Jen Smith on UK Football

Everything Mark Stoops had to say about QBs, attendance, illnesses and injury

Everything Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops had to say during his news conference Monday previewing Saturday’s season-opening football game against Central Michigan:

“Excited to get going. The team has worked exceptionally hard. As you guys know, you heard about Landon’s injury last Friday. Very disappointed for Landon. It was a non-contact injury. They were sitting there, actually, he was just working with o-linemen, so non-contact, o-lineman on o-lineman, working just fit, hands, basic things. Had a weird, I don’t know if he put his foot in a divot, got hit awkwardly and got an injury. Really disappointed for Landon and for our football team. Two years in a row, to lose you starting left tackle, disappointing. As you guys know, we talk about depth and I’m pleased that we have some guys to steps up and replace him, but it’s hard to take away that experience and, again, for the young man and how hard he’s worked and what a great leader he is. He’s going to be missed and, again, just like last year, it just hurts your overall depth. You go from feeling pretty darn good about nine, 10 guys, to just taking that one spot away and having to move some of the tackles around and Darian was looking so great at guard and we’ll put him back at tackle. But the first options at left will be with Naasir and with E.J. So we’ll take a look at those two guys to replace Landon at left tackle. That was a disappointing injury so late in camp.

“Also wanted to give you an update on Josh Paschal. Josh is getting treatment. He has a meeting this week with his treatment team and he’s out indefinitely until we tell you otherwise. Also with coach (John) Schlarman, coach Schlarman is dealing with some very serious medical issues as you know. We talked about that before. At this point John has gone through two rounds of chemotherapy and is handling things with a very strong attitude and strong mindset and is getting the very best treatment he can and again just continue to pray for him. Our thoughts and prayers are with John and his family. But he’s definitely battling a very serious illness and to John’s credit, he’s been at work every day. He hasn’t missed. Matter of fact, just walking over here just now, saw John walking out of the building with one of our other coaches to go for a little walk and get some exercise and last Friday he had chemotherapy all morning and he was at practice in the afternoon. So, he’s been a warrior with this and, again, we’re just thinking and praying for him and his family.

“Also, other big news that y’all have been waiting for is the starting quarterback position. Terry Wilson will open up game one as the starter. He’s won the quarterback battle. It has been an on-going battle, as you know. I have great respect for all of our quarterbacks. I feel like we have a great quarterback room. With the other quarterbacks, with Gunnar and Danny in particular, they’ve put up a great fight and they’ve done a lot of things in a lot of ways to win the job as well. Ultimately with all the things that we looked at we decided on Terry, and we’re excited about Terry and what he’s going to do this week. I’d like to thank all those guys and those guys have been unbelievable teammates and unbelievable competitors, so that’s where it stands right now.

On why Terry Wilson: “I don’t really want to get into all the specifics of what we looked at, you know, because more than anything I don’t want to look at the negatives of the other guys because I have a lot of respect for our players and what they’ve done. But there’s a lot of things that we look at. We look at targets, accuracy, decision making, yards, leadership. There’s many things we look at, and we’re very excited about Terry. Again, we have a lot of confidence in the other guys at well.”

On if both QBs play: “I don’t know. I don’t know how that’s going to play out. I cannot say that right now or today. Those players understand that. I’d like both guys to play. I think both guys have earned the right to get the opportunity to play, but you understand and I understand and they understand that sometimes that’s not a possibility. So we’ll see. I’ve also been very loyal to the starting quarterbacks here. They have not been on a short leash, and we’ve been very supportive of that until it gets to a point where we absolutely have to make a change or take another look. So I want to be loyal to the starting quarterback and give him every opportunity and not have him looking over his shoulder as well.”

On any freshmen that will exceed threshold set by new redshirt rules: “Yeah, guys — I knew I was going to get that question here. A couple guys. You know with the kickers, Miles (Butler) is going to start at kicker. And Chance Poore is a guy that I want to keep ready at all times as well. And travel, because with this new rule, he has a very strong leg. So should we need a game-winner, and possibly even to end a half, a long kick. We could use Chance at that point, and he could keep on working because he’s looked impressive during camp as well with all field goals and PATs.

“But DeAndre Square and Chris Oats will play. Possibly Marquan McCall, we’ll see about him. Marquan will be one of those guys that we just have ready. Depending on injuries, we’ll see or see how he progresses, as well. So not positive about him. Offensively, Akeem Hayes and Allen Dailey will play. And then a couple guys that we’ll keep warm in that same boat are Keaton Upshaw and Brendan Bates. They are both guys that we’ll develop and keep up. And there’s other guys as well. So we’ll see what happens with injuries and you know, week to week, it’s nice when we talk about managing to keep guys active and if we can get them in certain games, we will.”

On what point he finalized quarterback decision and if Landon Young’s injury had an impact: “No. No it didn’t. We made the decision over the weekend. I brought both quarterbacks in Friday after practice and I had a face to face with them and just told them what I was thinking and when I was going to make that decision. Just so they understood where they were at. And I told them I would call them over the weekend and bring them back to the office and tell them face to face. So we made that decision over the weekend. And I think I already mentioned also with the freshmen Darian Kinnard will play as well. He had been moving some at guard and now moving him to right tackle. It will give us some more options at tackle.”

On Terry’s impact on the offense: Well I think that’s yet to be seen. I think we all know Terry is a very athletic guy. And I told those guys, now it’s about ‘Let’s see how we play.’ We have to go in games and play very well and make good decisions. And a lot of times that just instinctual. You know, you watch football and you start to see guys pull it down and run, and not get too antsy. Play within the offense but then in the right moments pulling it down, scrambling to buy time to throw the ball, scrambling to make yards. He’s a dynamic guy but we haven’t seen him full go because he has not been live since he’s been here. So, kind of interested to see how the year goes, myself. See what he can kick that thing out to and how fast he can run when it’s in the open field. Because he’s definitely an explosive guy. But it’s not about that. It wasn’t about just the legs. That’s always a piece of it but it’s about operating within the offense and you’ve heard me talk for a year now about being improved and trying to build on the passing game, as well.”

On if there’s any chance Gunnar plays against CMU: “I think I mentioned that. Just that we’ll see. I can’t, I’m not going to sit here and say that and then it doesn’t work out and you question, and you question him. It’s not fair to him. He’s gone through a long battle. We’ll see. I think if we watch enough football, at some point in time he’s going to get his opportunity. And when he does, what he does with it is up to him. You know we’ve gone through a lot of things. You can look at the last time we went through a quarterback battle. I think it was the second game that Stephen Johnson went in after Drew (Barker) got hurt and really never gave the job back the rest of his time. So you don’t know how these things are going to play out and I just encourage all of our players to keep on having a great team attitude. They’re unbelievable kids. The quarterback room right now is incredible. All the way down to Walker, Walker Wood’s an incredible young man and he’s excited to get an opportunity. He’s on the scout team right now because we are so deep at that position. But it’s good for him because he’s over there throwing the ball and getting a bunch of work done to get better. I’m impressed with all those guys and I’d like to see them continue having that positive attitude.”

On having a coach deal with something like this: “A hundred percent. His family and his health is absolutely first and foremost. And he knows that. We’ve had conversations along the way, every step of the way. Just last night we talked about his plan, his treatment plan during the year. I’m probably more cautious than he wants to be because I think he wants to live a normal life and fortunately for him, he’s been responding very well to the medicine and you don’t know how that’s going to go. That’s what I do talk to him about because our season, it beats you down. We’re in here seven days a week all day and night and I don’t want that to affect his health. You do have to manage that. He knows that. He has great comfort in knowing that there are people here who can pick up the slack. There may be times — and I talked to him about that last night when I forced him to go home and get a little bit of a rest, some sleep. But we’ll see. Right now, he’s been very strong and very fortunate to the way his body’s responding to the medicine. And like I said, he really hasn’t missed a beat.”

On if they’ve changed Schlarman’s recruiting load: “No.”

On if there’s any way to know if the QBs have the intangibles that Stephen Johnson had: “I believe so. I think you see a lot of things during the practices and all the time through the summer and you see characteristics that all of our quarterbacks have. They have great leadership characteristics. And our players respect them. They’ve done things right. But as far as the intangibles and the decision-making in games, I think you have to see that in games. And I’ve said that to them all along. They understand that as well. And Stephen is a great example of that because maybe not all the time at practice he looked like the best quarterback, but when he went in the games, he gave us an opportunity to win games and he was a winner and I expect these guys to be the same.”

On if it’s a disadvantage or advantage to name a QB this close to first game: “It is what it is. Whether it’s an advantage or disadvantage, I really don’t spend much time dwelling on that to be honest with you, just very matter of fact with it. So we’ve done the best we can and I’ve got confidence in the work these guys have gotten done and I think it’s in the players’ best interest to make sure you’ve done your due diligence and really think it through because these kids have put a lot into this. It also affects a bunch of people, not just them.”

On E.J. Price update after hand issue: “Well, you guys were at the open practice and he was banged up, so that’s why he wasn’t out there.” (Interjects: But that’s not an ongoing, lingering thing?) “No. Not right now. He, at camp, like a lot of players, have had a few nagging injuries here and there, but he should be full go this week.”

On where are Watkins and Price in development and if they’re ready to be starting left tackles: “Yeah, I feel good. It’s hard to replace experience, you know that. Landon’s got a bunch of snaps, but I’m confident in their ability and I’m confident in the work that they’ve done, and also it’s nice that we have a solid, experienced group around them. We’ll move on.”

On what unknowns are known and what he’s looking to see clarified this week: “I can’t answer that. It’s an unknown because you don’t know what’s going to happen. If I knew something about it, I’d try to head it off. I do appreciate your effort, though. You always do a good job of trying to get me.”

On attendance situation and tickets sold: “Very, very, like always, I’m very, super appreciative of the people that are coming because we need them and we need the atmosphere and encourage all folks that we need all hands on deck because it makes a difference. It’s not just some silly cliché, but it takes all of us all the time. We need a bunch of people to build this program the way we want it to be. So just take a look around at the Southeastern Conference and take a look at the venues we step into. It helps. It helps with recruiting; it helps with a lot of things, so we need some people there and I appreciate the people that are coming because I also realize that it takes a lot. I understand the complaints and it’s expensive and it takes a lot and it’s hard to park. There’s a lot of things, so I greatly appreciate it. When you’re going to a football game, you better be vested because it’s a full day. There’s a lot to do and I greatly appreciate the support.”

On Central Michigan and challenges: “You know, they finished second in their division in the MAC. They’re winning a bunch of games in the MAC and those are good teams. We’ve been watching them and heck, just their crossovers and who we played last year and we watch them on film and they’re good-coached teams. They beat, what, two Power Five teams in the last two years? That’s not a big deal to them. Believe me. They went up to Kansas last year and put a beating on Kansas. They’re used to playing Power 5s. They’re used to playing very good football teams. They’re a winning program. I believe they won eight last year, 8-5 last year. They’re a good football team that’s well coached. That’s probably what stands out to me as you watch them and watch a lot of MACs. They do a very good job of not beating themselves and kind of sticking to what they do and play it well.”

On longevity as a coach in the SEC: “It’s the conference. I think we know the conference is what it is. Might as well be the AFC East. There’s nobody — I can promise you there’s a bunch of people in athletic departments, coaches, administrators, people that aren’t looking to go back. Invest and put an awful lot into this league. I think that’s a reflection of that.”

On John Schlarman’s method of coaching that allows him to connect with players: “I think John -- he’s very bright. But I think you all know him personally and his demeanor and his relationship with players, it’s really hard not to like John. I think that’s real important, in particular with the O-line group. I think the O-line in a lot of ways a lot of times kinda sets the tone for your football team. Those are big guys and there’s a bunch of them. Really nobody messes with the O-line. But I think John has a great mentality. He’s bright. I think the way he teaches, they understand it. He’s very demanding but he can do it in his own way and there’s a great comfort with that. And he’s been very successful. He’s been very good. We have a nickname for him on our staff and he’s ‘The Great American.’ But he’s just a great guy. He’s a great person and I think the players see that and respect that as well. That goes back years.”

On how the offensive line is dealing with the Landon Young news and Schlarman’s health: “The group is a bunch of guys that are good leaders. They’re an experienced group. That’s the nice thing. Again, I think that room is very much player led. We all know John is exceptional and I’ve gone in there and talked to them a bit. But we have kept the group updated. What the plan is, what John is going through. They’ve been the first to know a lot of these things. Just tried to be up front and honest with them. John has a great relationship with them so I think they can certainly be inspired by the way John is handling this and the way he’s going about his business. How can you be a player out there feeling sorry for yourself when you have a man that’s just gone through five, six hours of chemo and is sitting out there on the practice field coaching the same way he does every day. That’s pretty inspirational to me, and I would assume to the players as well.”

On an updated prognosis on Josh Paschal: “I really can’t. He’s meeting this week with his treatment team. He’s out indefinitely. I’ll update you if I have more information on that.”

On if he believes in the cliché of “win one for the Gipper”: “No, I really don’t. I don’t. I mean, here’s the deal: our players love Coach Schlarman and Josh. I could tell you this, going back to the first meetings and telling these guys and talking through that, you could definitely hear a pin drop. They definitely want to rally around these guys and they do. But that’s a cliche thing that I’ll let our football team do what they do. I try not to get too much into that, but I promise you there’s a bunch of love for those guys. We are going to recognize them a bit this season because we’re thinking about them.”

On how much Paschal is around the team: “He’s around a bunch. Getting in mostly in the training room, getting his treatment. He’s been dealing with the surgeries. The most recent one was a skin graft. It wasn’t as invasive as the previous one. Helps heal the bottom of the foot. He’s kind of getting through all that. He’ll be more excited when he can be up moving and getting around. They’re telling him as soon as that heals up he can get in there and lift weights and things like that. I know he’s excited about that.”

On if Miles Butler will handle kickoffs: “Actually, Grant (McKinniss) may do the kickoffs. Grant has done a really nice job with kickoffs. He’s got a strong leg.”

On if success of walk-ons like Butler and David Bouvier elevates walk-on program: “Yeah, absolutely. I think it does. We’ve been pleased. I don’t have all those numbers directly in front of me -- Tony will probably scratch those up somewhere some time here -- but I am proud that we’ve had quite a few guys that have been walk-ons and earned scholarships and contributed to the football team.”

On Central Michigan’s QB playing WR last year: “Well, he’s an athlete. He’s a dual guy. He’s played both. He also played quarterback. I think that’s one of those situations where they had a very good quarterback a year ago and had some experience – very, very talented guy. And when he was a backup they just felt like he was too athletic to not play him at all. Try to give them another look, but there’s also examples of him playing quarterback last year. He’s a dual-threat guy, big kid. 6-foot-7, so he’s a big guy.”

On Central Michigan’s RB: “He’s a big-time player. He really is. The running back, No. 5, very, very good football player, Jonathan Ward. He’s dynamic. He’ll play football for a long time. He’s got great vision, great patience, he’s strong. He’s explosive. He’s a very good football player.”

On Boogie Watson: “I feel good about Boogie. Boogie is a guy with very good instincts. He’s explosive, a good rusher. Also good on his feet. He’s really good at that spot. It’s really a more natural spot for him to play Sam. So, we’ll see. Put Josh back to Jack, but Jack is probably a more natural spot for Josh as well.”

On needing leaders to convey challenge of Central Michigan: “Absolutely, 100 percent. Our players know that. I could beat them over the head with words this afternoon at our Monday meeting, but it does help to have to come from them. And they have to have the sense of urgency and importance to prepare to play that way. I totally expect that. Just like all scenarios, just like the scenario I’m going to deal with next Monday (against Florida), the scenario I deal with now, it’s always year to year. This is this year’s football team, and we always do learn from our history, learn from good things, bad things that we’ve done, we’re always going to be in an environment to learn so that will be talked about, but this is a new year, this is a new football team. So, that’s what my message will be.”

On if he has to be cautious with Jordan Jones after long layoff: “Yeah, it’s time to go now. I know Jordan wants that. He’s just had a few nagging, frustrating things. Not only the shoulder, but then some other issues popping up on him. From what I’ve seen in the past three, four, five days, I expect him to be full tilt this week, but I do have to be somewhat cautious of reps in the first game. We do have to have those young guys ready to go.”

On how he’s dealing with illnesses personally: “I’m doing fine, but it absolutely does because I care about everybody in our program. I think that anybody that personally knows me I think understands that. I do feel very good about my relationships with these people that you’re talking about that are going through issues, but that’s part of this job. You’re going to deal with a lot of good things, a lot of bad things. I think it’s about leading this team and being very steady like I always try to be. I personally am doing great and am very excited about this year, but of course the personal piece, again, just saying prayers for these guys.”

On if any coaches in particular are helping on the OL: “Yeah, all of our guys are kind of all hands on deck with our offensive staff. We all do understand that there could be a situation where he may need time away. So, we’re dealing with it day to day, but Coach Gran obviously being the offensive coordinator and running backs coach is in on every single protection and every bit of the run game. So that helps as far as everybody being on the same page.”