Mark Stoops opened the gates to his program’s brand new practice facility during the first of the Cats’ two Monday practices today. Members of the Lexington media were invited to watch 45 minutes of the action, followed by Stoops’ post-practice press conference and breakout interviews with select assistant coaches and players.
Considering it was the last chance to get a good look at the Kentucky football team in fall camp, I closed up the KSR office for the morning and took the blogging action to the football action across town. Normally I delegate that to our crack football staff, but the camera and I went on a little field trip to campus for this one.
This photo story will fill you in on all of the happenings inside UK’s privacy fence:
Mark Stoops thought it was a good practice. “It was very good work,” he said afterward. “Guys had good energy, good focus, improved.”
Stoops spent most of the morning with the defense, as he usually does. He likes to work with the secondary during practices, but he always goes back over the entire film with every coach on each side of the ball once practice concludes.
“I watch every offensive snap with the offensive coaches and every defensive snap with the defensive coaches. So I have a good handle on what they’re doing, but yeah, I have great confidence in what they’re doing.”
Drew Barker looked good. It’s tough to get a good read on quarterback play when they’re throwing to wide open receivers in the open field without any pressure from a pass rush. That being said, Barker’s balls were right on target during the passing drills I was able to see.
He looked good in the brief 7-on-7 drill, too. I remember a handful of eye-opening throws against the defense — one being a deep ball to a receiver I’ve since forgotten and two or three more threading the needle in tight coverage in the middle of the field.
Barker also did a little left-footed punting in the beginning of the open practice, although I do not know why.
Get excited about the wide receivers. You’ve heard about receiver talent and depth ad nauseam, all spring and summer long. And let me tell you, the hype is real.
Tavin Richardson and Garrett Johnson were two players who made big-time catches in the 1-on-1 and 7-on-7 drills today. Ryan Timmons and Kayaune Ross also stood out from what I saw. Of course, Charles Walker was out there doing Charles Walker things, and there were very few drops from the group as a whole, if any.
Dorian Baker did not practice. Baker worked with Corey Edmond, the Cats’ head strength and conditioning coach, off to the side and away from the action throughout today’s first practice.
“Coach Ed” put Baker through a number of light workouts, stretches and drills to help get the wide receiver back from that right hamstring injury he suffered in Saturday’s scrimmage.
Lamar Thomas is the man.
But you knew that already.
The “Encouragement Stairs” do not look like fun. Players who act up or aren’t doing what coaches ask of them in practice may find themselves gasping for air on the new facility’s “Encouragement Stairs.” Whether it be up one of the three sets of stairs or straight up the dirt hill, players will quickly regret being sent for a mid- or post-practice run.
The conditioning stairs were added to the facility late in the process, in place of a retaining wall.
John Schlarman has depth on the offensive line, finally. Stoops said, “We feel good about six, seven, eight guys who can play winning football, which is nice to see, which we haven’t had in a while.”
Schlarman is still shuffling pieces around the O-line as camp comes to an end. We saw several combinations and rotations during drills in today’s practice as it continues to look like as many as eight guys could see significant playing time, as Stoops said.
Jon Toth is obviously the leader of the bunch at the starting center position, with Cole Mosier, Kyle Meadows, Ramsey Meyers, Nick Haynes and George Asafo-Adjei providing more experience at tackle and guard.
True freshman Landon Young is also in that projected eight-man rotation at backup left tackle.
Eli Brown returned to practice. The potential starting linebacker was back with his team after missing Saturday’s scrimmage with a stinger.
Brown has been one of the bright spots this fall at a position of need, and today Stoops said he is battling Jordan Jones for the Will linebacker spot next to Courtney Love.
“Eli, is a guy I feel like that’s really shown some really good signs. We always knew he was going to be a good player, but how early or when, we were unsure. I think he’s a guy that’s stepping up.”
And all those people who said Brown is too undersized to play linebacker in the SEC?
“I want everybody who said I couldn’t play linebacker in the SEC to watch that game and just see how relentless I am and that you can’t tell me I can’t do something. I’m going to show you I can.”
De’Niro Laster playing inside now. Laster is listed as the second-string outside linebacker on the pre-camp depth chart, but Stoops has since moved him to the Mike, behind Love.
“That’s the best position for him,” Stoops explained. “But De’Niro is versatile. We’re trying to find the best spot for him, and I felt like inside was best for him.”
Laster said of the move, “It’s pretty tough but when you get moved around to so many different positions, you start understanding the whole scheme of the defense and understanding the Jack’s job, the Sam’s job, the Will and knowing the Mike. So it all works out for me.”
Derrick Baity and Chris Westry are full of confidence and swagger. UK’s two starting corners are also its two biggest trash-talkers. They are always dancing and talking, and backing it up.
“We gotta let receivers know: you try to come at us, it’s going to be war,” Baity said. “It’s really going to be war. But that’s just me and Chris’ swag. I guess that’s what we bring. We like to have fun. We know our ability’s going to help us and our technique — that’s just our swag.”
Those two guys are going to be special, if Westry will put his phone down.
More in today’s photo gallery…