Offensive coordinator Neal Brown
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Offensive coordinator Neal Brown
Stoops on final practice before spring game
For months now, the Kentucky Wildcats have worked toward the Blue/White Spring Game.
It's been since November that the Cats have taken the field in front of a crowd, first dedicating themselves to UK's High Performance program and most recently toiling through a month of spring practice.
But with barely 24 hours to go before fans pack Commonwealth Stadium, the Cats weren't about to let a Friday practice go to waste.
"I think the guys are excited," Mark Stoops said. "It gets a little long towards the end of spring here at the end of our fourth week. But I was very pleased with the work we got done. I think we made progress even again today. It was good."
UK moved its final practice before the spring game indoors due to rain, working without pads. Stoops reported it was an efficient day, particularly in the passing game.
"Starting to make the routine plays look routine," Stoops said.
It's Stoops' belief that the progress UK has made since the end of the 2013 season will be on display on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET. The thousands of fans expected to fill Commonwealth -- which will have a reduced capacity of approximately 42,500 due to ongoing construction -- certainly deserve a show.
"Appreciate the support," Stoops said. "I think the 40-some thousand that come out there this year are going to have more fun than they did last year when we hit 50. We'll be better. There will be more to cheer for. We look forward to it, appreciate the support. It's so helpful in so many ways, so we're going to have a good time."
Injuries have piled up as the spring has gone on, creating some stress for Stoops ahead of the spring game. But with Ryan Timmons, Thaddeus Snodgrass and Joey Herrick all expected to participate, UK will be "all right" at wide receiver -- the position hit hardest -- according to offensive coordinator Neal Brown.
The Cats will play this year's spring game with a very similar format to the one held last April. The game will pit first stringers vs. the rest of the team "for the most part," with a handful of players able to change sides if need be. The game is expected to feature 12-minute quarters.
"The first half will be normal outside of just shortened a little bit," Stoops said. "So we'll get after it the first half. The second half, if we're getting enough plays we may run the clock a little bit in the fourth quarter. But for the most part, it's gonna be a normal game outside of the live kicking situations."
There will be no returns on punts, no rush on field goals and no kickoffs. Quarterbacks will be protected from contact.
Speaking of the signal callers, a year ago Maxwell Smith, Jalen Whitlow and Patrick Towles all were on the field for the spring game's first play. The move was both a show of the coaching staff's sense of humor an evidence of just how even the quarterback battle was.
This year, only one quarterback will be on the field to open the game. By no means is that quarterback guaranteed to start come August, but Stoops admitted the significance of the spring game starter should not be dismissed.
"I think it gives you a little indication," Stoops said. "I mean, sure. I'd be lying if I said (otherwise). Last year it really was a toss-up. This year, I think we're starting to narrow it down. We'll put the person out there with the first group that we think has earned the right to go out there with the first group tomorrow. I think it's very close still -- it's very close -- but we'll see."
Close as the battle still may be, improved quarterback play has been a consistent theme this spring. That, however, isn't the biggest reason for encouragement. The culture surrounding the program, as Stoops has always wanted, continues to change.
"I love the leadership," Stoops said. "I like the energy of our team. I think we're learning how to work, learning how to go about our business, and fundamentally we're improving. Because we're getting the leadership, we're getting the guys challenging guys, we're getting out there with a purpose and getting some work done."
Brown after Friday practice
Wide receivers coach Tommy Mainord
Offensive line coach John Schlarman
Post-practice interview with Mark Stoops
It was a family reunion of sorts at the Nutter Training Facility on Wednesday, as Mark Stoops was joined on the practice field by brothers Mark and Mike.
Oklahoma -- where Bob and Mike serve as head coach and defensive coordinator respectively -- wrapped up spring practice earlier this month, so two of Mark's three older brothers took the opportunity to pay a visit to Lexington.
"We're going to go watch film and all that right now and everything," Mark Stoops said. "They came in last night and talked some football with us. It was good to have them."
Of course the Stoops brothers will spend some time catching up and enjoying themselves, but media watching the first half of practice on Wednesday saw firsthand that Mark Stoops will be calling on his brothers' expertise.
"That's what there here for," Mark Stoops said. "I mean, they're not here just for fun. You know, we've got to put them to work. ... We talk about ideas, ways to do things, different change ups, how they may play a certain formation or a certain adjustment. So it's good to have them here. I'm definitely going to utilize them while they're here to go watch some film of this practice and some previous spring practices and get some work done."
Bob Stoops even traded his normal crimson and cream for a UK pullover.
"They like to support us," Mark Stoops said. "He's proud to wear it. I'm sure he'll take that home with him."
Stoops reported the Wildcats had another "good, physical practice" with his brothers and John Calipari watching, including a period of solid work on short-yardage situations. UK continues to plug along through the final week of spring, battling through a number of injuries on both sides of the ball.
"It just happens," Stoops said. "That's the way it is. Some of them were through the winter with surgeries and some of them were dinged up in practice. The good news is, I think there's nothing major -- knock on wood -- nothing that's gonna keep guys out for the year. So we should be at 100 percent if we don't have anything new happen."
The latest injury is to sophomore wide receiver Jeff Badet, who broke his fibula on Monday. Stoops called the injury a clean break, meaning no surgery will be needed. Badet is expected to miss two-to-three months but heal in time for fall camp.
"He was alone," Stoops said. "It was a good play-action pass; he was wide-open. He kind of got underthrown and just a freaky accident."
Badet's injury is another short-term blow to UK's wide receiver depth, as is A.J. Legree's decision to transfer, which Stoops announced on Wednesday. As a result, Stoops is considering ways to minimize injury risk at Saturday's Spring Game while also still putting on a show for fans.
"It looks like I'm gonna split it up ones against everybody else," Stoops said. "So the only thing it'll change as far as the fans and things like that -- and most people do it -- you're gonna speed up the game somehow. We can't afford to take a whole boatload of reps. We're just thin. So we'll iron out all the details and tell you, but it'll be very similar to last year. Some type of abbreviated schedule."
D.J. Eliot on UK's Wednesday practice
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