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Football Season Coverage
– After a sloppy start to the week, the team got it together today. He was not happy at all Wednesday, but today’s practice was much more productive, especially the offensive efficiency. Stoops admits at times it’s tough to take off his defensive coordinator hat, but today he had to just sit back and applaud the offense, “If we don’t make plays down the field we ain’t going to win football games.”
– Part of the reason the offense looked better was the return of Blake Bone. After a minor injury sidelined him Wednesday, today he was back, and his presence was much needed, “he makes a difference.” His P.I.C. is on the rise too. Dorian Baker had offseason knee surgery, but told us on Twitter earlier this week that he’s back to running, and should begin routes in two weeks.
– Mike Edwards has great instincts. After redshirting last season and arriving to campus late, Edwards finally has five practices under his belt, giving Stoops a chance to see his intangibles in action. “We put guys in position but ultimately sometimes you gotta to have instincts, you gotta to make plays and I see a nice comfort zone with him,” Stoops said.
– Replacing Bud and Za’Darius won’t be easy. But neither was replacing Avery Williamson, but as D.J. Eliot reminded us today, Josh Forrest did a pretty damn good job of rising to the occasion. Forrest led the team in tackles with 110. Eliot also said that it’s going to take a group effort in order to continually make big plays (like Bud’s Pick 6, For the Win).
“We’re working with Jason Hatcher and Denzil Ware. We’ve got some guys coming in the Fall that will be playing those positions so we’ll just have to have somebody step up and fill those roles. On top of that, you’re going to have to make up for the plays those guys made, not necessarily with their position but as a defense. So we may have to make more plays at inside linebacker, may have to make more plays in the secondary, might have to make more plays at defensive tackle but somebody has to step up.”
– Blake McClain is working the nickel and strong safety. They’re trying to get the two-year nickelback (not the terrible band) starter on the field as much as possible. By moving him around some, it gives Kendall Randolph extra opportunities to make big plays.
– Matt Elam is down to 360, but still wants to lose more. He came to campus near 400 pounds. He’s lost plenty, down into the 365-360 range but wants that to be closer to 345-350 by the end of Spring practice. With the release of the media guide, I’ll have complete updates of all the weight gained/lost over the offseason later.
One might even say he was angry.
After pressing pause for Spring Break, the Cats resumed practice this morning, but I think somebody forgot to tell the players. Stoops was not shy in describing his discontent, “There are no excuses. We have to be mentally tougher.”
The effort and energy simply weren’t there today. The Quarterbacks were inaccurate, the receivers dropped passes and there weren’t enough pads popping. The effort was absent, and Stoops believes that falls on the shoulders of the team’s leaders (or lack thereof), “I called them out a little on that too because honestly, we don’t have the leadership we need right now. We need to continue to see who emerges in that leadership role.”
Leadership, consistency and most importantly, competition. The beautiful part about having some additional depth is reaping the benefits of competition. Unfortunately Stoops isn’t seeing it right now. After watching the basketball team’s competitiveness in practice earlier this week, Stoops wants to bring more of that to the football field.
“Our football team needs to compete. Every single position, we need to compete. I did have the opportunity to go watch basketball — it’s impressive to watch them practice. It’s great to see the competition and what Coach Cal does. That’s a well-oiled machine. To see those players work exceptionally hard and to see the competition that’s out there, that’s what we need to get to. To some level of that. That’s what stood out to me today.”
Stoops isn’t silly enough to hold his team to the same standards on the field, but he’s smart enough to ensure they play with a competitive sense of urgency like Cal’s Cats.
Stoops’ Troops know exactly what’s expected of them after a stern speech following today’s practice. Hopefully the Spring Break rust is shaken off before things start getting serious this weekend.
The Kentucky football team has more depth than Mark Stoops’ staff has ever seen, but there’s one position without much of anything: fullback. Coach Dawson has tight ends that can play the H-back position as a lead blocker out of the backfield, but other than that, the fullback spot on the depth chart is pretty barren.
So what do you do when you need a big body to block? Insert 333-pound defensive tackle Jacob Hyde into short-yardage situations.
“He moves really, really well. I mean, you can look at him. He’s a big boy,” Patrick Towles said today. It was their first day trying out the Clay County native in the backfield. I have not seen it yet, but I can confirm that Pat isn’t crazy after watching Hyde display agility last week I didn’t know he had.
Not surprisingly, it was a shaky start, but it shouldn’t be too long before he’s opening holes big enough to drive a lawnmower through.
I’ll be back later with more Spring Practice updates later from an unhappy Mark Stoops.
By Courtney Sealey on ©March 21st, 2015 @ 11:00am
It’s amazing what two years with Coach Stoops can do to a kid and I don’t think that is something any of us really could appreciate before the internet created ‘Flashback Friday’.
Yesterday, Towles tweeted this picture out of him with fellow QB, Drew Barker:
— Patrick Towles (@patty_ice14) March 21, 2015
Barker seemed thrilled to have the picture reappear on the internet:
@patty_ice14 😂😂😂 wow bro!
— -Drew Barker- (@D_Barker7) March 21, 2015
I know. Some of you will want to know where they are……and after a little digging I found the original picture from 2012, two and a half years ago.
— Patrick Towles (@patty_ice14) July 29, 2012
@patty_ice14 and I were tearing it up at toby Keith!!
— -Drew Barker- (@D_Barker7) July 29, 2012
Mark Stoops was kind enough to give his football team a Spring Break away from the field, but before we lose our minds to March Madness, here’s a little bit of this and that from last week.
– I hardly mentioned anything about the QBs last week, so for all of those that need minute-by-minute updates on the situation, here it is: Patrick Towles will be your starting quarterback. Coach Stoops said that he likes Coach Dawson’s “fresh eyes” on the position, giving room for Drew Barker to make a move and keeping the competition for the position open.
Barker looks improved too, but he’s still not a starting quarterback. Not only does Towles have the intangibles down Pat (pun intended), he’s gotten bigger, more solid. His release was faster than before and OH MY GOSH, did you just see how far he threw that ball? Of course you didn’t, but it’s safe to say Dawson is a much bigger fan of taking shots downfield, and that just so happens to be what Pat does best.
– Coach Dawson isn’t going to let last year’s performance and play-calling dictate his decision-making. It may not surprise you, but I think it’s pretty important that Dawson is focused on moving forward. Besides, how much of last year’s film does anybody REALLY want to watch?
– Avery Williamson is beloved by many because it’s virtually impossible to dislike the guy. But somehow Stoops is still in his linebacker’s ear, but for a good reason: he wants Avery to graduate. When speaking with him after Pro Day, I found out that not only is Avery finishing his last few classes online, we’re actually taking the same one. It’s a small world after all.
– High Performance is stupid awesome and I can’t wait until they release an updated roster. Seriously, these guys got swole. Measurements have yet to be updated, but Jason Hatcher has gained in the ballpark of 20 pounds, Jojo Kemp is looking more like Josh Clemons, and Matt Elam is still a massive monster.
– The DLine is deep. “How Deep is it?” So deep, not even Wendy Peffercorn could save Squints.
I’ll grant you, they are a young bunch, but the redshirts could only help. Denzil Ware was on the small side upon entering campus, but has bulked up in preparation for a big role as Jack OLB for the defense. Jacob Hyde was never expected to be an impact defensive tackle, but his improved agility was impressive. Big Melvin Lewis will anchor the group, but you can expect plenty of guys to get a shot.
– In case you wondering, there’s still no word whether or not Nebraska transfers Greg Hart and Courtney Love will be eligible to play this Fall.
– Tommy Mainord is letting the Juice loose. Before the season starts I hope that every loyal football fan knows that Garrett Johnson has Juice. Even though he’s on the shorter, the man has the athleticism to do whatever on the football field. That versatility is why he’ll be one of the few wide receivers that will play both in the slot and on the outside. Without Timmons, he’s running with the 1s in the slot, a deadly position on wheel routes.
We interrupt your March Madness excitement for a quick BBN update from the NFL…
It was down to New England and San Diego for former UK wide receiver Stevie Johnson and he decided to stay on the West Coast by becoming a member of the Chargers. Johnson agreed to a three-year deal with the Bolts worth $10.5 million today.
Johnson spent one year in his hometown of San Fransisco with the 49ers last season after six seasons in Buffalo. He had three 1,000-yard seasons for the Bills from 2010-2012 and will have a shot to reach similar numbers again now that he’ll be catching passes from Philip Rivers.
I’m not going to post the Stevie Got Loose video right now, but I really want to.
Just through the doors of the Nutter Indoor Training Facility, five police officers stood watch. Further inside past the lobby, a consortium of cameras, coaches and players flooded the field. Halfway down the track, an SEC Network crew carried the coverage, with an NFL star acting in his first role as an amateur sideline reporter.
If I didn’t tell you it was Nutter Fieldhouse, you might think it was another SEC powerhouse, but no, it’s Kentucky.
The number of people in attendance isn’t the only thing that’s changing around Kentucky’s program. With Coach Korem’s High Performance Training, players are sticking around once they’re playing days are over to prepare for the draft.
“The norm for other draft picks is for everyone to leave campus and go somewhere to train,” Stoops said. “People are going all around the country and training with some of these guys, and our guys have stayed here. It started with Avery staying and working with Coach Korem and Coach Edmund, and then seeing the results that Avery did. It opened the eyes of our other guys. Hey, they can save a lot of money, and get better training and stay right here.”
Stoops believes it’s important to have those guys remain on campus, showing his current players the amount of sacrifice necessary to play at the highest level.
The current players were also there to support their teammates, crowding around during drills and cheering them on to push just a little harder.
There were more head coaches in attendance than ever before. The Vikings’ Mike Zimmer, the Bengals’ Marvin Lewis and an entire contingency of Pittsburgh Steelers: Mike Tomlin, Joey Porter and Todd Haley.
Clint Hurtt of the Bears was also in the building. A former colleague at Miami, Stoops said after practice, “I’m glad he’s not at Louisville anymore.” Chip Kelly was scheduled to be there, but I’m sure Demarco Murray’s presence in Philly was more important. The final count for scouts was 36 for 26 teams.
Somehow my picture with Coach Tomlin wasn’t quite as photogenic as the one with Coach Stoops.
The results are still being compiled, but Za’Daruis Smith had the kind of day he hoped for, cutting his 40-yard dash time from 4.85 to 4.72. If Za’Darius keeps playing his cards correctly, he believes he’ll be a 3rd rounder.
Bud Dupree only participated in agility drills, but still looked phenomenal. His short list of teams that have been talking to him include the Chargers, Bengals and 49ers.
UK’s Pro Day is currently underway at the Nutter Field House, and representatives from 26 teams are in attendance, including three head coaches: Cincinnati’s Marvin Lewis, Minnesota’s Mike Zimmer, and Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin, who is wearing a fantastic newsboy cap. They’re in town to see Bud Dupree, Za’Darius Smith, Braylon Heard, Javess Blue, Darrian Miller, Ashely Lowery, Steven Borden, DeMarco Robinson, Eric Dixon, Mike Douglas, Christian Coleman, and others.
Former UK players Raymond Sanders, Jonathan Georgia, Anthony Kendrick, and Craig McIntosh are on hand to help out, and Avery Williamson is the sideline reporter for the SEC Network’s coverage:
If you haven’t been following on SECNetwork+, the SEC Network will air a roundup of the event as part of the Pro Day Coverage starting at noon eastern.
Our own Nick Roush is there as well, and will have a recap of his thoughts a little later on.
UK’s Pro Day is getting off to an exciting start at the Nutter Training Center, and the SEC Network will air portions of it starting at noon ET. Want to see every minute of the action? Click on over to SEC Network+ (part of the WatchESPN family). It starts RIGHT NOW, so go go go:
By Nick Roush on ©March 11th, 2015 @ 3:00pm
It’s going to be at least until after Spring Break (the week after next) before the general public can watch Stoops’ Troops perform, but today they were kind enough to open their doors to the media for the first practice in pads of the young Spring season. It’s too early to make critical judgments, but that’s exactly why they pay me the big bucks. Here are a few things that caught my eye today.
1. We can finally say, “Kentucky has a 2-Deep.”
When Coach Cal introduced a 2-deep in basketball and coined it as a platoon system, the basketball world lost their mind. In the football world, it’s EXTREMELY difficult to have any success without a 2-deep. Injuries are inevitable and an uptempo offense can fatigue players; there simply cannot be a drop off in talent when the 1st-stringer needs a break.
In the previous two years, when a guy like Ryan Timmons was out with injury (like he is this Spring), his playmaking skills could not be replaced. Deciding starters is months away, but after one day of watching them I am confident on whoever takes the field at any skill position. When Blake Bone isn’t in, Thaddeus Snodgrass is just as good on the outside; Garrett Johnson can play inside and outside, just like Alex Montgomery; at running back and tight end, the players are interchangeable. Even on defense, there isn’t an obvious drop off when the 2nd-team linebackers and defensive line enter the game. The injury bug is always going to bite, but this year it won’t bite quite so hard.
2. Jeff Badet is really, really fast.
Last week Pat Towles said Badet can “blow the top off” the defense. It’s not as impressive until you see it in action. His feet move so fast they don’t look like they’re touching the ground. If he can take bumps from DBs better, there aren’t too many people in the SEC that can catch him.
3. ‘Da Bomb’ will be called more frequently.
During Team (11-on-11) period, the offense exclusively focused on running the ball, since it was the first day they could really work on it, limiting passing drills to 7-on-7. It was just 7-on-7, but there were more deep balls thrown than any practice I’ve ever attended. Not only did they go deep often, but they executed well. Blake Bone has become more aggressive, attacking hard to catch deep balls with his hands. What Garrett Johnson lacks in size he makes up for in physicality, using his pads to get open in tight spots. Badet was a nice surprise, but the biggest surprise was watching Mikel Horton split wide. Known as a power running back, Horton was motioned wide before catching a wheel-route in traffic along the sideline.
4. The defense and offensive line are better, but far from set.
Today was the first day the OLine could be properly evaluated by the coaches, showing some new faces that have grown during their redshirt years. Josh Krok, Nick Haynes and Bunchy Stallings all caught my eye, but they lacked continuity on the first day of hitting. A lot of people will be shuffled before they find the right fit, hopefully before the Spring ends.
On defense, everyone looks much more comfortable in their alignments and assignments. Granted, they’re running the most simplistic form of the defense early in practice, but it’s refreshing to see some confidence. Cody Quinn was a victim to many SEC wideouts last season, but showed he can still be a playmaker with an excellent interception. Josh Forrest was solid in the middle of the field, and his partner, Ryan Flannigan, seems to have finally figured out the defense after arriving late last year. What’s more: they’re backups looked just as comfortable on the field. The competition will improve play, but it’ll be awhile before we find out who will be filling in the 1-slot on the depth chart.
5. Skinny Mark Stoops!
Stoops joked after practice that he was never that big, it was the cameras adding 10 pounds. But Stoops has actually gotten healthier, dropping 12-14 pounds after a knee replacement. Hopefully the new knee hasn’t taken away his prominent strut.
6. Adding Andy Buh was a good idea.
When Coach Stoops needed a new special teams coach, he went in a different direction, hiring an old coaching colleague, Andy Buh. With D.J. Eliot coaching the LBs, it’s hard to see where there was a need for another LB coach, but Eliot’s explanation made sense. When they came to UK, they weren’t planning on being a 3/4 defense. Things changed, and they were left without someone coaching the important outside linebacker position, forcing DLine Coach Jimmy Brumbaugh and Eliot to share the responsibility. Instead of two secondary coaches, now there are two linebacker coaches. The timing couldn’t be better with the Cats needing to replace Bud Dupree on the outside. Jason Hatcher said that having Buh helps, providing a more fundamental approach than before.
7. This team looks like a football team.
In the past, there were always a couple dozen guys that made you wonder, “How is THIS guy going to play in the SEC?” Not anymore. Every person on the football field looked like they belonged in the SEC, passing the “eye test” for the simplest of football minds. The big guys have gotten bigger (Jason Hatcher went from 233 to 250) and the skinny guys aren’t quite so skinny. The early enrollees should still be in high school, but C.J. Conrad and Big George Asafo-Adjei look like they’ve been lifting with Coach Korem for a year. This football team looks like they’re ready to make some noise in the SEC.
Without Bud Dupree, this year’s a little different for Jason Hatcher, but the excitement of the first day of pads is still the same, “It’s a great feeling,” Hatcher said. “We’ve put in a lot of work this offseason, a lot of preparation coming into the Spring. When we put on those pads today, it’s like everyone was wanting to make a statement.”
The statement D.J. Eliot wants his defense to make is a physical one. They might not have another guy like Bud on the sidelines, but Eliot believes they will be better, emphasizing enthusiasm and intensity, “I expect us to be more physical every year, that’s the emphasis. In this league, that’s the key.”
It’s still too early to tell who is packing the hardest punch, but Hatcher believes this team is ready to show their progression. Now an upperclassman, it’s his time to shine, “One thing I pride myself on is rising to the occasion, so for me it’s going to be a fun journey.”
I’ll be back soon to break down some observations from the Cats’ first practice open to the media.
By Drew Franklin on ©March 10th, 2015 @ 10:15am
NFL free agency negotiations opened up on Saturday, the same day Randall Cobb was in Lexington to be a groomsman in Morgan Newton’s wedding. Saturday was also the day Cobb agreed to his new four-year, $40-million contract with the Green Bay Packers. He received the word during the wedding festivities.
“I got the call right after we finished taking pictures. We were getting ready to leave,” Cobb told ESPN Wisconsin. “I walked outside the church and I was able to finish it.”
Cobb, who had several offers for more money, one being the Oakland Raiders, had told his agent to do whatever it takes to keep him in Green Bay. He had weighed all of his options, the pros and the cons, and knew he wanted to remain a Packer.
“My heart never left Green Bay,” said Cobb. “I knew that was where I wanted to be and it was just a matter of making sure I kept a positive outlook on the situation.”
I ran into a few of the guys from the wedding party Saturday night downtown and they told me Cobb’s excitement, and his surprise, was real. They told me Randall sprinted out once his phone rang; he really wasn’t sure if he’d be a Packer again.
“Safe to say, I’ll never forget their wedding day,” Cobb said. “I’ll remember their anniversary.”
Read more about Cobb’s future as a Packer and a $40 Million Man here.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©March 09th, 2015 @ 7:30pm
Good news: Golden Eyes is officially in Green Bay to stay…for at least four years. Over the weekend, word leaked about Randall’s 4-year $40 million deal with the Packers, but today, both sides made it official.
“I’m so excited. It was a very stressful last couple of months, and to have this over and done this and be able to come back to Green Bay is a blessing and I’m excited to be back,” Randall told Packers.com. “I want to win championships.”
To hear more of Randall’s comments on coming back to Green Bay, check out Packers.com.
By Nick Roush on ©March 09th, 2015 @ 5:00pm
A position filled with big personalities, sophomore receiver Alexander Montgomery is unlike many of his colleagues. Quiet and humble, he’s never been one to celebrate after a big play, “There is no celebrating.”
At his weakest moment, he might throw in a chest bump here or there with a teammate, but he doesn’t even consider that a celebration. Unfortunately, that little chest bump cost him a season of football.
After his second touchdown as a true freshman, Montgomery’s knee gave out after a an end zone chest bump. Most would be angry, but Montgomery was simply shocked, “The first week, I probably watched it over 200 times because I didn’t get it. You don’t see it. I….you just don’t get it.”
After a week of watching the tragedy on replay, he got over it and got back to work. After rehabbing for a year, he was able to return to practice as a redshirt. At times, his ego was prepared to put him back in the game, but his mind and body simply were not.
“It felt like a tease,” Montgomery said. “I know how hard my team worked, and I just didn’t want to miss out on a great season. We improved from 2-10 to 5-7, but I wanted to be a part of every step of that process. I felt left out.”
No longer will Montgomery be left out. With Ryan Timmons shelved for the Spring, Montgomery has moved to the slot position. He’s bigger than most inside receivers at 6’2″, with hands larger than most linemen (he wears a 3X glove, splitting the seams of some). The new position in Shannon Dawson’s offense also gives him more freedom on the fly, “We have more flexibility when it comes to running our patterns and getting open and what not. It’s different, but the same offense.”
After an anxious start to the Spring on Saturday, Montgomery was sidelined some today with some complications of his non-surgical leg. Mark Stoops isn’t worried at all, taking it easy on his return to the field, “There’s going to be some issues we have to work through. We have a lot of time, it’s just good to see them out there and working through it.”
As long as Alex is out there doing work, it’s better than being teased on the sidelines, “It feels good to be back.”
Even though Shannon Dawson doesn’t agree, the Cats went without pads on their second day of Spring practice, completing an NCAA mandate. It’s hard for Dawson to get a good gauge on his new guys without pads on, saying that the Cats starting quarterback is, “me right now.”
Until they can pad up on Wednesday, they are working on communication. Currently in the middle of a three-day install for the offense, Stoops joked on the similarities between Dawson and Brown, “They all fell from same tree.” The biggest difference is the terminology and process, relying on the QB to relay all of the information to the offense, instead of having 11 guys staring at the sidelines.
They’ll have plenty more to work on when things ‘get real’ but there’s still a few more interesting things I’ll have to share later in the day…