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Head Coach Mark Stoops did not mince words Wednesday when he voiced being displeased with how the Kentucky football team practiced for the first time since returning from spring break. Stoops gave no excuses and challenged the Wildcats to get better. They answered the bell Friday morning with a spirited session in the Nutter Field House.

"A much more efficient practice today and I felt that the guys had a much better focus about them and competed better," Stoops said. "We executed better and threw and caught the ball well. It was much more competitive plays. It wasn't just one side having success because the other was inept at times. I just felt that today when sides won it was because they made competitive plays. If we work with that kind of mentality and that kind of effort each and every day, we will have a chance to put together a good football team. We have to be consistent and we challenged them to come back tomorrow and have a good practice."

Stoops said the staff was not happy about Wednesday's practice on either side of the ball and the offense made a concerted effort to get the ball downfield more and they achieved that Friday. Although a defensive guy, Stoops was happy to see the offense stretch the field.

"As you know, going back to Wednesday's practice we were just not very efficient on either side of the ball, so today, offensively, we made a conscious effort to get the ball down the field and they did. That is never good if you look at it from a defensive point of view, but I do find myself cheering for the offensive to make competitive plays because if we don't make plays down the field we aren't going to win football games. I just felt there were some very good individual efforts today and the ball was in the right places and we made some plays down the field. So if you are looking for something tomorrow, I hope they don't make as many plays down the field," Stoops joked.

Defensive coordinator/inside linebackers coach D.J. Eliot said Friday was a good day of work for his squad and although they didn't win every battle, he echoed Stoops' praise of the team's overall competitiveness.

"Good practice today, which is good, but we didn't win every battle," Eliot said. "I am one-sided and Coach Stoops isn't. We didn't win every battle on defense and we have to fight to do that and that is our goal, to win our one-on-one matchups. We have to improve on that. Besides that we had a very competitive practice and had our fair share of success and we are looking forward to tomorrow."

The strong practice comes a great time for Kentucky as Stoops and Co. will open up the gates to practice Saturday for fans and media. The open practice will start at 10:30 a.m. ET and is scheduled to take place at the Tim Couch Practice Fields at the Nutter Training Center. Practice may be moved inside to the Nutter Field House. Parking will be available free of charge in the C8 Lot behind the rightfield fence of Cliff Hagan Stadium; E-Lot beside Cliff Hagan Stadium; Small E-lots on Sports Center Drive; Green Lot near Commonwealth Stadium (if practice is moved to the Nutter Field House).

Saturday's practice will mark the sixth of the spring for the Wildcats, who will take the next three weeks to complete the 2015 spring schedule. The Wildcat's last practice is scheduled for April 15.

UK football's first day in pads a success

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Spring practice began in earnest for Kentucky football on Wednesday, as the Wildcats wore pads for the first time.

Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot called it a day of good work, specifically praising the way his defense played in the run game.

"Emphasis was on being physical and for the most part we were able to do that," Eliot said. "Played the run well today."

Wednesday was the first step in a spring-long effort to take UK's physicality to the next level in Mark Stoops' third season as head coach. To continue the growth that carried that Cats from two wins in 2013 to five in 2014, there's no choice in the matter.

"I expect us to be more physical every year," Eliot said. "That's the emphasis. We have to--in this league, that's the key and we're harping on it. Today is first day of pads and we're going to continue to harp on it through the spring."

With the likes of Bud Dupree, Za'Darius Smith and Ashely Lowery having graduated, UK is having to adjust in terms of personnel. That's resulting in some fits and starts, but Eliot isn't concerned.

"You got some new guys in some new spots so still making some assignment mistakes, but nothing that we can't get cleaned up by the end of the spring," Eliot said.

The important thing at this point, says Eliot, is effort. That part the Cats have covered.

"Emphasis on playing with intensity and playing with enthusiasm and running to the football and for the most part we've been able to get that done the first three practices," Eliot said. "Very excited about this group and excited about finishing the work with these guys the rest of the spring."


The Kentucky football team held its second practice of the spring on Monday morning.

To follow up a solid day of work on Saturday, the Wildcats took another step forward.

"Guys had good energy for a Monday morning, came out and had a real good practice," Mark Stoops said. "Still obviously got a lot of work to do, but overall pleased, pleased with their attitude, their effort. Playing a little bit cleaner. There weren't as many footballs on the ground today and execution was a touch better. Just overall pleased with the effort. Continuing to get better and work hard."

Stoops is preparing for his third season as UK head coach and is already noticing growth from his first two springs with his team. The evolution continues.

"It's just another year in the program," Stoops said. "As we would expect, just more progress, more bodies, a little bit cleaner, more efficient in what we're doing. We're certainly further ahead than we were day two last spring, but we should be, and that's good to see."

Under Stoops, UK has been blessed with continuity on the coaching staff for the most part, but a new face has been added to the equation this spring. Shannon Dawson is replacing Neal Brown as offensive coordinator and though two coaches' scheme is similar, there's learning to be done.

That's especially true when it comes to communication.

"They're getting signals from me, and then they're communicating with the group," Dawson said of quarterbacks Patrick Towles and Drew Barker. "That's all like learning a new language. It's like if I told you to learn Spanish in two days. That'd be tough, right? I mean just communication is -- and you've got some miscommunication. You've got the quarterback flashing signals quickly to the receiver and the receiver not getting it, which is typical."



UK football held its first practice of the Spring on Saturday morning. Check out what Mark Stoops had to say about a productive day right here.
If you've been awaiting word on the construction of Kentucky football's $45 million practice facility, wait no longer.


Last week, crews broke ground and began the initial phase of the project that will turn the area adjacent to Nutter Field House into the state-of-the-art home of the entire football operation in 2016. If you want to see what it will look like when finished, check out this gallery of renderings.


Riding the momentum of a recovered onside kick that kept his team's NFC Championship aspirations alive, Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Chris Matthews entered Super Bowl XLIX with zero career receptions. However, through the first half of Sunday's loss to the New England Patriots, Matthews was arguably the frontrunner for MVP honors, pending a Seattle victory.

Cat in the Spotlight

Chris Matthews | #13 WR | Seattle Seahawks (12-4)

Not only had Matthews never recorded a single catch going into Super Bowl Sunday, but the 6-foot-5 former Wildcat had only played in 26 offensive snaps all season. Nevertheless, Matthews was targeted early in his first career Super Bowl appearance, coming up big in the process. The former Canadian Football League Rookie of the Year caught a 44-yard bomb for his first official NFL reception, followed by an 11-yard touchdown catch less than seven minutes later. Matthews concluded the evening with four receptions, 109 yards and one touchdown. In the end, the Seahawks failed to defend their world championship, falling to New England, 28-24.

2014 NFL Regular Season Statistics:


Offense
2014 offense.jpg Defense
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Special teams
2014 ST.jpg





Big finish paves way for another solid Stoops class

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UK's 2015 signing class is rated 35th nationally according to Rivals.com. (Chet White, UK Athletics) UK's 2015 signing class is rated 35th nationally according to Rivals.com. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Everyone from the media in attendance to the diehard fans watching live online at home and at work knew exactly what Mark Stoops was talking about.

"As you all know and have been following, it's been a little bit of a grind," Stoops said.

Stoops had just put a bow on his third recruiting class as Kentucky head coach. After reeling in a record haul the first time around and doing it again in 2014 with a group remarkable for its lack of turnover, the 2015 ride had, in his words, some "ups and downs."

The downs were very public, with a handful of longtime pledges opting to de-commit and go elsewhere in January. For the first time since his arrival in late 2012, momentum seemed to trend in the wrong direction.

But not for long.

By securing a number of late commitments, Stoops and his staff put together a 23-member class - the exact number they set out to hit - that ranked 35th nationally as of Wednesday afternoon according to Rivals.com. Outside of Stoops' first two classes - rated 29th and 17th, respectively - it's the best in the history of the ranking service and the ranking doesn't take into account Nebraska transfers Courtney Love and Greg Hart.

"There are some very good football players that are going to be joining us and very excited to have them," Stoops said. "So just overall very pleased, very happy. I really appreciate our staff. I feel like this group of coaches worked extremely hard. They work relentlessly, around the clock, did an awful lot of traveling, and really worked hard to hold this class together."

They did more than hold the class together; they filled needs.

Thirteen of the 23 members of the class are defensive players, headlined by unanimous four-star linebacker and Bowling Green, Ky., native Eli Brown. Brown joins Love and Jordan Jones - both of whom enrolled in January and will practice this spring - and Josh Allen in adding depth at linebacker, while the likes of Kengera Daniel, Courtney Miggins, JaVon Provitt and Alvonte Bell - a Signing Day surprise and UK commitment out of high school - give the Wildcats some much-needed size along the defensive line.

But Stoops, with his background as a defensive backs coach, is most excited about the infusion of talent his secondary will get. That talent, by the way, is tall, too. Derrick Baity, Will Jackson and Chris Westry all stand 6-foot-3 or taller.

"Y'all know, you've listened to me enough after each game, we had some bad matchup problems at times," Stoops said. "We play against some guys in this league that have great size and great skill at the receiver position, and I felt like we really needed to upgrade and get some quality guys in the secondary, and I feel very good about this group."

Baity, Jackson and Westry figure to have some good battles on their hands with the wide receivers joining them in this class. Therell Gosier, Jabari Greenwood and Tavin Richardson are 6-6, 6-3 and 6-3, respectively.

"When you're talking about physical in length, you're talking about all levels of your team," Stoops said. "So I really felt like we needed to continue to improve that size and that physicality in the secondary and in the wide receiver position and linebackers and so on and certainly tight ends."

At tight end, UK added two 6-5 targets in Hart and C.J. Conrad, both of whom are on campus this spring. Four offensive linemen - all standing 6-5 or taller (surprise, surprise) - also join the class. The trend of Stoops and his staff transforming Kentucky's roster continues.

"I think we're much closer to where we want to be," Stoops said. "... So it's very exciting to wrap up this class.  Everybody asks me all the time, what do I feel about this?  We put a lot of hard work, and it's good to get it wrapped up. It's good to introduce them to our fan base and to the media and talk about these guys publicly, which is nice."

Now that the class is public and Letters of Intent are signed, the risk of further de-commitments evaporates. With that in mind, Stoops spoke Wednesday on behalf of a rule change that would create a new early signing period.

"I think it's a situation that probably needs to be addressed on a national level, but, again, I'm not concerned about the guys we did not get," Stoops said. "I'm very excited about the players we got."

He has reason to be.

"Overall, I feel very good about this group," Stoops said. "I felt like it was key for us this last week, these last couple days, into last night and into this morning to close on a few guys. As you know, it gets very delicate when you try to hit that number perfectly. Heading into this recruiting class, we had 23 spots available. ... That's what we signed. I feel very good about that."

Video: Marrow recaps Signing Day

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