1. Josh Paschal Moves Inside
Josh Paschal started his Kentucky career as an outside linebacker. Dubbed the “jack,” Paschal was forced to play behind Denzil Ware. To get the talented freshman more reps, Mark Stoops and Matt House created a third down pass-rushing package that put Paschal’s hand in the dirt as a defensive end. The majority of his 4.5 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 2017 came from the defensive end position out of a three-point stance.
This year Kentucky will make Paschal’s move to defensive end permanent. Stoops said Paschal initiated the conversation to move inside to one of UK’s three interior defensive line positions.
“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.'”
Stoops’ joke got a few laughs, but he meant it quite literally. Paschal had to really watch what he ate to stay near 260 pounds. Stoops believes he can get up to 280 or 290 and still be explosive at the line of scrimmage. Right now Paschal is “a couple biscuits from 270.”
What makes this move so important? Kentucky had a glut of outside linebackers and a bad defensive line. This move solves both problems and puts the best athletes on the field.
“We haven’t had a difference-maker inside in some time and I definitely feel he has that kind of ability,” Stoops said. “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.”
Out of the defensive end position, Paschal made one of the biggest hits of the year at Southern Miss.
2. QB Battle will take Time
The biggest storyline of the spring season probably will not bear any news for quite some time. The head coach likes what he’s seen so far from Gunnar Hoak and Terry Wilson, but he has not seen much. He can judge arm talent in a couple practices, but he can’t simulate how they’ll respond when a play breaks down. If that’s not a good enough reason to be patient throughout the process, just look at the NFL.
“There’s some NFL guys that are unbelievably talented, right. They have hundreds of personnel people. They could work guys out. They could come talk to them. They can work them out as many times as they want, and they pick guys and it’s boom or bust. Some guys slip to the fifth, sixth, seventh round and become one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, Tom Brady. Or some guys are picked No. 1 and don’t work 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.”
Stoops doesn’t know who will play quarterback, but he believes play at the position will improve (no offense, Stephen).
“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.”
3. Secondary Coaches Search for a Title
When Stoops added Brad White to the coaching staff as an outside linebackers coach, it forced Dean Hood to the secondary. In what capacity, Stoops is still unsure.
“It’s very evident to me, already, that that will help. There’s a lot to the secondary,” Stoops said. “It will help having both of those guys there.”
As of now, Stoops wants both coaches in the same meeting room. He’ll sort out the specific responsibilities at the conclusion of the spring season.
4. Early, Unpadded Practices are Stupid
NCAA rules mandate that teams slowly integrate pads into practice. Teams get two days in helmets, then two days in helmets and shoulder pads before they can wear full equipment.
It’s intended to ease players into action, when in reality it leaves players vulnerable to collisions that result in emergency room trips. The first practices are always filled with sloppy excitement. Adding equipment can do nothing but benefit player safety. It might not have kept Justin Rigg out of the hospital, but it certainly couldn’t have hurt.
5. Freddie Called It
In The Depth Chart Podcast’s spring season preview, Freddie Maggard predicted that Yusuf Corker’s name would be mentioned early and often. On the first day of practice Stoops said the redshirt freshman corner caught the coach’s eye.
“I think we’ve got to get use Yusuf involved a little bit. I think Yusuf really caught our eye in the offseason. He really, you know, as far as measurables has been very impressive. He’s very strong. He’s very fast. He’s moving better and changing directions better. So I think you have to bring Yusuf along in some way.”
See everything Mark Stoops had to say at this morning’s news conference after the jump.
COACH STOOPS: Good first day. I mean, I feel like our team worked extremely hard for seven weeks. I think we’re bigger, we’re stronger. I think that’s evident. We have some experience in certain positions and inexperienced in others, but overall, a really solid first day. I loved their attitude. I loved their effort. I think we have an opportunity to do some good things. We have an awful lot of work to do. So we’ll see. It’s a good starting point.
Q. Anybody not playing, injury-wise?
COACH STOOPS: Tony said that was going to be the first question, so wise man. So C.J. Conrad’s out, Derrick Baity is out. Dorian Baker’s out, and believe that’s it.
COACH STOOPS: Walker has practiced today. He’s not 100 percent. He’s not going to be able to go every day. This will be the only time this spring where we do practice back-to-back.
So we’ll go today and tomorrow. We weren’t able to start Saturday or Sunday just by the calendar, to spread it out. I like to go three days a week. That gives us a lot of opportunity to heal up, lift weights and watch film in between, so. We go Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday the rest of the spring outside of this week.
So today, we’ll go today and tomorrow and Thursday, and we’ll be off for spring break, and then we’ll come back for four weeks, with obviously the exception of Friday with the spring game, as well, the last week.
COACH STOOPS: No, I think Dorian is going to be just fine. He just started running and he’s been running, he started the change of direction and putting a lot of pressure on that, maybe for a week or two. It’s just not worth the risk at this point.
He’s going to continue to rehab can get stronger and get better, and he looks good, and C.J. is really doing some good things, as well. He’s back running. He’s coming off the foot and the shoulder, so he’s got some things going on but he’s been out there running and getting closer, so he should be just fine.
Q. Where is Derrick at in regards to a timeline?
COACH STOOPS: He’ll be — he’s about half and half right now, as well. He’s coming back. He can do a lot of individual. He can move around and run and do plenty of rehab and get some looks but the shoulder is just not quite ready to get any contact.
Q. You had called a possible concussion?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, Justin Rigg did get taken to the hospital today as a precaution. He had an incident to where we had two guys collide, so Chris Westry and Justin collided, coming from opposite directions, very unfortunate. Looks like Chris will be just fine. Justin took a pretty good shot. We wanted to take him to the hospital. Really, he had a lacerated kidney at one point in time and his stomach was bothering him.
You know, Jim believes everything checked out fine, but there was a lot of things involved with Justin at that time: Possible head, possible, you know, internal, so we just sent him to the hospital to get some — get him checked out. I’ll give you an update on that tomorrow or the next date. Hopefully it seems like everything should check out just fine.
Q. Are you planning on playing Mike at corner any?
COACH STOOPS: I’m not sure. He’s trying to talk me into it. There are some advantages to that. I’ll fool around. We’ll look at some options this year. We’ll see.
I do feel like, you know, with the secondary, I feel like, I’ve talked about them for years and I’m not going to put anything out there where y’all could use it against me, but they definitely have some experience and they have been around awhile, and I believe they are — I know they are interchangeable.
Some guys are interchangeable and what we do with nickel and dime, and there could be some possible advantages to that and I’m willing to explore, do anything we can to get better, to improve, in particular, in the secondary, and I’m going to put a lot of pressure on those guys and I have to believe they will respond. I think — I know we have some guys with some experience coming back defensively. We played a lot of football, and I think we did some really good things at times but we certainly need to improve in some areas.
Q. Was Eli’s transfer a surprise to you and who did you turn to for depth now?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, it was a bit of a surprise, yes and no. It just depends. You know, I’m not talking about Eli in this, I’m talking in general, when we need to continue to push the program and get better, there’s accountability that we’re going a hundred miles an hour right now. It’s full force accountability. You’d better be doing what you’re supposed to be doing 24/7.
Some guys are going to like it and some guys aren’t. You know, with just in general, guys need to lose weight, guys need to gain weight. You know, certain positions, we weren’t big enough last year and we need to get bigger. We need to get stronger, and they have some personal accountability to do those things, whether it’s eating, lifting, going to class, going to tutors.
There’s a lot of things, and as our accountability picks up off the field, it will directly reflect some of the things we do on the field, and I think our team is getting very much improved and we’re getting closer to that hundred percent what we’re striving for, but that’s across the board.
So you never know how things are going to go. But with Eli, wish him the best. He’s a good kid. He’s played. He’s helped us. So we wish him the best.
Q. So who fills in for that spot?
COACH STOOPS: Jamin 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.
Q. What do you need to see from Kash?
COACH STOOPS: Just consistency and good play. Just the same thing we need at every position. He’s got some years under his belt. He’s played some football. He was behind a guy last year that was hard to take off the field in Courtney, but I do believe that Kash can give us much of those same things that we got from Courtney and that’s a guy with great passion, great leadership qualities.
He is big and strong. You know, there’s an area there where you’re working on lateral quickness and movement and athleticism in the open field that again, we need to improve, in certain — in certain areas with the Mike linebacker position in general.
Q. Dean moving to the the secondary, can you define what roles he and Clinkscale still have?
COACH STOOPS: Right now, you know, as I mentioned, Clinkscale is the secondary coach, and I just listed Dean as assistant secondary just because I don’t want to put that label on it right now, like he definitely has the safeties or he has the nickels or just corners. They are going to work together with that but he does have great experience.
It’s very evident to me, already, that that will help. There’s a lot to the secondary. I obviously help there but it get hard. It gets split, you know, with things, like right now, talking to him after practice, working on a few things with meetings and getting pulled a lot of different directions. It will help having both of those guys there.
I will sort it out through this spring whether I make them just safeties or whatever that may be. Right now, and the reason why, is because I want them all to meet together. I want the whole group in the same room hearing what’s going on. I want the corners to hear what the safeties are getting caught and I want the safeties to hear what the corners are getting taught. That’s why I don’t want to separate them at this point.
Q. Last year you said (inaudible) that he was playing different positions.
COACH STOOPS: We moved him inside right now. We moved him inside. So with the inside guys, with our inside three, we’ve got the nose, the end and the defensive tackle so three guys in the 3-4, there’s three inside positions and the two outside backers, what we base out of a 3-4.
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 tech any cool 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.
I think you all know, we have some, solid guys but we haven’t had a difference-maker inside in some time and definitely feel like he has that kind of ability, so we’ll explore and work him inside this spring and see where it goes.
Q. Talked about the need to get bigger in general, talking about Paschal, and then Josh Allen I think is listed quite a bit heavier than he was, do you see that on the defensive side that you are bigger?
COACH STOOPS: No question. No question. You see Josh holding his weight and I think that’s one of the reasons why he came back, just to be mature and to be able to handle 250, 255 easily. He’s handling that right now. He looks phenomenal. He still has great explosiveness. He’s changing directions very well, but yes, I think he’s getting bigger.
Certainly with Quinton being a year older and having the ability to go through spring can go through a winter and work on his lateral quickness, but he’s a big, you know, explosive guy inside, and of course with Josh, that gives us some help.
And there’s some other guys, there’s a list of those guys that have played: Adrian, 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 he has to take the off-season serious. Again, we pounded it for the seven weeks. I really wanted to work those guys. Coach Edmond, Coach Marquell (ph) 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 much again he’s got to doing some. We’re going to put tons of pressure on him. He’s either the go to be accountable, do the things that he’s supposed to do to become the player I think he can be or he’ll get caught in the wash. But he needs to take a step.
I’m excited, again, with moving Josh inside that I just mentioned, now you talk about Boogie Watson getting some reps that he does some very good things, as well of. We feel like he has some very good pass rush ability and very instinctual, very good outside backer. You know, we moved him from outside to inside. I still think he he could be a very good player wherever we settle in on him, and we decide to keep him outside because he is a very good pass rusher, as well. And again, he’s not as you big as Josh Paschal. You move Josh inside, you leave him outside and you’ve got a good rotation there still.
Q. What can you tell us about the quarterbacks?
COACH 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 — some really competitive play 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 and Terry. You know, Danny is running right now, doing some good things, and getting just as many reps as the oath guys, but — and you see his flashes at times. But we’ll see where it goes here this spring.
Q. You just mentioned a lot of guys who are in that developmental process and haven’t played a lot of minutes. This spring is big for them. What do you do with other guys? You know what you’re going to get from Benny. How do you balance the reps?
COACH STOOPS: We’re not overly deep right now with running backs, so he’s going to have to get some represents but obviously we’ll be smart with him. I just talked to the guys after that. We don’t have pads on. We’ve got to go two days without any uppers, and you’ve got to be very careful in those days because guys are so excited, they want to go so hard.
You know, that’s part of being a mature football team is knowing how to go hard but be smart in those situations. I think that’s the same with Benny, he’s got a lot of experience, and as you know, we’ve talked about it through the years. He gets so angry because he never wants to be tackles but there comes a point where we have to be smart with what we’re doing with and the contact that he’s getting in the spring.
So he’s definitely a guy that’s very well proven and we will limit his reps some. It’s the same with certain guys in the back end, and Mike Edwards, he was working really hard this winter and working on the things he needs to work on but he started having slight signs of some, you know, of a leg injury of a stress fracture. He doesn’t have anything, but I’m just saying, there was times where he had to back off there in the winter, and I’ve got to get him out of there. I mean, he’s played years and years, and we have to develop some young guys.
There’s going to be opportunities for them to play this year and certainly after this year, we’re replacing a whole bunch of guys on defense and in particular, in the secondary. So we’ve got to work to get some of these guys reps and really pound them in the spring here and develop some guys. So that’s all part of it.
Q. What do you see from E.J. Price?
COACH STOOPS: We will see. We will see. He he definitely has some real talent. He’s been consistent, you know, for a couple weeks here, for maybe a month or so. There’s been some inconsistencies with him that he needs to iron out that we’re working with him. That’s part of our job to bring guys along because he certainly has some talent. I like what I see right now, and he definitely can help us if he continues to stay consistent.
Q. You mention the consistency. Dubose is one of those guys — he had a pretty good Bowl game.
COACH STOOPS: He did.
Q. Do you think he can build off that?
COACH STOOPS: I do. He’s definitely grown up and it starts with what I mentioned earlier in this press conference about accountability off the field ask doing what’s necessary off the field. He’s matured. He’s grown. He’s doing better.
You know, he is working hard to overcome any stigma or any beliefs that we have over that. But he’s got to prove it over time. He’s starting to do some good things, and he has some ability, that’s for sure. He’s a big, strong guy. He’s played some football. So I would sure like to see him continue to grow because I believe he can help us.
Q. To go back to the quarterbacks, Stephen gave you huge RPOs. Is it important to maintain that or are there other qualities more important?
COACH STOOPS: We will absolutely continue to build off the good things that we’ve done. All the quarterbacks that we have in our system can do those things. I think where you saw Stephen really make some big plays, we all have over those two years, where when things broke down, and he had good instincts to get really positive yards when nothing was there.
And that’s just — you know, that is what you can’t see and that goes back to your question, Alan. I think that’s why it takes time. I have confidence in the quarterbacks, but my belief is, until you get them under — in a game, and they are playing in a game, under the lights, and you put it all together, because it very hard for us to simulate.
We cannot go live with our quarterbacks. You cannot let them get a blind shot and get hurt and get him 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, any — who has it figured out.
I mean, there’s some NFL guys that are unbelievably talented, right. They have hundreds of personnel, people, they could work guys out. They could come talk to them. They can work them out as many times as they want, and they pick guys and it’s boom or bust, right. Some guys slip to the fifth, sixth, seventh round and become one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, Tom Brady or some guys are picked No. 1 and don’t work it 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, you know, 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.
Q. The guys catching their passes are pretty young, too. Is it beneficial to both sides that need to get a lot of reps?
COACH STOOPS: Those guys definitely do, especially with Dorian being out right now. So you’ve got Tavin with some experience. Epps has not played very much. Josh Ali has not played very much and of course you’ve got Clevan, Lynn, those guys have not played that much football.
So we need those guys to grow up for sure.
Q. How important is this spring for Lynn?
COACH STOOPS: It’s very important. I think he’s another guy, you look at him and the way he worked through this seven-week winter cycle, and I like what I see because some of these guys and it’s no fault on Lynn or anybody else, some of these guys are so talented, they go play their whole life and they never really work out the way you need to. He’s taken it very serious.
I like the way he worked this winter. You could see he’s stronger. If you get stronger, I think it’s only going to help his explosiveness, his top end speed when he goes and plays a game, along with spring practice and just continuing to grow because you’re talking about a guy who hasn’t played wide receiver. So just learning the nuances of that position is only going to help him. He needs as many reps as he can get.
Q. At some point during the season, his minutes fell off or just the guys he was playing —
COACH STOOPS: I don’t remember. I don’t think so, no.
Q. Is it a little strange not having Austin out there?
COACH STOOPS: Yeah, it definitely does. I always enjoyed talking to Austin. You know, those guys, they are just like cooling out. They are just chilling a little bit (Laughter). But he was such a mature guy and getting ready for the kicking period and just visiting with him, kicking for so long, and just talking with him. I really do. I miss that. I always felt like I just enjoyed spending time with him before he got kicking and I had so much confidence in him. Such a mature young than. You know, we miss him.
I feel good about where we’re going to be, though with Chance, it’s not here yet, but Miles is really hitting the ball very good. He’s a good kicker.
Q. Do you need to work out the punter before spring or summer? Do you have a punter competition going?
COACH STOOPS: Oh, yeah, for sure. We got to get out of this indoor and see what they can do outside where we could let it go. But we’ll see where it goes.
Q. Do you have one big question in your mind for spring or just a series because you’ve been here a long time?
COACH STOOPS: I always think it’s a series because there’s so much. There’s so many different facets that we need to work on and get better. You know, it’s a lot. That’s what’s so great about spring is that’s — it’s really, just pure fun. You know, because you could work extremely hard and then go watch the film, and then try to get them better without the game planning involved.
You know, it’s just fundamental playing the game, and that’s what you enjoy so much about the spring is just working with your players and just making them better. I think that’s why we all like it because we have time. After tomorrow, you go back to a Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday routine, so you have all that time to sit there and watch film and work with them on the days off and really take your time. Because in-season, that moves so fast. You’ve got all the game planning, you’ve got the new things, and watching the mistakes you made. It just goes fast. So the spring I think is very enjoyable with just pure teaching.
Q. How much different is it, that you have a lot of experienced guys where it’s less fundamental teaching?
COACH 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.
Q. What are you hoping — inaudible.
COACH STOOPS: It’s going to be hard. That we will see. You don’t just hand those things over. Those guys earned the respect from their teammates from their play and from consistency and the way they go about doing things on and off the field and we’ll see who emerges in that role.
Q. What areas would you like to see improvement?
COACH STOOPS: Again, I think just overall maturity. You see it right now, him getting so much stronger, and you know, and his confidence is growing because he’s been out there. He’s played. But I think that’s the big thing is off the field with strength and growing into it. He always had that big, long frame and is very athletic and you see him just getting bigger and stronger right now. And again, that position is so much technique involved at offensive line play, and I think just with years, he’s getting better and getting more confident.
COACH STOOPS: We’re looking the a few different guys. I want to explore with Davonte being in there a little bit, you know, and see what he can do. But Jordan Griffin has been playing that position, as well and does a nice job.
I think we’ve got to get use Yusuf involved a little bit. I think Yusuf really caught our eye in the off-season. He really, you know, as far as measurables has been very impressive. He’s very strong. He’s very fast. He’s moving better and changing directions better. So I think you have to bring Yusuf along in some way.
But you Davonte is definitely a guy, Davonte and Jordan are guys that we have a lot of confidence in. We just have to get them involved in some way, some form.