Jen Smith on UK Football

Q&A: Cats coordinators discuss details, fine tuning in spring practice

EDDIE GRAN

On what he’s stressing to team toward end of spring: “Everything is in, now we’ve got to start honing in on — I heard D.J. (Eliot) — fundamentals and technique. We’ve got to get better at what we do, first steps, finishing, becoming tougher, executing on every single play. That’s what we’re looking for now. We’re done installing. Put just a couple more things in today that we needed to do, some things that are going to help our defense and to see if we could do it. So now it’s about let’s hone in: all the red zone’s in; all the third down’s in, and so now let’s put it together. Let’s start being more consistent from here until we end the spring game.”

On Jojo Kemp: “I think he started out really well the first couple of weeks and then he got hurt, so that kind of -- what I liked about it, in that scrimmage where he got hurt, he jumped right back in there. He popped or tweaked his hamstring a little bit and we went outside with him and he said, ‘Hey, coach, just run me inside. I’m good to go. Just run me inside.’ He showed a little toughness. He came back in, he’s fighting through it in practice. Today he looked healthier, like he was the first week. So hopefully we’ll get something out of him this Saturday. That’s one of our guys that brings the leadership to our offense. He’s a senior, brings a lot of energy, he really does. He’s laughing, having a good time and sometimes I’ve got to pull him in a little bit, let him know when it’s time to have fun and not to have fun, but you like that. It’s better to say whoa, than giddy-up.”

On what he’s seeing from Drew Barker: “Today, I thought Drew made some steps. I think he’s looking more comfortable in the pocket. We get a wide rush. He’s stepping up; he’s not panicking. I saw him hit a couple check downs today in the red zone, which was really good. It’s us or nobody down there. So I saw some really good things. I thought he took a step up today.”

On Barker’s potential: “I think they all have great potential, that’s just the way I go about it, but I think he’s got a chance to be a really good quarterback in this league. I really do, because he wants to be great. He’s really locked into what we’re doing. He’s trying to be a sponge; he’s trying to do everything right. It’s frustrating for him when he doesn’t. But that’s what you want your quarterback to do and I think he’s being a leader at the same time.”

On just missing experience: “Yeah, I think so. He didn’t play much last year. So I think when you see him now and you see him in a couple years, you’re going to see a really, really good quarterback, a guy that can lead this team. So he’s getting pushed by Stephen (Johnson), which is a great thing. And Stephen’s made some strides, too. It’s really good to see that those guys are competing.”

On if he is a coach who ultimately wants a starter in place before summer for leadership, organization purposes: “You know, that’s the good part about it is Coach Stoops gets to make those decisions. I want competition. I really do, so we’ll let coach make that decision and we’ll see as we go. If there’s a huge step, then you name a guy. If there’s not, then you let them compete. I think that’s where we’ll go with that one.”

On Barker’s leadership skills: “He’s not panicking; he’s encouraging. He’s a guy that’s been even keeled, consistent. They know he’s working at it. They know what he’s doing on and off the field and he’s doing everything right as a quarterback should. I think Stephen is bringing that to the table, too. I love his demeanor out there. It’s never too high, never too low. That’s what you want from your leader.”

On if he can tell that George Asfao-Adjei got something out of playing his true freshman season: “There’s no question. When you get freshmen and they get the opportunity — and I heard (Eliot) taking about (Derrick) Baity and how we’ve really got to hone in on his technique and doing all the little things — then he gets a new offense. So then you have to step back and you have to go forward. I think moving from inside to guard was huge. I think he can be somebody that can be really, really good for us at that position. I think it will help George, too. Then later on down the road, it might help him that he played some tackle. So I think that’s good for him, too, in the future.”

On offensive line feeling like it has something prove: “I like our two deep especially right now. I think they’re really athletic. They’re doing a good job. I hope they all have something to prove, so that’s good. We got to become more physical. We can’t be going sideways at the line of scrimmage. We got to create a new line of scrimmage. Sometimes we don’t. We’ve gotten better. We’ve run the ball well. I’m excited about it. I’m pleased about it, but we’re not anywhere near where we need to be. I think it’s a smart group. I think they’re football smart. There’s not a lot of missed assignments, and with a new offense and what we’re doing and what we’ve thrown at them, it’s really exciting to see. I really like the way those guys go into the film room, and coach Schlarman has done a really good job with ‘em. There’s just not a lot of missed assignments and that’s pretty good for your first time installing.”

On having flexibility in the running back group:Yeah, you do. Hopefully with tempo offense, you run a lot of plays and you can use a lot of backs. If somebody’s got the hot hand you go with it, but if you can get 80 plays in a game — and I don’t know if you can, that would be fantastic. There’s not anybody that can play like that, but you do have some change ups. You’ve got Jojo and Mikel that are kind of pounders and they go, and then you’ve got Boom and you’ve got Sihiem that are more slashers. I think you do. You have a change up there and you’ve got to be able to call accordingly.”

On how it helps to have Asafo-Adjei at guard:I think just because of the space part of it in there, when you’re in guard and you get help from that center and tackle. I think he’s better in that little smaller box than he is out on the edge. Those are tough. Not that George isn’t a big guy, but you like maybe the longer arms, taller guys out there at the tackle position. I just think he feels more comfortable inside.”

On if Asafo-Adjei’s strength helps inside:Oh yeah. He’s nasty, his punch. That’s where you want to move it. You want the 300-, 320-pounder guys inside. You want the longer guys outside. That’s what you would really like in terms of what you’re gonna be facing in this league.”

On if O-Lineman pulling is a facet of this offense: “Absolutely. We’re gonna have zone schemes, we’re gonna have gap schemes and we did some pull schemes again, some gap stuff today that we tried to just see where we are, because we are athletic there. We wanted to see another scheme to see if we can get two at a time pulling. So that’ll be fun to watch on film today to see how that went. And it’s great to go against this defense, to be in an odd front, a 3-4 team, because we’re gonna play so many teams in our conference that are going to be running a 3-4. It just helps us so much to be able to start like this and do this.”

On why pulling is advantageous in this offense: “Well, it depends on what they’re doing. Pulling and the gap schemes are for penetrating defenses. You want to gap and you want to pull, get your guys out in space. And then when you got a movement defense, then you want to zone block because it’s hard to gap and man when guys are moving. So when people are moving then we want to zone because now we’re just zoning gaps. So we’ve got to do a good job understanding, listening on the sideline, seeing what’s going on from the box. So you got to have both, though. And when they do move and you’ve got a gap scheme, you got to be able to block it. We weren’t great at that last year and we’ve gotten better. I think right now, with some of the movement we’ve seen, we’ve been able to block some things that we’ve checked before in the past and we’re not doing that right now. Our guys are seeing it and that’s huge, because then we can play faster and we don’t have to check. Because a lot of time, you check, they check. For us, if we can develop and we can evolve to that, it can be really good for us.”

On if offense is capable of running at tempo he wants yet: ”No. I don’t think so. But what I was excited about today, I thought we played pretty fast in the two-minute drill today. We had our first situation. We’ve done third down, we’ve done red zone, which are just crucial. Those are critical for offenses and defenses. And then we had a two-minute situation today and the ones went down and we were able to go down and we scored. I thought they ran it well. They were getting up to the line, they were going quick and you can see how that affects the pass rush if you’re playing fast because then you eliminate it. And you got to throw and catch. You throw and catch and you keep going, then those guys get tired.

“The second group, not so good. We got backed up, we dropped a ball on first down. Now you’re second and 10. Then we got a sack. Now you’re in bad shape and now you’re hoping and praying. Then coach Eliot blitzed and it was bad. (Laughter) That’s football, though. And like coach Stoops said at the end, they’ve got to understand, you can play poorly in a game and stay in a game if you don’t turn it over and you don’t – you just let your defense stay in it, play great special teams, like coach said, then all of a sudden, you’ve got a drive to win the game and situationally you do a great job. In two-minute, you convert a couple third downs. You go down and score, you win the game, you think you’re heroes and you played like crud. But that’s football. That’s what they’ve got to understand about situational football. It’s so important. When you get into the red zone you’ve got to flip a switch. Everything becomes smaller, the throws have got to be better, the catches have got to be contested, you’ve got to be physical. More guys in the box. You’re running back has got to run guys over. So, it all changes. It’s exciting to see. They’re starting to get it. We’re not there, we’re not even close, but I do like the progress. I really do.”

On if it’s fair to expect them to play at the tempo he wants by the fall: “Yes. I would say by the fall. We’ve got all summer. Now they know it. If you think about all summer as they install it themselves when they’re out there and they’re going. Now it’s not going to be their thinking. Now they’re going to be able to line up faster, they’re going to be able to play faster, so the play should come faster. The signals, they’ll get those fast. Everything should be faster, and if it’s not then we aren’t doing a very good job coaching.”

On if it helps they were striving to be an up-tempo offense before he got here: “I think it’s great. When Neal (Brown) first started here they were up tempo, so they understand it. It’s nothing new to them. I think that’s always good when you come in and you do it.”

On how much Tate Leavitt has progressed: “You know, he’s been a little bit inconsistent, kind of up and down. Those guys on the edge, when they’re coming – most of his stuff is not because of athletic ability, which is a good sign. It’s really technique. He’s got to do a little bit better job with his technique and listen to Coach Schlarman. I think if he’ll do that then he’s a guy that can help us, but I’m excited that it’s not his athletic ability. It’s his technique. It’s usually his first step that gets him in trouble. Usually with those tackles, that’s what it is.”

On his philosophy about redshirting or playing freshman offensive lineman: “No. Shoot, if they’re ready to go, let’s go, because you know what? In game six, game eight, they might be able to help us win. Then it’s going to be beneficial to us in year two and year three, a guy that’s got to step in there and go. If they’re physically ready to go, if they’re mentally ready to go — a little bit more for an offensive lineman —but if they can go let’s put them in. There’s no reason not to. I think it’s important. I think it helps your team down the road.”

D.J. ELIOT

“Today, we had a competitive practice, a lot of competitive drills, two-minute situations, red-zone situations, third-down situations, and that’s critical. When you look at winning and losing games, those are sometimes the most important things – winning the situations. And we had very good competition on both sides. I think the defense, that one practice when I thought they lacked energy, has brought the energy every day and enthusiasm. We have a good group of leaders that are getting the guys going for practice every day, and I’m encouraged where we are. We still have a lot to get better at, but I think we’re heading in the right direction and I’m very excited about the effort and enthusiasm the players are bringing to practice.”

On who besides Courtney Love is leading on D: “I think Regie Meant has done a great job as a leader for the D-line. Courtney has stepped up and brought that leadership to the linebackers. Jordan Jones has an unbelievable enthusiastic nature that he brings to the team. In the secondary, we have guys now that have game experience and Derrick Baity, he’s a very enthusiastic player; Chris Westry brings some energy to the game, too. Mike (Edwards) is a very good cover guy and a lot of times he’s just leading by example with his play. So we have a good group of guys that are bringing that energy and passion to practice.”

On what he’s seen from Baity that shows he’s no longer a freshman: “Baity is a guy that last year was a true freshman and was really raw. You know, raw means that they have a lot of athletic ability but they don’t have any technique to go with it. And now he’s brought the technique with it. He’s a guy that has continued to get better every day and we’re seeing maybe our best or at least one of our better technicians in the back end from him.”

On convincing young players that games are just a series of situations: “It’s tough because you have to coach a player in steps. You can’t start in situations on Day 1, otherwise they can’t take on a block, can’t tackle, can’t cover. It’s tough because it’s a process of educating a player, and that’s one of the final steps: I know exactly what to do, I know exactly how to do it, now what is this particular situation? The more veteran players usually understand situations better. The more that you can simulate it in practice, the better your younger players will get at it. And then you can point it out on film, you can coach it in meetings, and now those situations are in their mind when they’re in them.”

On energy now vs. the past: “It’s not more or less than it was last year. It’s more than it was when we started the spring. This is a new group of guys, so when we brought them in this spring, they didn’t – for the first couple practices they had some energy, then we had a couple days where it was really low energy. So with this group of guys, they fell off for a few days and I was very disappointed. They have since picked it up and they have brought it every day. But every year has challenges and this is a new group of guys. Some of these guys don’t have experience at their positions and some of these guys haven’t been put in leadership roles before and they don’t know how to get the rest of the defense to follow them, so we had to teach them. And that was a learning moment early in the spring.”

On guys responding now: “Yes. To that particular situation, yes.”

On his D-line right now: “The defensive line, I think when we started spring, we really harped on fundamentals and they weren’t executing their techniques like I would like. But the last few practices, I’ve seen a lot of good examples of playing technique. I think they’re getting better every day and I’m impressed with their play in the last couple of practices.”

On how his day has changed coaching both the OLBs and ILBs: “First of all, Andy (Buh) did a great job here and I wish him the best. As a coordinator you always want to see your assistant coaches move on to become coordinators. Unfortunately for us, our last two in that job have left to become coordinators. I think that Andy has done an excellent job here. He worked very hard. He came to work every day, and I wish him the best of luck. He’ll do a tremendous job there.

“But in regards to that, I have had to take on that responsibility, and it’s not as big as responsibility or as tough a responsibility as it may be on some coaches because that was my former position. I coached the defensive ends, which had to play outside linebackers in 3-4 schemes at Florida State, so I’m very comfortable with coaching that position. Now time is an issue. How much time can I spend with each player to get them better? So I’ve had to manage that and have some different times set up for meetings for individual players or different positions. I have to have a very good plan in practice for individual.”

On if he’s splitting OLB duties with Jimmy Brumbaugh again, like they did previously: “I’m doing it all this year. When Coach Brumbaugh was here we were pretty multiple, we were a four-down and a 3-4. Now, we’re still multiple, but the majority of our schemes are 3-4. So they’re staying with me.”

On what he’s stressing for the rest of spring: “I always want to leave spring being a fundamental team. I always want to leave spring being able to play our base defense and being able to execute it and execute the techniques that you need to be a good fundamental team. That’s the emphasis toward the end of spring.”

On what he’s seen from Naquez Pringle and how he’s adjusting to the speed of the SEC: “He is. He’s adjusting. He wasn’t on day one, but he is adjusting. Yes.”

On if he confident this group is improving pass rush: “Yes. It’s a vital area. We are emphasizing it. Last year I thought we had some good pressure. We missed a lot of sacks last year. I don’t know if you guys remember. We pressured an extreme amount last year, some games early in the season especially, 75 to 80 percent of the games were pressures. Off of that there were a lot of missed sacks, quarterbacks got out a lot. You know what I mean? Those all equaled pressure, but they didn’t all equal sacks. You know what I mean? So we have to emphasize on finishing and getting the quarterback on the ground. A lot of those missed opportunities last year were the inside backers, they were brought on some pressures, so we have to emphasize on getting the quarterback on the ground in games and not missing on that opportunity.”

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