfortable coaching outside linebackers: “Dean’s an excellent coach. He’s a seasoned veteran and can adapt to many things. But how we want that position taught and how we coach D-Line, I have total confidence in him.”

On how the second-team jack linebackers are doing: “We’re getting some work. Jaylin Bannerman has some work to do. Same thing with Jamar (Watson). He’s got some work but we feel like they’ve got real good ability. And Jaylin’s a real big kid, but as you’ve heard me say many times, almost every press conference, that position, there’s a lot to it. They’re learning. They’re getting better. They have some ability.”

On where Jordan Bonner is: “Jordan’s playing the Sam. He did some things that we need to get corrected. I was a little disappointed that he may have taken a step back today.”

On Gran and Hinshaw talking of Gunnar Hoak’s improvement: “Just comfort. He’s been around — experienced. I think it’s always, when you look at the quarterback position, you guys have been listening to me for a long time. Early on, we put it all on the quarterback, but you have to be efficient across the board. When we can run the ball it opens some play action. When we throw the ball, when the receivers catch the ball, when the whole operation’s better, then the quarterbacks look better. You watch NFL games, you watch college games, sometimes there’s a throw and the receiver makes an incredible play, or he tips it up and tips it to the wrong guy. It all goes to the quarterback sometimes, but it’s how efficient we are across the board. I think we are equal. Gunnar looks better with the twos because the two offense looks better. The O-Line is more physical, they can run the ball. The receivers were deeper and we’re just more efficient. Certainly himself, he has made a good progression.”

On how special teams have improved under Hood: “We’ll see. We’re nine practices in. We worked some individual in certain phases, but we really concentrated on punt. I like what he does with the punt team.”

On if anyone has played an April Fools’ joke on him: “I’ve had a few. I’ve had a few.”

What were they: “I’m not going there. You know I play it straight.”

On Matt House saying Benny Snell has been hardest to defend in practice: “Yeah, I think Benny is just a guy, Eddie’s talked about it and it’s so true — you see his competitive nature. As a freshman when you come in, he’s trying to learn the offense and feel his way through things and learn his role. Now, he’s a big part of our offense, and he has that confidence. But you see his mentality coming out more now. At times I have to reason with him. He gets frustrated when he gets tackled. He’s gonna get tackled (laughs). But you love that. Like I’ve said before, you’d rather say whoa than giddy up. So, he has a motor, he’s competitive and wants to make big plays. But he’s not opposed to putting his nose down and making a tough two to three yards either.”

On how the receivers are coming along: “I saw maybe just one drop today, which was good. Overall, I think they’ve been very good, very efficient. We still want to make sure we find a couple guys at the outside position that can make plays. You know Garrett (Johnson’s) gonna make plays, you know Charles (Walker) can play very well inside. And then make sure the outside guys can make some explosive plays.”

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