Mark Stoops confidently spoke like a head coach that returns 18 starters while understanding that his cupboard is full of youthful talent that could challenge complacent veterans. If anything, the head coach appeared determined for his team to take a step forward.
“It’s really important to make those players from good to great, and I think we have some good players and its time to get them to go to great and that’s where the details come in play.”
Eli Brown’s Replacement
Junior linebacker Eli Brown abruptly announced his plans to transfer from the program. Brown filled in for injured starter Jordan Jones at the Will Linebacker position and figured to be a regular in the LB rotation. Next up is redshirt freshman Jamin Davis who impressed in last year’s spring game. Davis arrived to campus at 198-pounds and is now near 220. Another interesting note was that outside linebacker Alex King has been moved to inside linebacker in order to provide athletic depth. King is nearly 240-pounds and was considered one of the top pass rushers in the Midwest coming out of high school.
STOOPS: “Jamin (Davis) would be the first option. Jamin, there’s a perfect example of a kid that’s come in, and he kept in about 195, maybe 198 pounds. He’s 6-3 and now he’s 6-3, about 220 pounds, and looks like on his way to looking like a grown man, and that’s what we need in there. And we also moved Alex King inside, as well, but he’s working at Mike. But they will be interchangeable, but Alex is another guy, 6-3, 6-4, 230, 240 pounds, getting some size in there that we need.”
Former Outside Linebacker Josh Paschal Moves to Interior Defensive Line
To me, this is the most exciting news of the press conference. Josh Paschal has an opportunity to be a breakout player for the Wildcats and the Southeastern Conference.
STOOPS: “With him it gives you the versatility when he’s an inside guy with some of our fronts to slide to a true defensive end with his hand in the dirt, so getting technical there but he did move to the inside position right now, and Josh is just a very good football player as I mentioned.
I feel like we have some guys at outside backer with some experience and he’s a guy that’s hard not to play. He needs to be on the field playing for us. He’s definitely one of our best 11. Just because we have some depth at outside backer, you don’t want him sitting there on the sidelines next to me. You want him out there playing and he came to me, actually, because he knows we’ve talked about this, and he said, “Coach, I believe that I could help the team and we’re better off if I move inside.”
I said, “Well, then, let’s get eatin'” (Laughter). Because he’s a guy that’s really worked hard, and I don’t want to say he starved himself but he’s very conscious of what he’s been eating to make sure he stayed in that range. I mean, you don’t see many 3-4 outside linebackers in the NFL playing every down that are 280, 290 pounds and that’s what he has the ability to be.
So he worked pretty hard to stay in the 260 range, you know, a couple biscuits and he’s at 270-something right now. So he can help us and he gives us that athleticism.”
A Challenge to Defensive Linemen
No secret, Kentucky’s defensive line needs to take a giant leap for the Cats to consistently challenge in the SEC East. Paschal’s move is just a start. The head coach appeared determined to light a fire under a unit that has underachieved.
STOOPS: “And there’s some other guys, there’s a list of those guys that have played: Adrian (Middleton), and Tymere Dubose has done some good things late in the year last year; hopefully he’ll continue to improve. But also T.J. Carter also needs to have a big year. He’s a guy that has to take the off-season serious. Again, we pounded it for the seven weeks. I really wanted to work those guys. Coach (Corey) Edmond, Coach Mark Hill, those guys worked very hard in the weight room, I think our players did. They took it serious for the seven weeks that we had, and now we’re in the spring.
But T.J. is a guy that needs to have a good off-season, continue to get stronger. Calvin Taylor did some decent things. Kordell Looney is a guy that’s got to make a move. We’re going to put tons of pressure on him. He’s either going to be accountable, do the things that he’s supposed to become the player I think he can be or he’ll get caught in the wash. But he needs to take a step.”
Don’t Expect a Quick Quarterback Decision-Quarterback Improvement Mandatory
I’ve written throughout the offseason that the starting quarterback could be named at the end of spring practice. Most likely, this will not be the case.
STOOPS: “Yeah, it’s going to be hard to say there. That’s going to take some time. I tell you, I’m very impressed with the way they are throwing the football. You just look at the talent and you look at the way they are spinning the ball, and you know, it does jump out at you at times and I think all of us would agree for us to take it to the next level, we need to be more efficient at throwing the football. We need to throw the ball better, and that’s not just from the quarterback, and you know I’ve always said that but it’s so true. We need to — we need to grow up and have some guys outside and some guys at wide receiver that make some really competitive plays that could separate and get open and I think we’re going to be fine at the tight end position, although we’re very thin right now in the spring.
I think we have some guys that can create some opportunity in the pass game and I’ve been impressed with the quarterbacks and just their talent, their arm talent and the way they throw the ball and their poise and they have worked really hard. I feel good about it. In particular, Gunnar (Hoak) and Terry (Wilson). You know, Danny (Clark) is running right now, doing some good things, and getting just as many reps as the other guys, but — and you see his flashes at times. But we’ll see where it goes here this spring. We cannot go live with our quarterbacks. You cannot let them get a blind shot and get hurt and I’m not going to do that. So I think it just — that quarterback situation is definitely going to need some time to work its way out. And look, you know, — who has it figured out? So obviously they don’t have it figured out. I think with us to act like we can just watch one or two or even a spring practice and think we have it figured out, I don’t know, if we have the ability to do that. So we have to let them play and see what happens. I feel confident that we’re going to improve at that position. As much as we love Stephen and what he’s done for us, I think we’re going to improve.”
Fielding an Experienced Team
STOOPS: “You know, it’s really much more enjoyable to have guys with some experience, there’s no question about that, because they can pick things up. When they make mistakes, they understand. It’s really important to make those players from good to great, and I think we have some good players and it’s time to get them to go to great and that’s where the details come in play. You know, for them to really hone their craft and really understand what they want to do and take the medicine to take it to another level, and I do think there’s some maturity there that I’m liking, and you know, we’ve just got to continue to work and continue to grind, and they have got to continue to have good attitudes to want to be great, to want to be coached, to want to learn to take it to another level. But it definitely does help. You feel better and you hope it translates to the field.”
What does all this mean?
Monday portrayed a different version of Mark Stoops. The head coach was rather matter-of-fact in discussing players that need to become accountable or be passed over on the depth chart by younger talent. Kentucky is in new territory. The Cats have a team packed with senior starters as well as future professionals to go along with a great deal of talented youth. Spring competition will be heated and have depth chart implications at certain position groups.