Jen Smith on UK Football

Q&A: Kentucky coaches Stoops, Gran, Eliot discuss Saturday scrimmage

Mark Stoops has mixed feelings about second scrimmage

Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops talks to the media on Saturday after his team's second scrimmage of fall camp.
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Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops talks to the media on Saturday after his team's second scrimmage of fall camp.

MARK STOOPS

“Another good day. I have some mixed feelings. I think always as you move into the second big scrimmage of the year and you’re really trying to be detailed and have the fine strokes on things when it doesn’t happen it kind of frustrates you a little bit, but I think overall we got a lot accomplished again. I’ve talked all summer about having the capacity to handle more and do more. There’s no doubt we’ve done that. The players have worked through these first two weeks of camp extremely hard. We got an awful lot done. We certainly have pushed them. We’ve had full two-a-days when we could and got a lot of work there. We’ve had long practices. We’ve done probably 28 percent more work, 25-28 percent more work overall than we did a year ago. So they can handle it, they’re stronger, they’re in better shape and they’re doing some really good things.

“When you’re in a scrimmage like this and you’re looking at every player and you’re looking at 105 guys, it has a tendency to get a little sloppy with the twos and the threes and that kind of puts a sour taste in your mouth because we need everybody. We need them to play at a high level. We’re not overly deep at certain positions, and that still looks ugly at times. That’s where we need to make the biggest jump in the next two weeks.

“But again, I’m pleased. I feel like both sides did some good things. It was good to see the defense get some three-and-outs early and put the offense in some bad situations. The offense responded, did some good things as well. I think the biggest issue is, again, depth is what I’m concerned about and getting the guys that are twos and threes to play at a higher level.”

On if he saw progression from the linebackers: “I do. We certainly improved from a week ago. I was not very pleased with that a week ago. Again, that’s what’s probably most beneficial for the d-line and for the linebackers: To see it in a scrimmage situation because things are cloudy all the time when we’re thudding. To see the holes develop and all the traffic in front of them, it’s very beneficial to the linebackers. You see them make a big jump between last week and this week.”

On what spots he is most worried about depth: “I think linebacker and d-line in particular still.”

On if he means outside linebacker, inside linebacker or both: “Both.”

On Greg Hart and Justin Rigg: “Justin did some good things, again. He caught a few balls and he looks very comfortable out there. He’s a very natural guy. Greg has played well in camp really. He gives us a good maturity out there and has some experience and has done some very good things.”

On if Boom Williams played today: “He did. He went a couple series and went live. Got some tackles, had some blitz pick-ups. Put him in some stressful situations. He didn’t get a ton of reps, but he probably got 10 live reps or so, or more. Carries the ball, and it was good to see him go to the ground and take good, physical tackles.”

On if special teams picture is any clearer, including punter: “I didn’t – I didn’t notice it. Let me go back and watch it and see where we’re at. I feel like we should be able to make a decision on that pretty quick. But I think we’ll more than likely use both punters at some point, I would think. Austin (MacGinnis) looked good. He kicked the ball good. He hit quite a few field goals, he kicked off today. We did all phases of special teams. It was good to get some live reps in the stadium with that. He certainly was stronger and looked better. Kicked the ball well, did good on kickoffs.”

On which side was more dominant today: “I’m not ready to say that. There were some good things on both sides and that’s always for the head coach to come in here. It’s not that I’m not pleased, it’s just you always want to do better and clean up certain mistakes and things like that. I definitely think it was good to see the defense get some stops early. Started scrimmage with a three-and-out, which was good, and a sack. I think both sides did some good things.”

On what he saw from Drew Barker: “Again, he made some good decisions. He did have one turnover today and he hasn’t had many in camp at all and I think Derrick Baity made a nice play on the ball and intercepted him today, but overall, he’s doing very well. Very poised and making good decisions.”

On defensive players vowing to be better in this scrimmage: “Well, I did. It was good to see us -- again, I just said it -- to start with a three-and-out and a sack and good pressure and good execution and as you know, we’ve talked about it, I wanted to really see where we’re at when you’re putting three groups on ones, twos and threes that’s where it gets muddy. It gets ugly to watch at times. We made it a point to put -- whether it’s the nickel packages or the speed packages, dime packages, all that -- to really look and see where we’re at with the ones because depth is an issue and we’ve got to pull twos and all that. You’re never going to go into a game playing complete twos and threes, so it’s a good thing. It was good to put that all together and put one unit out there and I thought we looked better. We certainly did.”

On newcomers look like they could help at defensive line or linebacker spots: “We’ll see. I think Kash (Daniel) is a guy we’ll look at and study and see whether he’s going to be able to help us or not. Physically, he can do it, but mentally he needs to come along. But that’s the same with some of our other twos. We’ll look at that this week and we’ll make a decision, same with the defensive line. But I definitely think there will probably be some guys that we need to play, at least bring them along, much like you saw last year with the defensive backs. They didn’t start, but by game five, six, they were ready to go and we’ll have to do the same thing with some of these freshmen.”

On if any other players weren’t full go: “Blake Bone’s still nursing that hamstring. Dorian Baker’s got a little ham, hamstring as well. Other than that, we’re in pretty good shape. Of course Darius is out. We’ll see.”

On Kobie Walker in camp: “Kobie is, he’s very versatile, No. 1. He’s a versatile guy. He makes good plays because he’s very active. He’s a guy that you need with some of the things we’re doing, he makes loose plays. Where he’s supposed to be outside and if they’re overreaching, then he comes under and makes a play. He makes good plays. He’s active when he pressures and he can cover, so he’s versatile. We’re bringing him along. He’s definitely going to be an important piece of the package.”

On if they know where De’Niro Laster will play now: “We’re moving that around. We’re a little thin at both spots as we touched on. We’ve been playing him at inside the past week.”

On Eli Brown: “Eli is good. He had a little stinger; he did miss the scrimmage today. He had a little stinger the other night when we were doing two-minute in the stadium. Nothing major. He should be back out there Monday. So he’s been doing some really good things. That’s another reason we probably looked muddy because we got in the twos and threes today at linebacker.”

EDDIE GRAN

On his thoughts on the scrimmage: “Never as good as you think, never as bad as you think. It wasn’t as good as last week. I can tell you right now. Started off three and out then came right back with a 60-yard touchdown pass which was fantastic. That’s what we talk about - recovering and moving forward. Then we drove it down again, two in a row, then we have a little bit of leakage from the running back. He has to step just to the right and we don’t make the play. Have a guy open in the end zone. For me, with the ones it had to do with finishing. We converted on third down last week and converted almost every time in the red zone. We didn’t get that done this week. That will be the emphasis this week in practice.

On the touchdown pass: “Good throw, good route. Great protection. He broke some tackles. It was really, really good. One thing I thought was positive is our running backs, our receivers and our tight ends, yards after contact I thought were fantastic. I thought we made a lot of plays after the catch and that’s something we’re going to have to do to be successful because the yards in this league, as we all know, are precious. Protected the ball well after the catch. With the one group, Drew threw an interception. The receiver has to flatten it off. He’s got to throw it flatter. So we’ll learn from that hopefully too.”

On the defense getting pressure on the offensive line: “They did. They did. We’d been running the ball pretty consistent. I’ll bet you our first down efficiency wasn’t as good as it was last week either. But they did a nice job and they cranked up some more twists. We’re in our 15th and 16th practice so there’s more stuff. They did a nice job. I thought they came and played a lot better up front there and took it to us a little bit.”

On tight ends: “The biggest thing with them is catching the ball on a consistent basis. We start series in practice and you can’t just catch the ball 80 percent of the time as a tight end. You have to be up in the 95 percentile. We have to get better at doing that. It’s a good group. Their run blocking, they’re really trying to be physical. Coach Marrow got them trying to play physical and that’s what we have to do at the point of attack. They’re definitely developing. I like the young tight end, Justin (Rigg), in terms of development. He has a long way to go but I like where he’s at right now.”

On how he feels about the offense two weeks from the opener: “I like where we’re at. I always tell them ‘if you think you’ve arrived, we’re in trouble.’ We are so far away. But you know what? Our expectations are very high for this offense. They can achieve everything. But we have a long way to go. I’m glad we’re not playing tomorrow to be quite frank. I think any coach that says they’re ready to play at this time is full of baloney. That’s why you’ve got 29 practices before you get ready. I do think we’re going in the right direction. I do believe they’re excited about hitting someone else. But we’ve got to fine tune some things and we have to get a lot better for us to be successful and have a chance to beat Southern Miss.”

On how Boom’s carries were managed: “I already knew what Boom was going to get. That was already decided before we went out there. He got his three carries and I wanted him to get whacked. I wanted him to feel it, get on the ground. He picked up a protection, which was fantastic to see that. Really everything that I needed to get done with him got done. He’s practicing at a high tempo right now. He’s really doing some good things. But that has to be a consistent thing. And for him to have that job, you’ve got to act like it everyday. And if you don’t, we’re going to move forward. He’s accepted that challenge and his last six, seven practices, he’s practiced like he wants the job. But if not we have other guys. That room is very competitive right now. That’s a great thing.”

On if he ever feels good after the second scrimmage: “You know what, that’s a great question. No. No. You know what, there’s something about that one. We jumped on (the defense) last week. They did a great job. Talking about it offensively, that’s where we have to be consistent. I’m OK. We went three and out and then we came back and recovered with a 60-yard touchdown. That’s huge. That’s a step in the right direction. Then you go down, if we kick a field goal, OK. A three and out, a touchdown and a field goal, I’m all in. But then the next time you get down there you can’t kick a field goal. It has to be seven. Otherwise we can’t finish. That’s what we’re going to talk about. Coach talks about those small strokes, doing the little things right in those tighter areas in the red zone. If we do that then we’ll be really good. I really believe that. I think we’ll really have a chance.”

On how well the offense is taking care of the ball: “Right now really really well. I’m talking about that first group.”

On who caught the long touchdown pass: “(Kayaune) Ross.”

D.J. ELIOT

“I thought that we did some better things with our first group this scrimmage than we did the last scrimmage, so that was encouraging, but we're still not where we need to be. We still need to get better. We still need to develop depth. I think our depth is still lacking and those second and third team players have got to improve fundamentally and assignment-wise, too. There's plenty we can get better at. It's only the second live tackling opportunity we've had, so it's not where it needs to be. We're gonna have to get that accomplished in practice. Some of the guys did some good things, and some of the guys didn't do some good things, so we got a lot that we can learn from.”

On how they can get the backups to step up quickly:You got to force feed 'em but you got to be careful not to put 'em in the tank, too. When you're trying to make them a player in a short amount of time and they're not having any success so all they hear is negative, so you've got to manage that. You definitely have to push 'em, but you also have to find something they're doing good, too, and encourage 'em.”

On if there are guys on second and third teams who have potential to help defense:Definitely. We got talent. Just like in our secondary, Mike (Edwards) and Derrick (Baity), they didn't earn starting jobs until the second half of the season. So it takes time. It's very tough to play in any sport, I would imagine, as a freshman. There's just so much information, so much fundamentals that you have to learn in a short amount of time. So sometimes those guys take longer to develop.”

On balancing need to work on tackling vs. not wanting to get guys banged up:You just have to design drills that are as much like live tackling as you can be. We do a tackling circuit almost every day, and we've designed drills that are as much like live tackling as possible without tackling our own running backs and wide receivers.”

On if defense was fired up to have a better showing than last week:I think that they were encouraged to do some good things, but I think they still recognize that they're not where they need to be. I think that they know they still got to put their nose down and go to work.”

On what is lacking on defense at this point:Like I talked about, depth is real concerning. We've got to develop those younger players, technique and fundamentally. Depth is the biggest concern right now, and then like I already mentioned, the second biggest concern would be the tackling and the live tackling.”

On if the inexperienced players have the desire to step up:Yes. Yep. They want to.”

On if any new outside linebackers have pushed to the point of being in rotation:I think that Jordan Bonner is doing some good things. I think that Jordan Bonner is getting better every day.”

On Jordan Jones:Jordan Jones, he had a better scrimmage this scrimmage than he did last scrimmage. I think they mentioned that Eli (Brown) didn't scrimmage. Eli didn't scrimmage.”

On Brown making up for size with attitude and aggression: ”I believe so. When we were at Florida State we played with a backer, Telvin Smith, who was only about 210 pounds and he's started for the Jaguars every year since he came out as a rookie. Some guys can play at that size.”

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