For the sixth time, Mark Stoops unofficially started a Kentucky football season by meeting with fans and alumni at the Louisville Kickoff Luncheon. This year a pair of familiar faces were sitting besides him.
“This is only the second time since I’ve been here where both coordinators have been back in year two. That’s a good thing,” Stoops told the crowd gathered at the Downtown Marriot. “We’ve got strong continuity with our staff. We’ve got a few new additions, one on each side of the ball (Michael Smith and Brad White), with both coordinators back. I really like where we’re at. I have a lot of confidence in them.”
Stoops and his coordinators, Eddie Gran and Matt House, touched on a wide array of topics during the 20-minute discussion and media session (which will all be covered over the next two days at KSR). But above all else, the theme for the 2018 team is continuity: in the locker room, on the field and in the film room.
“It’s great continuity. I have great confidence in these guys,” Stoops said. “We’ve worked around the clock. These guys have dissected everything we’ve run very good, things we need to improve on and looked at things in how we get better — whether it’s personnel, structure, scheme — and I’m excited.”
Entering his third year as Kentucky’s offensive coordinator, Gran’s players know the terminology and expectations. It has turned them into better communicators and allowed Gran to be more creative in his play-calling.
“When you don’t have to reinvent the wheel all the time, we’re finding new ways to tweak the offense.”
Gran will return eight starters on offense, not including Landon Young, while House will have nine returners on defense. Kentucky’s experience will expedite improvement once training camp begins.
“The strength of the team is the team, and that’s not a cliche. We have a really solid team top to bottom. We not only have some experienced players, but we have some talented experienced players, and we have some depth.” Stoops added: “We are solid across the board as a football team and our character, our work ethic and our strength, our mental capacity is much stronger.”
One player who will not be able to participate in fall camp is Josh Paschal. Stoops announced prior to the event that Paschal suffered an offseason foot injury that will sideline him until September. His status for the home opener against Central Michigan is questionable, although House believes the depth developed at defensive line will mitigate the loss.
“We feel like we have a defensive line depth. Josh is going to miss some time in training camp, but it’s at a point upfront where they’ve had a great summer and a great spring. We’ve got some depth there. It’ll be by committee,” House said.
“Your face is in the fan every play. We feel like we’ve developed that type of depth where we can play seven, eight guys and not have a big drop-off.”
House will look to T.J. Carter and Calvin Taylor to fill Paschal’s shoes. Losing Paschal is no doubt a blow, but Stoops believes Kentucky has reached a point where they have the depth to endure the temporary loss.
After consecutive seven-win regular seasons, there’s pressure on Kentucky to take “the next step.” Six years after he became the head coach, Mark Stoops’ Kentucky football program is on the precipice of entering rare territory. With continuity in the coaches’ office and returning talent on both sides of the football, the time is now.
“We’re going to put heavy pressure on them,” Stoops said. “We talk about the expectations. We embrace the expectations. We all want more and we plan on delivering.”