Stoops: I really like where we're at right now compared to last year
“It’s an exciting time. It really feels good to be into day one. It seems like it’s always a long talking season, so… And even this year, having our report date on Thursday, but we really didn’t get started until today. So it’s really nice to get started and get out there on the field today and be with you all and you get a chance to see our team and spend some time with our team.
Very proud of the work that we have done. Our players worked really hard this past winter, spring and this summer. That just gives us an opportunity. I just had a meeting with the team a little while ago and they put in the work, we laid a good foundation and that gives us a chance to be successful. It’s now about what we do the next month to prepare to put ourselves in a situation to be successful with the upcoming season.
I think that our team is stronger, we’re more mature and we need to put the fine strokes on things. Last year was — last year, I don’t even want to talk about it. But this year we have some experience, we have some depth, we have some strength and we need to come out of the blocks strong, starting today with a good practice. I’m excited. I think it’s a really good group. Our team seems to have a much better focus about them. I know the leadership, I’ve talked a lot about leadership and the development of that leadership and you’re starting to see that. It was evident last year. Again, it makes it exciting for our coaching staff and for myself to get out there today and see what it’s all about. So, it’s been a good work, it’s been a good foundation, but we’ll see where we’re at as we go along.
Q. Is Lynn Bowden on campus yet?
MARK STOOPS: Lynn is not. Lynn is the only one that’s not here. I expect him this week. So we expect him to be here shortly. Michael Nesbitt just got cleared, just got here, so he’ll be out there today. You’ll see him. We do have EJ Price is here today. Transfer from USC, offensive lineman, offensive tackle. And Matt Panton, the punter, is also here today. We expect the rest of the team to be pretty close to full strength. We have a few guys that we got to be careful with some reps early, that are nursing a few injuries from the training that they have done this summer. But in general we’re a hundred percent healthy. Guys that won’t take reps today will be Tobias Gilliam, has a high ankle sprain, that he’s dealing with. And Jamin Davis as well. Outside of that, we’ll be at full tilt and we’re waiting on Lynn here in the next couple days.
Q. Is it an NCAA issue?
MARK STOOPS: No — well, it’s clearinghouse. It’s academic eligibility.
Q. What’s sort of the reason for your optimism? The increased capacity that you guys have taking into the year -- going into this year, is there anything you see that gives you something that you’ll be looking for in camp that makes you believe you can get to even another step forward?
MARK STOOPS: The training has been done. The increased capacity, I did talk a lot about that last year. I talked about that a little bit this summer. But it’s more of the same. Push them some more. We will look at what we’re doing and just make sure that the science, the sports science piece of it, we will increase that again.
This year, it’s different with the way we go about it, because this is the first year we haven’t been able to do two-a-days. It’s a little longer camp. We got to deal with a little bit of adversity here for three days, because our kids are still in school until Thursday, actually. So we got to get up, have the very early morning practices, so it cuts into some of the meeting times. So it’s a little different here for a few days, but we wouldn’t be here a year ago either. We’re starting earlier. So, but at the end of the day, our players will have more work this camp than they did last. And we’ll have the data to back that up and hopefully the, let’s have it a perfect practice. It doesn’t matter how many reps you’re doing if you’re not doing it right. We need to be more efficient and I think that’s what I’m most excited about, the efficiency of our practice, but we definitely will have more.
Q. With more experience and depth, how would you describe the ownership this team is taking, especially the veterans, compared to when you first got here?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, it’s very — I don’t want to use the word to describe that, but very different. I don’t want to be negative, but very different. Very different. It’s much different, to answer your question. And I really like where we’re at right now compared to last year. I just feel like the ownership, the leadership is much stronger, and it should be. Again, I say it every year, I’m here when you guys ask me my expectations and all those things, we expect to be better. We should be better. We’re going into year five, we ought to be better in all areas. You’ve heard me talk about it many times. We’re build, build, build, build, build a winning culture, build a strong football team, select the right players and then intentionally develop them when they’re here. So we’re going into year five, we should be stronger in all those areas.
Q. Can you talk about EJ Price, about what getting a transfer like that means to a program.
MARK STOOPS: Well, he’s a very, very talented football player. Great kid. I got an opportunity to spend some time with him this summer when he came in, and I really like what I heard from him and what I’ve seen from him, what he’s done. I’m very excited to have him on this team. He’s got a lot of work to do this year, he knows he can’t play, but he’s a very athletic player.
Q. Could you comment on a few guys for me, Josh Allen, and also Bunchy Stallings?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah. Josh, we expect him to make a very big jump this year. And he did some very good things a year ago, but he’s one of those guys that I talk about right from the onset, right from the beginning of practice, to have that attention to detail and to take it to another level from the beginning. He’s a guy that when he puts the fine strokes on things, he’s going to be a very good football player. I think what I liked, the maturity that I’m seeing out of him. He came in the other day just to talk about some things, and we just sat down and had a nice conversation and I like what I see out of him. I could tell he’s very focused and interested in taking it to another level. And then with Bunchy, the same thing. I think Bunchy’s a very talented player. He’s versatile, he can do a lot of things. But he’s an athletic man for a big guy. He can do some things. So we need him to play very efficiently and to be honest with you, we have a lot of confidence in him that he’ll play well.
Q. Tymere Dubose missed spring practice. What is the status on him?
MARK STOOPS: Tymere is good. So that was a decision that I made to remove him from the team for the spring because he needed to get focused, and he needed to put all of his attention on academics. I’m proud to say that he did that.
So we’re finishing this last summer class right now, but he’s put a lot of work in and he’s done a lot of good things. So, hopefully, he’ll mature in all areas of his life and come out here and have a good camp and get back out there on the field.
Q. Is there a guy that you challenged in that way, sort of a similar way that you saw come through on the other side that you’re proud of?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I think Demarco (Robinson)’s a guy that early on was a guy that had some real troubles and he came out and really did well off the field with some things, really straightened himself out, did good academically, got his degree. I see him on the sidelines when he comes back and he’s a guy that just pops up that just really went through some hard times. And I was glad that we never did give up on him and gave him an opportunity and he’s been successful.
Q. Before camp even starts, what have you seen out of Kash Daniel during the summer? You have him listed on the depth chart before the season starts, what have you seen out of him so far?
MARK STOOPS: Well, the same thing. I’ve worked with him for some time, he’s not a newcomer here. So Kash is a guy that is getting better. We talked a lot about that in the spring, that you see football starting to slow down for him. I think that’s the big thing. He’s talented, it’s very important to him, and the game is slowing down. He’s another guy that should most definitely take it to another level, because he’s more comfortable out there playing. And you got to love Kash because he’s passionate and he cares about what he’s doing.
Q. Were you concerned about punting in the game? Punting the ball?
MARK STOOPS: Sure. I am. We need to improve. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. You’ve seen us punt and we need to do a better job. We need to be more consistent. It’s not just punting. It was asked about punting, but there’s a lot of areas in our football team that we need to be more consistent and punting is one of them.
Q. We have seen some players react on social media, basically with a chip on their shoulder. Do you see that as a big motivating factor for this team this year?
MARK STOOPS: If they want it to be. I’m not -- I don’t talk about that much. I’m not going to say I never do or whatever, it depends on what mood I’m in. But whatever they need to do to motivate themselves. But it’s really about us, it’s about where we finish. Nobody predicted us last year to finish tied for second in the East either. We would like to get better than that. We’re worried about ourselves and where we finish and whatever areas or whatever ways people want to use to motivate themselves on a daily basis, I’m okay with.
Q. What changes it for — in years past, most of us, including me, would be asking you about all the different freshmen you thought you were going to have and what kind of, if they were going to be able to play. And this year, I guess, you would like to think some of them are going to play, but it’s really a different situation with those guys, isn’t it?
MARK STOOPS: It really is. And to be honest, as we go through the depth chart and practice schedule and as we are going through the details the past week or so, looking at things, it’s very different to see some really good football players that you’re worried about getting them some practice reps. Where in years past, you would be wanting them to come in and start. So, that’s a nice problem to have. We have got to make sure we do a good job of managing these players and giving them an opportunity to compete and play and develop them. And we need to monitor that. It’s very different and it’s nice to see some depth in certain areas. It’s really nice to see some really good young players that can mature and develop at their own pace.
Q. Jordan Griffin, tell us the one thing that he brought to the ball club that really excites you and how much more can he give?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah. Jordan, I have high expectations for (him) this season. I think he’s a guy that I love working with, because he just is very conscientious. When we talk development, a lot of times when I’m talking recruiting, when I’m talking to prospects, it’s about feeding them the right medicine and them taking the medicine. He’s a guy that takes the medicine. You give him the tools, you give him the details and work with him, he takes it all in and he soaks it up and he really works at it. I’ve seen players that have done that that have developed themselves into first round talent just by the work ethic. And I hope he takes some steps like that. I’m not putting that on him that at a young age, but he’s a -- you just love his work ethic, you love how conscientious he is. He goes about his own way, he’s kind of a quiet kid, but he’s become a leader because people respect him. So I hope he continues to have a great summer, because I have high expectations for him.
Q. Is Kendall Randolph back from injury?
MARK STOOPS: We’re exploring options there at nickel, because it’s such an important part, you’ve heard me talk about it a lot, it’s a difficult position. So Kendall’s coming back from some injury, surgery. So he was out for the spring, but he’ll be back. Hopefully, he’ll be at full strength. We’ll see today. We also can explore with playing Mike Edwards at nickel, because he’s such a play maker and he has such good instincts and that position can get a lot of action. So he likes it, he wants to play some there. I would like to be able to do that, it depends on how well we can play behind him. I know he can do it, I just, we just have to have a strong safety play at or near the level he can in that nickel situation to move him around. So we’ll explore some options here over the next month. But, yes, Jordan will be getting some reps there, Kendall, of course, Mike. We really could even play Mike there and put Kendall at strong or Jordan at strong. Just got to be careful not to overload the young guys.
Q. With your depth this year at quarterback with Drew Barker going down, has the competition really stepped up for that position and how much — how important is that for this season to have that?
MARK STOOPS: It’s very important. It’s very nice to have all three of those guys and more at full strength and healthy and be able to compete. It’s really nice, because you know how physical this game is, you know what our league is all about, and to have some options there and not be holding your breath every time. As we got thin last year it got, you had to be careful, even with some of the designed quarterback runs and things of that nature. With some depth it, hopefully, will free us up a tad.
Q. Is there still a QB competition?
MARK STOOPS: Of course. There’s a competition at every position, every day.
Q. Has offseason criticism motivated Matt Elam?
MARK STOOPS: I’ve seen some good things from Matt. Again, whatever motivates somebody, I don’t think it’s right to personally come after Matt as I mentioned before, we know we need to improve across the board at defensive line and again in all areas of your program, starting with me on down. We all want to do a better job every day. Matt’s no different and he has worked hard and I think that losing some weight and getting in great shape is a big piece of that. He’s working at it right now.
Q. What did you say to him and what did he say to you about hearing that stuff?
MARK STOOPS: I’ll leave that between he and I. But we had a conversation and so I was very blunt with him and told him what was going on and I knew I was going to get some questions about that prior to going. So we have had discussions all summer about what he wants people to talk about him.
Q. You recruited very well and developed good offensive linemen since you’ve been here. Do you expect this unit to become one of the best if not the best offensive line in the SEC or what have you seen out of them so far?
MARK STOOPS: We’ll see. We’ll see how it goes. I think we still have a lot of work to do, like the mentality of that group. I think that they have worked really hard. I think you have to stay healthy, too. We were fortunate a year ago, we stayed relatively healthy. We had some good depth, we played a lot of guys, but even guys like Nick Haynes, Nick is so important to us and such a good player and Nick has some obstacles just with his health and keeping his weight up and all that. So guys like him, that’s a big piece of it, to keep Nick healthy and to help him make sure he can maintain his weight and things like that. He’s good, he’s good to go, good to play. He’s going to be out there practicing, but it’s just there’s a lot of pieces to that. We like the depth and we need, you need a loft big bodies.
Q. How do you plan to manage Benny Snell’s workload during the season and how much contact will you allow in the preseason?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, he’ll be out there full go. And we’ll be relatively smart, just because we have to rotate backs and running backs take hits. But Benny does not like to get hit. And I say that, I say that in a complimentary way, not that he’s afraid of it, he’s just tough, he hates when he gets tackled. I love the fact that -- again, I’ve said this before, but I would rather say “whoa” than “giddy up” but with Benny, I’m like, ‘Benny, relax, you are going to get tackled, these are good football players out here.’ So he’s very competitive, every yard means something to him and so he goes hard. He goes hard in practice, every snap, every day. And if he keeps that mentality, he’ll continue to be successful like he has. But he has a good, tough competitive mentality about him.
Q. Do you think as a freshman he felt an identity for that?
MARK STOOPS: Without a doubt. We knew that. If you’re honest, when y’all asked me questions about him throughout last year, we knew he was going to bring that. That’s what we recruited him for, that’s what he was. He’s just a, he’s an accountable person. He’s competitive, he’s tough, he’s accountable. To say that I knew that he would have that kind of success as a freshman would be a lie. I knew he would bring that to the table though and he definitely helped us.
Q. How many hits do you want him to take in pre-season?
MARK STOOPS: I’m not going to get into limiting that talking about reps or anything like that. We can’t, he’s a sophomore. He’s a young guy that can play. He’s going to play and that sets the mentality for the rest of our team as well.
Q. How do you guard against a sense of young guys feeling that they have arrived. What are some of the warning signs?
MARK STOOPS: I think that accountability within your own team is the teammates -- our team’s expectations. What are they? Outside of everybody and even myself, I mean what do they expect of each other. I think that’s the big thing. And what’s acceptable and what’s not. What’s an acceptable rep, what’s an acceptable practice and what’s not. I think there’s some ownership within that team of what we want to look like and that will help us.
Q. Can veterans help younger players with potential overconfidence?
MARK STOOPS: The veterans will help and I think that that’s the big thing, that’s what I feel better about again just going into that meeting, the confidence is there, we have to keep our finger on them and keep on pushing them to have that detail, but we can’t take steps back. It’s about all going forward and progress and not wasting an opportunity.
Q. With the new defensive coordinator, is there a marked difference in philosophy for this defense this year?
MARK STOOPS: No, not a marked difference. No. We will look much the same. I think as we had an opportunity, again, just because as you’re here as you’re building a program, the things we have tried to do to maybe cover up things and patch holes, it was nice to hit the reset button on that. And with myself and with Matt (House) and the defensive staff, kind of retweaked that, even from a terminology standpoint and trying to simplify things to the players and build it in what we want it to look like now. So that’s been fun to do.
Q. We asked Vince Marrow who the best athlete was on the UK coaching staff.
MARK STOOPS: He said himself.
Q. He said it wasn’t even close and that you would confirm that.
MARK STOOPS: Oh, how did I know he was going to talk about himself that way?
Q. So would you disagree?
MARK STOOPS: I think Lamar (Thomas) would have to say a few things about that, don’t you? Lamar was pretty good. I mean we have all seen that in the ‘30 for 30’, right? So Lamar likes to talk about himself pretty good too as a good athlete. So I’ll let those two battle it out. I know I’m not in the discussion.
Q. Is Jordan Jones another guy that you’ve had to say “whoa” to at times?
MARK STOOPS: Oh, sure. Absolutely. He is a lot like that. Especially when we have to go without shoulder pads for the first two days. So, yeah. Yeah. Definitely.
Q. Did he get the message after sitting in the spring and missing spring?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, he gets the message because sometimes he’s lining up there at linebacker and I’m two feet behind him yelling in his ear the whole time during the rep so he’ll get it, he’ll get the message.
Q. Darius West, if he can stay healthy, what can he bring and have you had a guy who is had exemplified so much toughness just to get back here?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, I’m really excited about Darius and just having him out there and it was really good just to get through spring. Just to get some of the rust off, get his confidence back. I think that it’s so important to him that he’s a guy I have to talk a lot to as well, because he wants to go from zero to 60 and it’s so important to him and again you love that, but he’s just got to just go through the practice, get the reps, get the experience, take the coaching, and good things will happen to him. But he’s a tough guy, he’s worked really hard to get back on the field, he’s a guy you all will root for because it’s important to him and he’s just got to get the experience. That position comes, you’ve heard me talk a lot about it, but the safety position, you need some looks, you need some reps, you need some time and some guys it comes more natural than others, but he’ll work extremely hard at it.
Q. With your offensive line, you do an eight man rotation sometimes, is that something you see as an identity going forward or would you try to be more of a five man?
MARK STOOPS: Oh, no, if we could play up to nine, we’ll play them, but they have to play at a high level. But it’s also very important to development. Keeping those guys, their interest. I mean you always want that, even at other positions. So we have to get guys reps. It will build your program.
Q. Eli Brown, what are you hoping to get out of him?
MARK STOOPS: Eli, I see a guy that’s matured. He’s got a slight injury we just got to be careful with a little bit in camp. He’ll be out there today, he’ll be ready to go, but he did, it did slow him down a touch towards the end of summer. But I think that I’m seeing him, I hope that he’s turned the corner just in his maturity level and the way he handles himself off the field, gaining weight, lifting weights, doing all the things necessary to have the discipline in all areas of his life. I like what I’m seeing, so hopefully he’ll continue to progress, because he can definitely play. He’ll help us, and as he gets bigger, stronger and more experienced, he’s a good football player.
Q. You’ve seen Stephen Johnson kind of grow personally since being thrown in this situation?
MARK STOOPS: I think you see a guy, you see him grow, you all know his story, you know how solid of a human being he is but you see him maybe stepping outside of his shell more and be so willing to share his story and talk to so many different groups. I can’t tell you how many people he’s affected and in different organizations and different groups he’s gone and spoken with and how impressed people are to him. And I think that’s one area that he’s really changed and you see him really comfortable in that role and maturing.
Q. Is it fair to physically expect him as a freshman to help out on the offensive line are they ready for that?
MARK STOOPS: I don’t know. It’s hard to say right now. It really is. We’ll see how practice goes and we’ll be sitting in here in two or three weeks and I’ll have a better update on who can help us and who can’t. We have some bodies I like working with.
Q. I know you couldn’t care less about the preseason polls, but any work to change the culture of Kentucky football? Do you think there will come a point where that does kind of matter about how your program is perceived and in preseason it isn’t automatically slated to finish fifth or sixth?
MARK STOOPS: I think that’s fair. I think if I was sitting in here and y’all were saying, you’re picked first, I would welcome that. Good. But, again, I would say the message would be the same. It matters when? At the end of the year, right? It really does. So I know we’re a better football team. I don’t know -- I really haven’t looked, I heard you guys comment on it, but I know we have improved.
Q. Is there one guy that pops out at you from the end of last season to now that’s made the biggest jump that may surprise a lot of people?
MARK STOOPS: I don’t know. I think I’ll have a better — I could answer that better maybe after a couple practices. So we’re not allowed to see them with a ball in the summer. Physically I see guys and the work they have put in, but I can’t say any one person right now.
Q. What have you seen from your veteran wide receivers who have battled some inconsistency but now so many are seniors.
MARK STOOPS: Well, I have high expectations for those guys. Let’s just, I think that we all are at the point where let’s just go do that, let’s go work on it, let’s go play, let’s not talk about it and worry about all that, let’s just go play football and get better. I think they’re comfortable that way and, again, they’re no different than all of us. I don’t want to single any one group out, I mean they’re just like all of us they need to get more consistent. Because they have done some good things, but we need more consistency.
Q. Did you have specific conversations with Blake Bone during the spring about what you wanted to see from him?
MARK STOOPS: Yes. Oh, yeah.
Q. What specific things?
MARK STOOPS: It was, it was, I drew a line in the sand. And I’m proud to say that he has responded very well.
Q. You talked earlier about false confidence versus real confidence. The entire coaching staff seems to have a sense of real confidence this year. I’m sure you’re better, but so is everybody else. What single most important factor would you say in your mind should give Big Blue Nation a sense of real confidence this year?
MARK STOOPS: It’s general, you hear me talk about it all the time, but it’s building, it’s development. Things are not done overnight. I said that from day one, I say it now. It gets boring to hear, but that’s why, year four, that’s why we go through what we go through, because people, they think it’s a long time but it’s really not. To the fans and to media and to everybody that listens to my message, it gets old. So I get it. I’m not angry with anybody, it just does. But for us, it’s about what? Just doing our job. It’s continue to do what we do. And that’s build, select and develop. I mean we do that daily all day. And we’re trying our best to develop these guys in all areas of their life, we’re trying our best to recruit the very best football players we can, and we’re trying our best to have everybody have a winning attitude and a winning culture and stay the course. And I’ve said it from day one and I’ll say it now, we need everybody. This isn’t just about me or the quarterback or any one position, it’s about all of us.