Jen Smith on UK Football

Q&A: Mark Stoops discusses progress in spring, plans for Blue-White game

Mark Stoops: Our best spring

Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops says this set of spring drills, his fourth at UK, has been the best.
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Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops says this set of spring drills, his fourth at UK, has been the best.

MARK STOOPS

“It was good to wrap up our last big, physical practice of the spring. We’ll have a light practice – we’ll have to go in helmets – tomorrow and get ready for the spring game on Saturday. But we’ve had a good two days of work, Tuesday and Thursday. We needed to. I wasn’t real pleased last Saturday, like I mentioned. We came back and had two good practices, so we’ll see if we can put the finishing touches on it here Friday and look forward to a great day, great atmosphere and great scrimmage on Saturday.”

On the scrimmage format: “I’m going to have a blue team and a white team. That’s it. (Laughter) We’re going to go with the one offense and one defense in blue, then it’ll be everybody else (on white). There will be a few guys sprinkled into blue just to give us a few substitutions.”

On how the team is health-wise heading into the spring game: “We’re decent. The nice thing is there’s been nothing major this spring. I think everybody will be back full-tilt at some point this summer. We’re still a little behind heading into spring because we had some guys with major surgery who have maybe been out there in the red getting some work that will not be permitted to play in the scrimmage. And we’re getting a few things down the stretch here, a hamstring here and there, a few injuries, a few head injuries. So we’ll be down, we’ll be a little thin, but hopefully we’ll have enough guys to put a good product out there and have a nice scrimmage and have some fun. You know, spring games, that’s the bad thing about spring games in general: Everybody’s all excited about them, but when you split up two teams, you get thin real quick. So I think we’ll have enough to have a good scrimmage and show everybody the improvement we’ve made.”

On an ambulance showing up to Tuesday’s practice: “Yeah, we had an injury Tuesday. That’s why I didn’t come in and visit with y’all. I had to go the hospital with one of our players. Fortunately everything checked out and we expect him to be back at some point this summer. He will not play in the spring game. But there was an injury and that’s all I really want to comment on it. But he will be OK. It was Mike. I think y’all know it was Mike Edwards. He will be fine. We had to get him checked out. He got released from the hospital later Tuesday night.”

On if he’s pleased with Drew Barker’s progress: “I am. I thought he’s really done some good things. Even Saturday, I think I mentioned to y’all that I really felt like the defense outplayed the offense for the most part last Saturday, but Drew came back and made some really tight, critical throws in some situational work. In the two-minute drill, he made a really great throw and did some good things. Then he came back Tuesday and Thursday and I thought they were very efficient today.”

On what he’s looking for Saturday: “I want the routine plays to be routine. When they’re open and we’re throwing and catching the ball, I want good, crisp throws, good catches, get up field and get some yards. Same thing with the defense: good tackles, position on the football. I don’t want us out-leveraged. I want us looking like a good football team. There’s some inexperience out there and it’s always nice to see them in a game situation. We can’t get enough of those snaps where we’re out there in front of a crowd with the runs and play-actions and boots – put it all together and see guys in good position. I want to see good, competitive plays. I want to see guys having success because they made good plays, not from one side or the other being inept.”

On if he accomplished what he wanted to with the D this spring: “We’re better. We’ve got a lot of work to do. As we put these guys in live situations, you see that inexperience come out at times, and that’s why we have done a bit more of that this spring and we need to continue to do that. We need to have a great summer and next fall camp we’ll amp things up and have some more live situations. We have a long time until we play, but we have no time to waste and no opportunities to waste. I feel like we’ve improved, but we have a ways to go as well.”

On if this is his best spring at UK: “Yeah, definitely. I definitely feel so. I feel like we’ve been much more consistent. We have grinded these guys pretty good since they’ve been back. We needed that. We had to do that. Going back to last season, as they went home for their break and they came back, they came right in and they hit the ground running in the weight room. As I’ve said many times, we needed to get stronger, and we’ve done that. We had a good winter, we’ve worked longer and harder in the winter, and our spring practices have been longer. And the guys focused. They’ve been able to handle it more, and that’s what I appreciate about them.

“As I mentioned, last Saturday maybe was the one day I walked off the field maybe a little disappointed, and that’s a good thing, because it does get long. We’ve been out here practicing with these guys for six weeks now and grinding them, if you count the break. Because we go Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, that stretches it out, but we need that. We need that time in the weight room, we need that time in the meeting rooms in between practices so we can really take our time and teach and push these guys. So for that reason, I feel like we’ve gotten a lot more work done.”

On what he expects from the players on their own in the offseason: “We can’t miss a beat, and I feel like we’re much more mature that way. We’ve grown and have some maturity and guys have been around here and know what’s expected of them. Guys will be here working hard all summer. Our whole team will be back early June, I want to say June 6, and the majority of our guys will be here through the May break as well. They need to do a lot of work on their own. They have a good fix on the offense and the defense, and we need to get a lot of work done.”

On what Matt Elam learned in taking over as starter late last season and how it’s carrying over: “I think Matt knows when he’s counted on to be ‘the guy,’ you’ve got to be in shape to play a bunch of snaps and you’ve gotta play at a high level. We’re counting on him to be the guy and Matt has made progress in certain areas. He’s certainly strong in the run game; we need to get him in shape where he can handle a bunch of plays and not sub as much. So we’ll see. He’s closer. He’s got some work to do.”

On if he sees more confidence in the receivers this spring: “I have. I definitely feel like we’re growing. And you know, we should. These guys have been around here a long time now; a lot of those receivers have been here. And some guys, even if it’s just a year, they’ve got a lot of snaps under their belt. You’re never going to talk your way into having confidence. I’m not into the false confidence and jumping around and hoopla when you’re not doing it. You get confidence by a lot of hard work and the details. I feel like with Coach Gran and Lamar and all the offensive coaches, we were more efficient today than we’ve been in a long time. It was a lot of little things. So if they continue to work that way, then they’ll be more confident, because they should be, because they put the time in.”

On Alvonte Bell ready for a leap: “He needs to. Alvonte needed the redshirt a year ago. He’s still a guy that we’re working hard on to get in shape and mentally and physically be able to handle this. He’s a guy that’s very talented, that can give us some of that pass rush that we’re looking for, can give us that impact guy on the edge. He’s getting better. He needs to have a great summer and a great fall camp, but by the time we play Game 1, yes, I expect him to be a guy that can help us.”

On Boom staying engaged while not practicing: “Yeah, Boom’s done a good job. He’s done what he could. He wanted to be out there. He was out there quite a bit with the red on. And he’s doing his rehab and doing better academically. So he’s gotta control the things he can control right now.”

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