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Through more than a week of fall camp, Mark Stoops has talked consistently about how his team has improved in facets.

He's praised the offense for playing at a pace closer to what Neal Brown's offense calls for and the defense for executing more cleanly.

On Wednesday, with UK's first full scrimmage, it was time to put it all to the test at Commonwealth Stadium.

"We really need to just put the ball down and move it," Stoops said. "Obviously there's a fine line there with all the tackling that goes on, but this was a full, live scrimmage over there today. I think we stayed relatively healthy and we got a lot of good work in, and we really needed to do that."

The offense stepped up and had one of its best days Stoops can recall since the new coaching staff's arrival.

"It was nice for them to put it together," Stoops said. "I thought they really did some good things. And that's why we need to do that -- just put it down and go -- so they can put all their play-actions together and their runs and their passes and all those good things. So it was good to see."

Asked which players performed well, Stoops didn't name names before watching tape. That, however, is a positive. It means UK is operating as a team.

"I thought they did a nice job of -- you've heard me say it time and time again -- making the routine plays," Stoops said. "So when we have our play passes or the situations where we have a slant that's open, we catch it and make a first down rather than be second and 10. That's a huge difference."

UK's quarterbacks once again shared time with the first team as they compete for the starting job, a race that is progressing but still very much up in the air. Stoops expects a decision to come "in the next week," but reiterated that he won't name a starter just to name one.

"One of the reasons why we're trying to be very critical of ourselves in making this decision is because it's so important, and when we give that person the reins, we want them to go," Stoops said. "You've heard me say that for a year now. Every time a year ago when we thought we were giving somebody the reins to the quarterback situation, something happened. Maybe they got hurt or maybe they didn't play very good. So we want to make sure we're very precise in our decision-making, and once we give them the keys to the car, we want them to drive it."

As for the defense, the group didn't have its best day of fall camp, but UK still had reason to be encouraged on that side of the ball. Competition is good for everyone.

"In practice, it's not good if you win because they screw up," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "You didn't do anything, right? So a good practice is one where they execute, you execute and then a player makes a play."

Besides, Wednesday will be far from the last time their offense gives a defense fits if Stoops and Brown have their way.

"We're much further along than we were all year last year, but that's the good thing, that's what I told the offense, that's what they can do when they go put that kind of pressure on you," Stoops said. "That's what helps them put some pressure on defenses. You all watch college football and you see some great defenses struggle with tempo because it neutralizes you a little bit because of what you can call and what you can execute."



Neal Brown knows incoming freshmen face a challenge they don't fully understand in adjusting to college football.

That's why he has a saying he repeats often as they make the transition from high school.

"This is what I always tell them, to kind of make it real for you, is I tell them to pick out the best player they played against in their high school career," Brown said. "The very best player. Think about it. Now, that player -- you're going against somebody as good or better every single day in practice. It's just a totally different world for them."

It's a different world that those talented newcomers are beginning to understand.

With UK opening practice to fans and media for the third time in four days, the Wildcat offense struggled through a seven-on-seven period before impressing in red-zone and team drills. Patrick Towles, with it being his day in UK's quarterback rotation, was leading the way most often, but the up-and-down performance had a lot to do with a receiving corps relying heavily on a number of freshmen.

"We're young at wideout," Brown said. "You can see it. There's some times where we make some really good plays. Like Thaddeus Snodgrass and Blake Bone made some really good plays. And there's some times when we're struggling getting off man, and a lot of that has to do with just pad level and understanding it's a little bit different than high school."

With Bone, Snodgrass and Dorian Baker getting plenty of first-team reps with Javess Blue, Jeff Badet and Alexander Montgomery out or limited as they recover from injury, Brown has taken advantage of size the freshmen add in his play-calling. That was clear on the fade pass Towles threw to the 6-foot-5 Bone.

"That's something we didn't have at any point last year," Brown said. "That's something we made a living on at (Texas) Tech. We were long on the outside."

UK's freshmen have also provided a new dimension at running back with the speedy Stanley "Boom" Williams and Mikel Horton, a 230 pounder. The Wildcats are deep at the position, with Braylon Heard, Jojo Kemp and Josh Clemons looking strong during camp, but this staff won't be shy about playing youngsters if they deserve.

"We're going to play the best ones," Brown said. "We're going to play the best kids. Stanley is really starting to come on. He's making some -- he made a couple really good runs today. What I told him, what I tried to explain to him, he broke one to the outside, that was against the twos. If it was against the ones, he would have got ran down. So just trying to explain to him, you're not going to outrun everybody. It's better to get a two-yard gain than a five-yard loss. That's something that you just need some experience.

"Mikel Horton did a really good job in our short yardage segment there. He gives us that added dimension."

Stoops excited to open up fast-tempo practices

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STOOPS

ELIOT

At this time last year, Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops wasn't ready to open up a full practice to the fans and media.

After hosting an estimated 4,000 fans on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium for its annual preseason Fan Day, which included the first open practice of fall camp, Stoops elected to also open practice on Monday morning at its regular practice venue at the Nutter Training Facility.

Following the practice, Stoops met with the media, getting a question about the communication and tempo of the session.

"A lot going on out there, huh?" Stoops replied with a smile.

Kentucky's practices are a quick paced, organized operation that rarely includes down time in an effort to maximize efficiency. Stoops was excited to begin to share those practices with the UK fan base.

"Last year, we probably weren't at a point where we could open it up where you could totally see," Stoops said. "That was just a normal practice for us for the most part right there. Last year you probably saw some abbreviated ones, and only parts of it. The communication, the confidence of them talking comes with experience."

UK's practices, as to be expected this early in fall camp, have been a mixture of good and bad. Stoops and the coaching staff understand that dealing with negative plays and failure is a huge part of progressing with a youthful roster.

"The way we respond," Stoops said about the progress his squad is making in accountability. "Maybe the offense is not doing some good things, they come back and make a few plays and bounce back. Defensively the same thing. Just to stay on the grind. Just keep on pushing and never accept being average. Our guys are pushing to be better. We are not there. It is frustrating at times to be so young in certain spots again but it is what it is and it is our job to get them better."

Kentucky's next open practice will be on Tuesday at the Tim Couch Practice Fields, slated from 3:30-5 p.m. ET.

"Hope you guys enjoyed the practice. I was glad to open it up again, it was good to have you out there and open it up to the public," Stoops said. "We will do that a few more times."

Video: Football Fan Day 2014

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Due to renovations at Commonwealth Stadium, UK football held its annual Fan Day -- normally an evening event complete with fireworks -- in the morning on Saturday.

Combine that with rain in the forecast and Mark Stoops wasn't sure what to expect.

For far from the first time since his arrival in Lexington, Stoops was pleasantly surprised by Kentucky fans when he saw a line wrapping around the outside of the Nutter Fieldhouse.

"I was shocked, because I thought in the morning there would be less people," Stoops said. "But we couldn't come in here at night and didn't want to risk with the rain. So with the weather and being a little cooler going inside, I thought there would be less people. But I was amazed, as usual, and greatly appreciate the support and the kind words."

Stoops, his coaching staff and players signed autographs for more than an hour before making the short walk to Commonwealth Stadium for their first of two practices on Saturday. An estimated 4,000 fans were in attendance for the autograph session. UK will hold three more open practices during fall camp.

"That's the thing, ever since Coach Stoops got hired and I came back here the fans have been great," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "Very, very supportive, standing room. Lots of young kids, which I think is important. ... It was really good for our kids, them to understand what they represent. When they put Kentucky across their chest, what they represent, the people."

The crowd saw plenty of big plays on both sides of the ball, including a number by members of a talented freshman class, in what was close to a full practice. Wide receivers Dorian Baker and T.V. Williams and defensive back Kendall Randolph were among the headliners, while Stanley Williams drew some cheers of "Boom" -- his high school nickname -- from the crowd after a run for a long gain.

"You've got to earn 'Boom' around here," Brown said, smiling. "Stanley, he can play at a different speed. He shows signs. He's still learning. I think we've got to be careful. We don't want to anoint him too early. We're pretty talented at that position. He's got a long way to go as far as learning what to do, but he plays at a different gear."

In spite of those big plays, Stoops said UK had been cleaner in its execution earlier in the week, especially in the passing game, but having a crowd in the building added exactly the kind of dynamic Stoops was hoping for.

"I think we need that," Stoops said. "They need to feel that pressure or whatever you want to say to get out here and perform in this stadium and do well."

Sophomore wide receiver Ryan Timmons agrees.

"It gives the team a lot more energy," Timmons said. "The fans are out here watching so everybody wants to make a name for themselves so everybody goes a lot harder. We like the excitement. Can't wait for three weeks."

Those three weeks before UK takes on UT Martin, however, are important.

"Believe me, this team wants to deliver for this fan base," Stoops said. "They've been so loyal, and just can't thank them enough for their support. I promise you, this was not a finished product here today. We're gonna work hard and get better."




A rendering of the southwest corner of UK football's planned training facility. A rendering of the southwest corner of UK football's planned training facility.
Kicking off Kentucky football's annual Media Day, Mitch Barnhart joked he was the warmup act for Mark Stoops, his staff and players.

Fortunately for UK's athletics director, he had some pretty good material of his own.

Barnhart brought with him draft renderings of the new training facility that will house the entire UK football operation.

"We think we'll finish up schematic design later on this fall, and we'll be able to begin the process and get into the construction process," Barnhart said. "So real excited about that and be able to move forward with that."

When completed in 2016, the new facility will cover between 95,000 and 100,000 square feet off the back side of the Nutter Fieldhouse. It will feature three practice fields, a weight room, offices, meeting rooms, a locker room and much more.

"That will give us an opportunity to do some really, really cool, unique things, tying this whole facility and one stop shop, our players in an area where they can get everything they need for the University of Kentucky football in one area," Barnhart said.

Work will begin on the training center while renovations on Commonwealth Stadium are still ongoing. The designs will complement the look and feel of the renovated stadium, complete with Kentucky limestone.

Barnhart and Russ Pear, UK's senior associate athletics director for facilities and operations, have worked closely with Stoops and his staff on the project since plans were approved in late January by the Board of Trustees. Friday was the first time any renderings were shown publicly.

It will still be a couple years before the team moves into its new facility, but the unveiling adds to the momentum built in the 20 months since Stoops arrived in Lexington.

"That makes us excited as a coaching staff, as a football team," Stoops said. "Our players, our recruits, everybody feels the excitement that's going on right now. There's been a great buy-in from the whole state and certainly from our administration."
One of the practice fields at UK football's planned training facility. One of the practice fields at UK football's planned training facility.

A rendering of an interior corridor. A rendering of an interior corridor.

Offensive coordinator Neal Brown with quarterbacks Maxwell Smith, Drew Barker, Reese Phillips and Patrick Towles. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Offensive coordinator Neal Brown with quarterbacks Maxwell Smith, Drew Barker, Reese Phillips and Patrick Towles. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Mark Stoops and Neal Brown didn't miss a chance in spring practice to say that UK would be improved at quarterback this season.

Even so, Brown left the four contenders to start at the position with a simple directive during the summer months: improve even more.

"I really wanted to see from the end of April from the spring game until when we started on Monday, was how much (more) they improved fundamentally because I gave them a lot of different things to work on," Brown said.

A week into fall camp, no decision has been made at quarterback. What is clear, however, is that Patrick Towles, Reese Phillips, Drew Barker and Maxwell Smith completed their offseason assignment.

"The guys have really done a nice job," Stoops said at Media Day. "They're better rounded, and I expect them to go out and play well. I think we have good competition there. They're all doing some good things. They're not perfect, but they're much improved."

Towles, to start with, has continued to speed his release, according to Brown. A combination of mental and fundamental work has been the driving force behind that.

"With making decisions, that comes from just understanding the offense," Towles said. "You know the offense better, you know when people are going to come open, you know where people are at. So then it's easier to get the ball out. And then fundamentally, last year my release was too long, so even if I made a quick decision it still might have taken a little bit for the ball to get there. Now my release is quicker and I have a better understanding of the offense to where I'm on time all the time."

Phillips, praised repeatedly as the most consistent quarterback of the bunch, has upped his arm strength. Like Towles, that's due in large part to a team-wide focus on fundamentals.

"My drops have become a lot faster," Phillips said. "With that, I can use my legs more. I don't have to rely on just using my arm."

Along those same lines, Barker has cut down on the mistakes that plagued him in the spring, when he arrived a semester early after graduating high school in December. Even though Barker reported he led the quarterbacks in touchdown passes during spring practice, he also threw the most interceptions.

"In the spring, I was learning something in the meeting room 15, 20 minutes before practice and then I would go out and have to do it against a live SEC defense," Barker said. "Sometimes, to be honest, I wouldn't know what I was doing. This summer, I really sat down and studied the playbook; tried to learn more about defense, coverages, blitzes, stuff like that; and just make better reads and be more confident in my decisions."

Smith, practicing fully every other day, has been more effective throwing the ball over the middle of the field.

"My mindset is just to come out every single day, work as hard as I can, do everything the coaches ask, help the guys around me, not just these quarterbacks, but everybody else, making sure they know what they're doing and make our team as good as we can be," Smith said.

Though Smith -- the veteran of the group -- is committed to helping his team, don't mistake that for a concession. He's out to win this ongoing battle.

"If I didn't have my eyes on the job, I might as well just call it quits now, in my opinion," Smith said. "Of course I've got my eyes on the job. I'm not the kind of person that's just going to lay down and just hand it over, like 'you guys can take it now.' That's not me. That's not who I am."

Smith is wise not to give in because Stoops says the competition remains "wide open," though that figures to change quickly.

Over the first days of practice, coaches avoided turning the intensity in practice up to the highest level due to a study by High Performance coach Erik Korem that revealed more injuries occurring during finals week. With summer classes now over, that will change with a practice on Friday afternoon and two more on Saturday.

"Now we're going to pick up starting this afternoon and do a lot of good on goods, throw our quarterbacks in a lot of different situations," Brown said. "I hope within the next five or seven days, one of those guys (is) going to stand out."

Each of the four quarterbacks hopes to be the one, but they know getting caught up in that will do them no good.

"Every week is a big week," Towles said. "The spring was the biggest spring of my life. Each practice, the next practice is the most important practice. Each play, the next play is the most important play. So I really can't think about two days from now. I gotta think about today. We've got practice at 3. I'm just worried about that."

Brown has done everything in his power to give the quarterbacks plenty to worry about in practice.

"In the spring, I took this approach," Brown said. "We're going to have fun. We're going to enjoy this. Focus on getting better, you individually getting better. ... Now I'm telling them, hey, we're looking for a guy to win the job. Go win the job. Everything that you do during the course of a practice is getting judged. Yeah, you'd better have fun with it, but understand we are keeping score."

With more third-down work, lots of talk and harder coaching, Brown is trying to simulate the pressure whoever wins the job will face on game day.

"I think it's just the intensity from Coach Brown is a lot higher now than it has ever been," Phillips said. "He's an intense person, but at the same time he kind of knows how to keep us relaxed. Now he's not doing that. He's trying to get in our heads. When we do blitz or team, he tries to put in situations to where it's going to be hard and we have to overcome stuff."

Clearly, Brown has no intention of making it to the season opener on Aug. 30 with no quarterback taking hold of the starting position like last season. Stoops, however, won't make a decision until it's appropriate, regardless what happened a year ago.

"Right now it's just too even," Stoops said. "I've said it before, it would be too reckless just to make a decision because I want to make a decision and not answer those questions. I'm not going to do that. It's not fair to the players. It's not fair to our team. It's not fair to the future of our program."

Video: Brown, Eliot preview season at media day

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Offensive coordinator Neal Brown


Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot


Video: Stoops' media day press conference

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Video: Barnhart's media day press conference

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