Jen Smith on UK Football

Q&A: Gran pleased with offensive depth, smarts as fall camp closes


On if tight ends are catching ball better: “They’re getting up to 95 percent. C.J. (Conrad) had a really great day, Greg (Hart) did, too. Justin (Rigg). They started really concentrating and that’s what it comes down to: End of camp, tired. So they really came out the last probably -- today for sure -- they were spectacular. It was good. I was excited.”

On if he got what he wanted out of camp: “Yeah, actually, got more. Got more in terms of capacity of the install. These guys have done a great job, as I’ve talked about, they’ve got to be a sponge. But we’re really smart up front. Those guys really know what to do and they understand it. We can make adjustments. Coach (John) Schlarman’s done a great job, so we actually got a little bit more in. The receivers have bought in to what we want to do. The running backs and as long as your quarterback’s progressing and there’s not too much conceptually, you can move on like that. I like where our bank is right now for that.”

On what first team offense was lacking in scrimmage: “We didn’t throw and catch on third down. Bottom line. I mean, you looked at the first one, we had competitive catches that we made. Identical plays, identical throws. We made them the first one, didn’t the second one. That’s where it comes down to the consistency part. When you’re open you’ve got to hit them and when you’re getting covered, you’ve got to make them. That’s where we’ve got to be. That’s where we’ve really stressed this camp: Making the competitive catches, making the throws, getting the ball down. We had a couple opportunities and the ball was high. It was just inconsistent.”

On his excitement on Benny Snell play and if it was about him holding onto the ball: “Well, it wasn’t that. It was about the reaction after he got hit. Sometimes kids get hit, it’s football. We’re going to protect our players and all that, but sometimes in the heat of the moment, that happens. Two weeks ago, Benny would’ve reacted differently. Here he got up like a grown man, jogged, did his deal, came back to the huddle. That’s how you’re supposed to act. That’s what I was excited about. You can’t put the ball on the ground. We don’t talk about that. He’s gonna do that. So that’s what I was, I was excited about his actions.”

On if he’s narrowed down which true freshmen will play: “No, that’s what will happen now. Camp’s over, you know the next 48 hours to really find out what’s going on, where we’re going, what personnel we’re going to use in the first game and find out with our special teams coordinator and Coach Stoops to find out where we’re going to be with that.”

On if they script first series, set number of plays: “Absolutely.”

On if there’s a set number: “No, but we’re going to have enough to give them something to look at and change things up and so forth. Yeah, we’ve always done that.”

On if he will script the second half too: “I’ve got second-half ideas. Absolutely. They’re the first things we talk about after we get things fixed. Then we talk about those second-half ideas and Darin and I will script the first two series to get, ‘Hey, how can we get our quarterback goin? What in the run game, Coach Schlarman, as we look at everything on the play sheet, what’s been successful?’ We’ll script probably two series.”

On if quarterback will have any input on plays he likes: “Yeah. Yeah, we’ll talk. We’ll talk before the week is up and say, ‘Hey, what do you love?’ A lot of times I’ll text him on Thursday night and say, ‘Give me your top 10.’ Then that way I know when the crud is hitting the fan I know what he feels comfortable with.”

On if there is anything he loves that Barker isn’t comfortable with: “No. I don’t think so. I just like first downs. First downs and touchdowns. Take care of the ball. We’ve really stressed that. The one thing that in this league that I know is that you’ve got to be balanced and you’ve got to be able to run the ball. You’ve got to be first-down efficient, and we’ve got to stay on the field for our defense. What we can’t do is we’ve got to be able to – Every possession ends with a kick. That’s the way we’ve taught. Kick a PAT, kick a field goal or punt. Keep our defense in it, keep our special teams in it. We can’t go out and lose the football, and you do that by turning the ball over. We have to take care of the ball.”

On how many turnovers they’ve had: “On the fewer side. Much better than the spring, so much better. So I’m excited about that.”

On Garrett Johnson saying he is more comfortable with offense now than in spring: “Night and day. Night and day from the spring. He’s playing faster, making plays. Exactly what we need from him. When we left the spring we said he was one of the guys that we needed to have come on this summer, and he worked his tail off. I remember on Saturday’s he’d be in the indoor facility. He was working extra. So, he earned what he’s getting right now.”

On if he has an idea of whether they’ll use Stephen Johnson in certain packages: “It’s still up in the air.”

On if he will prepare Boom Williams any differently now that camp is over: “Nope. We’ll keep going, repping. I really want to start trying to get guys in game shape where they can go plays in a row, where they can learn to control their breathing and get themselves ready to go. We’ve got a lot of depth though, so if somebody gets tired, I’m really confident that we’ve got some running backs that can step up and go. You know what I mean?”

On Benny Snell taking a big shot: “I love him right now, you know what I mean? For a freshman and some of the hits, he’s shown that he can have yards after contact. He’s really far ahead for a true freshman.”

On how much of preparation is geared specifically toward Southern Miss: “Already been in it. Been watching tons of film already. We’ve been ahead. Coach has allowed us with some great meeting time. We’ve already been walking through, doing what we need to do for them. Getting a start, and a nice introduction. So, we’re, I think, ahead that way. Which you should be. It’s your first game.”

On if there’s any pressure to get off to a good start: “You know what, it doesn’t matter who we’re playing or what game it is, you know. It’s about winning. And, yeah, you can’t win ‘em all unless you win the first one. And we want to win this first one; we want to get started off on the right foot. We’re home, and that’s important. You want to get a win at home. So, pressure is what you put on yourself. We have to coach, get them ready to go, and hopefully we’ll be prepared and you’ll see that.”

On if they practice with wet balls in case of inclement weather: “Yes. Absolutely.”

On if he has more depth than he thought he would have: “Yes, a little bit more. We have a decent 2-deep on the O-line. John (Schlarman) has done a nice job of moving guys around, if you’ve got an emergency situation. So he would put some guys at center, some guys at tackle. And we’ve been able to do that in camp, which you have to do. And, you know, I think the receivers and running back corps have really just pushed each other. So, now, if somebody’s not getting it done, or they’re not doing it the right way or they’re not doing it our way, we can pull ‘em. And we can say, ‘Hey, you know what? If you don’t want to do it this way, then we’ll let another guys step up.’ And that’s a good thing.”

On a change of attitude with the skill-position guys since he’s been here: “I don’t know. I don’t think it’s me. I think it’s everybody collectively, with Coach Stoops and the culture. He’s said it’s time. It’s time to grow up. It’s time to finish. He’s had a buttload of not, and you got to be accountable. And we’ve held them accountable. We’re going right from the head football coach.”

On him being excited about the level of talent when he first got here, and how he feels about it now: “I feel really good. We do have tools. The name of the game will be us being consistent. We can’t go two quarters sky high. And then the next two quarters, we don’t get a first down. You can’t do that. Your mindset has gotta be different. We have to be strong, and that’s what this camp was about. It was us getting mentally strong. We have pushed them. Coach has almost doubled the impact on these guys from the past couple of years. That’s what he’s been talking about with capacity. That has to, now, on Saturday, when we play Southern Miss and we continue the season – when crud hits the fan, we don’t panic. We move. And I always talk about recovering, and we talk about short-term memories. That’s what I’ve seen. And we’ve been able to do that. Can we now do it when he create habits, and those habits come to the top when pressure comes? Hopefully, we’ve created enough habits now that we don’t worry about it.”

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