Jen Smith on UK Football

Q&A: Everything Stoops, Gran, Eliot said after Saturday’s scrimmage

MARK STOOPS

“It was a good first scrimmage. As I mentioned to you a time or two during camp, I feel like we’re off to a good start. We’re by no means – there are so many mistakes that we’ve got to get cleaned up, but I do like where we’re at. I feel like we are physically stronger. I feel like conditioning-wise, I like where we’re at. We pushed them. We had some long drives where we taxed them, forced them to go 12- or 16-play drives, and it’s good to see them in fairly good condition at this point in camp. Again, that’s a testament to what we did in the offseason, through the summer. I feel like we did some good things on both sides of the ball. It’s always a little bit blurry for me. We had so many snaps out there and so many situations, until I get in and watch the tape … You always get aggravated as you get through so many plays and you get a little thin and they start moving the ball on you, it puts a little bad taste in your mouth. But I felt like early on in the scrimmage, we did some good things. Depth needs to continue to be an issue for us defensively, and we’ve got to get that experience. That’s why it’s so important to get out there and play the game and put them in that situation, because we have some guys that haven’t played much in this system. And we need to continue to get out there and get as many game-like situations as we can. We did get quite a few snaps today, and hopefully we’ll learn a bunch from this.”

On giving Charles Walker a scholarship: “It was very gratifying as a head coach to do that, to give it to a young man that’s so deserving. You saw the reaction: the whole team was just blown away, because they love the kid. How can you not? He really exemplifies everything you want in a player. He has a great attitude, as you heard me talk about. He just has a smile on his face, has a competitive attitude, but he’s also contagious. He’s fun to be around and does everything you ask him to do; he does it the best he can. That’s why he’s such a good player, in particular on special teams, but the same with offense. Well-deserved. I think the team felt good about it. I certainly did. It was a long-time coming and I was glad to be able to do that for him.”

On special teams: “We still need a lot of work to do there. Austin is healthy, for the most part. He kicked about six or seven today. Even if we scored a touchdown, I backed him up and put him in some situations where we stretched him out a little bit – and he missed a couple that’s unlike him. But he’s healthy and hitting the ball; when he hits it good, you can hear the sound off his foot and he’s hitting it with some pop. That’s a big key for us with him being healthy. The punters, we’ve got to continue to look at and work, so we did. We worked punt and kickoff return today and had some good reps at it.”

On if he knows who the return guys are yet: “No, we’re still looking at quite a few guys there. Juice will be back there, Jeff (Badet) will be back there, Timmons, Charles (Walker). We’re looking at several guys. Sihiem on kickoffs.”

On if anyone has seized Regie Meant’s former spot at DT: “Today will be a big indicator. Have to look in there today and see. That’s where the technique and effort and all that inside, we’ll get in there and dissect that film all this afternoon and see who really stepped up.”

On how big a scrimmage is to see which freshmen can play: “It is, and just from the naked eye out there – again, I want to watch the film, but you could see those guys need some reps. The inexperience definitely pops up and the physicalitiy, and I guess that’s a good sign because finally the rest of our team looks a little bit better, so when you see those freshmen in there, just physically, it’s hard matchup for them still. I thought the running backs stand out, though, physically. They’re good players and ready to go.”

On how the linebackers played: “Just OK. I wasn’t real pleased. We need some work. We definitely do. So we’ve got to get some things cleaned up.”

On how many RBs they can play: “I don’t know. We’ll see. Mikel got a pretty good ankle injury today. Other injury notes Blake Bone missed today and yesterday. He’s got a slight hamstring, nothing major, should be back out there Monday or Tuesday. We did get a significant injury that I’m sorry to say. Yesterday in practice with Darius West. Looks like it will be season ending, so that’s a tough blow for him. He’s been through injuries before. It’s not the same leg. It’s not the same injury that he had before. He’s worked extremely hard to put him in position. We had really good battles going inside there at safety and he was sort of competing and running with the ones ever since the end of spring. He’s been the starter, but in competition still, but he’s worked really hard. I’m sorry for him, but he will miss the season.”

On injury: “It’s a knee injury, a patella tendon.”

On if that opens it up for Marcus Walker: “He has an opportunity. He still needs to work a little bit more. He is getting better. I’ve seen him make a big jump about the last four, five, six days, four, five six practices, I’ve seen him make an improvement.”

On if it was West and McClain fighting for starting safety spot: “McClain and Marcus McWilson. Blake we have the flexibility obviously there to play him at nickel or safety depending on what package we’re in and what DBs we’re playing. It’s a blow also because the more depth you had, the bigger an impact you can have on special teams because Darius was a really explosive guy.”

On George Asafo-Adjei: “He’s been physical in there. He’s doing good. We’ll go watch the film here today. He has the flexibility to go outside as well. We may need him there.”

On offensive install: “There were a few things that they needed to iron out that we were looking at and there was some good and some bad in that. That’s what it takes. I like that. I feel like we’re ahead with a good dose of offense. You’ve hard me talk about other teams we play, if we’re stopping one thing, they go to a different package. And just having more in your arsenal. And I definitely feel like we have the ability to execute things better with some of the new stuff. There were a few hiccups here and there, but again, I like where we’re at and I think we’ll get it cleaned up and use some of it. It’s good to be able to have that much offense.”

On Barker and Johnson’s play at QB: “They looked good. Drew I thought really made good decisions. I felt like he was really smart with the ball and was decisive, made good decisions, quick decisions and took care of the football and moved the offense. I felt like he did a good job, Stephen as well. Stephen has been a little more inconsistent with his accuracy, but has that ability to really wow you from time to time.”

EDDIE GRAN, offensive coordinator

On Stoops praising freshman running backs and how many running backs he would play if the season started tomorrow: “Oh, way to early for that, but I did like the way they ran the ball physically downhill. I thought the one thing we did well was that. We showed some toughness, we showed some breaking some tackles, making some plays. So looking forward to watching the film and seeing just how many yards after contact we actually did have. From where I was we missed a couple holes, missed some things, but I’m excited about where we’re at. We’ve got depth. That is really good at that position. If you have depth at that position, you have a chance.”

On if they’re still holding Boom out of contact and if that give other guys more reps: “Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. Getting more reps, so it’s worked out well.”

On how he plans on managing RB rotation in a game: “Well, we’ll see. Like today was their first test. With their first test we’ll grade them by assignments. If they don’t know what to do and when to do it then they’ll be on the sideline with me and the other guys will get more reps. I’ve been fortunate at times when I’ve played two running backs or I’ve played three – they all three knew what to do. We weren’t losing much in there. So that’s what we’ve got to find out in the next three weeks.”

On what he will look for on the film: “It looked like third-down conversions – it looked like we sustained some drives. We had some 12-play drives. I like that. That was good. We converted a couple fourth-down situations, which was really good. I think we’ve got to continue to have more urgency in everything that we do. It’s the first scrimmage. It’s the first time we came out and did it like how we’re going to do it here. So, there was some anxiety, but I like where we’re at. Two-minute at the end, we were 50 percent. The ones, we had a chance to go down with 1:50 and we scored. Then with the twos we didn’t. We didn’t convert on fourth down. So, you want to be 100 percent on that, especially to win the game.

“I think there’s some good things to build off here. I thought it was really competitive on both sides where really at times they got us and we got them. I thought Drew (Barker) really made some good decisions. He was making them quick. I thought that Stephen (Johnson) – at times the ball floated, the ball got high, but he can get after you with other ways and weapons that really you go, ‘Wow, this kid is pretty darn good.’ So we’ve just got to get him a little more accurate and tone him down a little bit, and he did some good things.”

On what he likes about the wide receivers right now: “You know, really they’ve got a really good attitude and they’re making some plays. We talked about that. There’s going to be some drops once in awhile, but I think our kids made some plays today, some contested plays. That was huge. That’s what I’m excited about. And I don’t see anybody pouting. I don’t see anybody just with their – it’s about team, it’s about this tribe, and we’re excited about that. Coach talked about that right from the get-go. We’re not going to do that. I talked to you all about having a short-term memory and recovering, and I thought they did that pretty good.”

On Ryan Timmons: “You know what, he didn’t get a ton of touches today but when he did he didn’t put anything on the ground, looked like he was good. Listening to the guys up in the box – a guy MA, missed assignment, you know—looked like he was pretty solid today.”

On Tavin Richardson and Jabari Greenwood: “OK. You kind of saw the youth in them a little bit today, just trying to push through things when they got tired. That’s what I’m talking about: The urgency. They’ve got to learn to play when they’re tired, but we are in pretty good shape. We’re what nine practices, something like that? A double day the other day. We had a little time off and then came back yesterday with a huge practice. Then to come and have a long scrimmage like this, I think that was pretty good. I think they are getting in shape.”

On if he had to work on the attitude of receivers when he got here: “I wouldn’t say – I would say yes, we did. Absolutely. And it’s just not the receivers. It was the running backs, it was everybody because we’re all new. I’m different than the last guy. Lamar (Thomas) is different than the last guy, so everybody’s attitude has got to change. We’ve got to build that attitude around Coach Stoops, this culture, where we’re going, and everybody pulling the rope and being on the same train track as everybody. That’s where we’re going. That’s huge.”

On any individuals that stood out to the naked eye today: “You know what, it looked like Benny Snell – looked like running the ball he was hitting it up in there, breaking some tackles. I liked that just thinking off the top of my head. And then Dorian (Baker). I thought Dorian other than one play back in the end zone which I think he’s got to fight and battle and he’s got to scrap and claw for that ball, I thought he had a really good day too. There’s going to be more after we watch it, I’m sure, but I thought those two guys stood out a little bit.”

On how players handled the new install this week: “It wasn’t bad. We’ve got it all in right now. Coach said, ‘Put it all, go, throw it at ‘em, let’s see where they’re at.’ That’s what we did. We put it all in. We took a little bit from that last day that we just got that install. We did a little bit there and then the rest of it we kind of took from one through six. For us now we’ve got to see, No. 1, personnel, where we’re at. Two, we’ve got to see how much can they handle? How many missed assignments did they have? If there’s too much then you trim the fat. It’s like I told them. I said, ‘Guys, we’ve got everything in. Every week it’s not like that. It will be trimmed, it will be so much easier when we get to our first game.’”

D.J. ELIOT, defensive coordinator

“We did some good things and some things we didn’t do very good. On the first scrimmage I would have liked to have tackled a little better. That’s something we have to harp on. This was one of our first live tackling opportunities. We’re going to get some more live tackling opportunities before our first game. We need to see some improvement from this time to the next time. It’s always good to get game like atmospheres and situations with the players, especially if you have guys who are inexperienced at certain spots. As many opportunities as we get like this before our first game will be good.”

On if Eli Brown is still with the first team: “We have a rotation going there now. He is one of the guys who is rotating in that spot.”

On any individual standouts: “I’ll have to watch the film before I could tell you. I’d have to watch the film. It’s too hard to tell.”

On losing Darius West for the season: “It is extremely tough for the kid. You really feel for him with the injuries he’s had already in his career and how hard he’s fought through to bounce back, how much better of a player he had become even from last year to this year and the effort and enthusiasm and tenacity that Darius put into the game and practice. It’s disappointing that he’s not going to be able to reap the rewards this year. I still think Darius has a bright future. He’s already bounced back twice and he bounced back pretty good. I anticipate him to put his nose down and go to work and rehab and come back the type of player that we all know he can be and have an excellent career here when he finishes.

“For us at safety, losing Darius is gonna hurt us because he brought a tenacity and a leadership to that position. But we also have some pretty players at that spot. Marcus McWilson, Blake McClain, we’ve got some guys -- Mike’s (Edwards) obviously in that spot so we have some guys to work with.”

On Matt Elam’s capacity during the scrimmage: “For the most part he got all of the one reps. He didn’t get subbed anymore than the rest of the defensive linemen today.”

On if he felt good inside or if he spent the day angry: “As a coach it’s never as good as you want it to be. I saw plenty of things we can get better at. The good thing is we have time to do it. We’re going to harp on those things. One thing is tackling. We’re really going to harp on that.”

On if anyone has stepped up in Regie Meant’s spot: “We’ve been working Adrian Middleton into that spot. I’ve seen some good play from our freshmen defensive tackles as well. T.J. Carter, Kordell Looney and Ja’Quize Cross have done some good things too. I think those guys have talent. It’ll be interesting to see how it pans out.”

On if he got a chance to study the pass rush today: “I got to see it a little bit. Some good, some bad. The only thing that is tough is you can’t hit the quarterback. That sometimes makes it tough to get a true evaluation of where you’re at there.”

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