Offensive coordinator Neal Brown
Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot
Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot
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Offensive coordinator Neal Brown
Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot
It was a rare scrimmage for Kentucky football.
Mark Stoops didn't leave the scrimmage -- UK's second of the spring -- thinking one side of the ball had the better of the action and wondering what had gone wrong with the other.
Instead, Stoops came away believing neither the offense nor defense had won the tug-of-war in Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday.
"That's why it's hard for me, because if one side does well I'm disappointed in the other," Stoops said. "But I really did feel like both sides had some moments today. I thought we were a little bit more stout in some of the run game with the ones on defense. Had some good stops, but the offense bounced back, had some good drives, threw the ball well, caught it better."
That kind of give-and-take is exactly what Stoops is looking for. As a result, UK had its best overall day of the spring, representing a vast improvement from last Saturday's scrimmage. Stoops opted to cancel Friday's practice to focus on preparation for Saturday and the Wildcats took advantage.
"That's maybe why I was a little frustrated (after the last scrimmage): looked a little bit sloppy," Stoops said. "But it was good to get back out there today. We had a couple days to meet and to get set and kind of just went out there today, basically got a warm-up, did a little seven-on-seven and did some special teams and rolled right into the scrimmage."
Offensive coordinator Neal Brown was even more positive in his evaluation,
"Probably our best in a scrimmage or a game-type atmosphere - the best, just from the mechanics of the game, the best we've executed," Brown said. "What I mean by that is playing at the tempo that we want to; we're getting closer. We're not there yet, but we're a lot closer than we ever were at any point last year."
Naturally, much of that has to do with quarterback play.
Jalen Whitlow, Patrick Towles, Reese Phillips and Drew Barker are splitting time as the battle for the starting position continues with Maxwell Smith recovering from a shoulder injury. Stoops does not yet have a timetable for making a decision, but Brown did say he wants to get it done sooner than a season ago.
The important thing right now is Brown knows UK will be improved at quarterback in 2014, no matter who wins the job.
"The thing I'm pleased about is they're all much, much better," Brown said. "We're better. Whoever the quarterback is going to be, they're going to be better than we played last year. So that's pleasing."
Barker -- the highly touted midyear enrollee -- is the lone signal caller who was not on campus last year, but there were moments when he could have fooled Brown.
"I think the biggest thing about Drew is, if you would've came out and just watched us today, you wouldn't have known he was a high school senior," Brown said. "And that's the most impressive thing to me. Because the mechanics of the game and not being in awe of being in that stadium for the first time and playing, that was what I was most impressed with."
Barker was hardly the only one of the four to impress. Towles, a redshirt sophomore, made a handful of throws that drew praise from both Stoops and Brown while Whitlow and Phillips each had their moments as UK's offense did not commit a turnover.
"I think all of them stood out," sophomore running back Jojo Kemp said. "That's gonna be the coaches' call. They got a handful, I can tell you that, because to me all of them looked great. All of them was competing, completing passes. Just the whole group of guys looked good today."
It helps that the quarterbacks are surrounded by a group of talented running backs and a receiving corps improving by the day in spite of battling some bumps and bruises.
"The young guys did some good things," Stoops said. "Thaddeus (Snodgrass) had a chance to make a real big play, didn't come down with it. T.V. (Williams) made a nice play where he caught the ball, bounced off some people, made a big play for the offense, which was good. I think (Ryan) Timmons. Timmons is always -- he's been solid."
The offense had only to contend with the defense's base packages. Installing wrinkles is for later.
"We weren't trying to out-scheme anybody and we just wanted to find out who could make plays and who could play hard and so we got something to build on," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said.
As expected, senior defensive ends Bud Dupree and Za'Darius Smith shined. Beyond his two building blocks, Eliot saw one fresh face and two more familiar ones stand out.
"A.J. Stamps, again, did some good things," Eliot said. "I was pleased with some his effort. And Jason Hatcher did some good things. I was pleased with some of the things he did. I saw some good plays by J.D. Harmon just initially. And after we watch the film we'll be able be more detailed on that."
Stamps, a junior-college transfer, appears poised to contribute immediately in the secondary in spending most of his time at safety after playing corner at East Mississippi Community College.
"A.J. Stamps is making a pretty good impact on our defense, giving us a better balanced look," linebacker Khalid Henderson said. "A more versatile safety back there."
Harmon, meanwhile, has added important depth at cornerback after sitting out last season and Hatcher is taking steps forward in his first college spring after playing as a freshman in 2013.
"You know, at any sport, any position, it's hard to come in and play as a freshman," Eliot said. "And so now we're seeing a big jump in Jason because he's a sophomore and I'm really liking the progress that he's making. He's grown up, not only on the football field, but in any natural progression from a freshman to a sophomore he's done that as well."
With those individual performances and the way UK continues to come together as a team in mind, Stoops has plenty of reason for optimism.
"We feel better," Stoops said. "At times, you get out here during practices and everything, we're running a lot of teams and doing a lot of reps, so you're getting ones, twos and threes. Already in the spring, you're already a little bit thin if you don't have your whole group here. So it's sloppy at times, but overall you put it together, get out there on the scrimmage and get going. We're definitely further along. We just operate our offense and our defense better at this point. We're getting there, getting better."
Post-practice interview with Mark Stoops
The back-and-forth between Kentucky's two units continued on Wednesday, with the offense bouncing back during what Neal Brown called a "really good, spirited" practice.
"Pretty good work today," head coach Mark Stoops said. "Good energy. Offense responded a little bit. Monday defense got after a little bit. Had good energy. Good enthusiasm. Probably had the upper hand in team drills, today the offense responded a little bit, a little more balanced."
That continues a trend that's lasted through the week and a half of spring practice with the Wildcats showcasing offseason improvement. That doesn't mean there isn't a long road ahead.
"I like what I see," Stoops said. "Guys are working hard and getting better. But like I always say, we have miles to go. But I like their attitude, their energy and their work ethic. We're improving."
Brown echoed that sentiment, singling out his linemen for praise.
"I like the energy we got, especially up front with our offensive line," Brown said. "We're starting to get some leadership up there with Jordan Swindle and Darrian Miller and Jon Toth really coming along."
In the backfield, UK got a boost with the return of Jojo Kemp and Braylon Heard. The two running backs have sat out recently with minor injuries, but were back in action on Wednesday.
"We're getting more depth at that position," Stoops said. "Mikel (Horton) is getting a bunch of work. Josh (Clemons) being back a little bit has been helpful. He's a tough physical presence in there. It's been good. We need to get a bunch of guys."
Clemons has been a particularly pleasant surprise after missing each of the last two seasons, the first while rehabbing a knee injury suffered as a freshman and the second after sustaining an Achilles tendon injury in preseason workouts.
"I can't even explain it, really," Clemons said, asked how much he's enjoying being back on the field. "I'm just happy to be back out here with the guys and getting better instead of just sitting around watching all the time."
Clemons, however, was doing more than just sitting during the time he missed, working hard in the weight room and making sure his injured knee and ankle are back at full strength. And now, looking much like the player who led UK in rushing through the first six games of his freshman year, Brown says Clemons is an example to his teammates.
"Toughness and perseverance, without question," Brown said. "He really attacked his rehab. He looks better now than any time that I've seen him."
If Clemons sustains that form, he could be a valuable piece for an offense that needs as many running backs as possible. For now, he's excited just to have the chance to compete.
"It's a lot of talent, a lot of talent," Clemons said. "We're out there competing each day, pushing each other and we're getting better as we go."
Neal Brown interview
Players went through various drills and workouts such as: vertical jump, shuttle runs, 10-, 20- and 40-yard dash, bench press and positional drills for scouts representing 20 NFL teams and one arena football team.
Former Wildcats on the offensive side of the ball included running backs Jonathan George and Raymond Sanders, fullback Cody Jones, wide receiver Muhammad Saifullah and tight ends Jordan Aumiller and Anthony Kendrick. From the defensive unit, defensive tackles Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph, linebacker Avery Williamson and punter Joe Mansour put their skills to the test. Seniors from the 2012 team who joined the workout were running back CoShik Williams, wide receiver Aaron Boyd and cornerback Cartier Rice.
Scouts began the morning with the vertical jump before transitioning into the 40-yard dash and shuttle runs. Six Wildcats then went through the bench press and then finishing the workout with position drills. Fullback Cody Jones, a Williamsburg, Ky., native posted the best mark on the bench press with an impressive 29 repetitions.
A large gathering of players and staff from the current UK football team were also in attendance to support their former teammates, as well as Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops.
"I'm proud of these guys, which is what I've said all along," said Stoops, who is entering his second year at the helm. "It's a very good group. I love these guys, they put their heart and soul into this program and they really embraced us and the new coaching staff during the change. None of these kids asked for that. It's never easy for the seniors to come in and deal with a new coaching staff and have to learn a new system, but they've been very good, worked hard and I'm very proud of these guys. They are doing very well in representing us the right way."
After working out at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last month, Williamson returned to Lexington to run through positional drills for the scouts this morning. The Milan, Tenn., native did not repeat any of the workouts such as bench press, vertical jump or 40-yard dash, after he was pleased with the results from the Combine. Williamson was clocked at 4.66 seconds in the 40-yard dash, while posting the third-best time out of all linebackers with a 20-yard shuttle time of 4.07 seconds. He also recorded 25 reps on the bench press and 30.5 inches in the vertical jump.
Following today's workout, the two-year All-Southeastern Conference linebacker said he had received positive feedback from the NFL scouts and remains positive about his outlook in the NFL.
"I thought today went pretty well," Williamson explained. "At the beginning it was kind of shaky just trying to get used to the drills because the scout had me doing some new things, but the scout said I did really well."
When asked about comparing today to the NFL Combine last month, Williamson said it was nice being back in Lexington going through drills with his former teammates and the nerves weren't nearly as high as they were in Indianapolis. Now comes the waiting game, as Williamson and the 12 other Wildcats look forward to draft day or a free-agent contract.
"I will try not to think too much or get upset about rounds," said Williamson about the nerves leading up to the NFL Draft. "It's all about mini-camp and how that goes, so I just try not to think about it too much. From here on out I have to stay in shape and stay busy."
Having only coached Williamson for one season, Stoops can see NFL in his former linebacker's future and knows he has what it takes to compete at the next level.
"It's no mystery that he's probably our top prospect," Stoops said. "He's done right every minute that he's been here. I know prior to me being here that he's done the right thing. He's always worked hard, set a good attitude and I know since the minute we stepped on campus he's represented us the right way. He's a great leader. He does well on the field, off the field and we're wishing him well."
Williamson will look to join the likes of former Wildcats to come before him in an elite fraternity known as the National Football League come the second weekend of May when the NFL Draft is held in New York City. The first round takes place Thursday, May 8, followed by the second and third rounds on Friday, May 9. Rounds four through seven will be held Saturday, May 10.
Sports broadcasting legend Brent Musburger will be joined by college football analyst Jesse Palmer in the booth every Saturday on the SEC Network when it launches next fall. The Hall of Fame sportscaster and the former Florida quarterback have each reached an agreement with ESPN to be the lead college football game commentators on the new network. The pair will kick off the season with Texas A&M at South Carolina on the SEC Network Thursday, Aug. 28.
"Brent Musburger is a cultural icon who has been guiding fans through many of sport's most spectacular moments for decades," said John Wildhack, ESPN Executive Vice President, Programming and Production. "His big-game performance and unmistakable style will elevate our football coverage on the SEC Network. Serving as the definitive play-by-play voice for this major network launch represents an exciting new chapter in his legendary career and reinforces our commitment and investment in the SEC Network."
Wildhack continued, "Jesse Palmer has quickly established himself as one of college football's most insightful, entertaining and dedicated analysts. As a former SEC quarterback, he brings the perfect combination of playing experience and deep conference knowledge to the SEC Network. Partnering him with Brent on this new national platform will create a memorable booth for college football fans everywhere."
Musburger is one of the most recognized voices in the history of sports television and he will continue to be a staple of ESPN's sports coverage with a multi-year contract extension. In addition to lending his voice to one of the three football games slated for the network each Saturday, Brent will remain a play-by-play announcer for Big 12 college basketball games across ESPN networks. He and Palmer will call multiple college football bowl games on ESPN as well.
Musburger will make appearances on behalf of SEC Network and, after more than 20 years at ESPN and ABC, his role will continue to include sharing his expertise and experiences as a mentor.
"I'm delighted to be staying with ESPN, thrilled to be able to call the best football conference in the nation every week and am really looking forward to working with Jesse, who I covered while he was at Florida," said Musburger. "Jesse has tremendous football knowledge, knows this league very well and does his homework. He has a tremendous future in this business."
Musburger's new booth partner, Palmer, has also reached a new agreement with ESPN that includes the role. In addition to calling Saturday games for the conference with the most BCS Champions, he will continue as an analyst on ESPN's Thursday Night College Football package. Palmer's expertise will also be featured in ESPN's extensive post-season coverage.
"I am honored and humbled at the rare opportunity to help launch a national network of this magnitude and to do so alongside, Brent, a legend within the sport and the industry" said Palmer. ""Playing in the SEC represented four of the greatest years of my life and I feel incredibly fortunate to now have the opportunity to cover this great conference. Year after year, their on-field success continues the conference's standard of excellence and their passionate fan base is second to none."
Musburger and Palmer join a growing roster of nationally recognized on-air commentators for the SEC Network that include Joe Tessitore, Tim Tebow and Paul Finebaum. Additional ESPN and SEC Network college football announcements will be made at a later date.
"The pairing of Brent and Jesse as our lead team speaks to the caliber of talent we will have on the network and the commitment to quality that we are making," said Stephanie Druley, ESPN Vice President, Production, College Networks. "We are establishing an incredible roster that SEC fans and followers expect and deserve."
About SEC Network
The Southeastern Conference and ESPN have signed a 20-year agreement through 2034 to create and operate a multiplatform network which will launch in August 2014. The new network and its accompanying digital platform will air SEC content 24/7 including more than 1,000 events in its first year. The network will televise approximately 45 SEC football games, more than 100 men's basketball games, 60 women's basketball games, 75 baseball games, and events from across the SEC's 21 sports annually. Programming will also include studio shows, original content such as SEC Storied, spring football games, signing day and pro days coverage. Hundreds of additional live events from various sports will be offered exclusively on the digital platform. AT&T U-Verse, DISH and National Rural Telecommunications cooperative (NRTC) have agreed to carry the SEC Network.
Press release via ESPN
It's been more than 48 hours since the last member of Kentucky's 2014 signing class became official, but people are still talking about Mark Stoops' record group.
ESPN's SEC Blog ranked the league's 14 classes in terms of how each school performed against expectations. UK fared well, coming in second behind only Alabama. Here's what Alex Scarborough had to say about the class:
No. 2: Kentucky
Link: Most impressive classes in the SEC
Another interesting read, Ohio State outlet Eleven Warriors took a look at Kentucky's success in recruiting Ohio and how Stoops' class would have ranked third among Big Ten schools.
However, it is more interesting how Kentucky built its recruiting class. Kentucky football finally discovered how close it is to Ohio. Eschewing past recruiting approaches that sought fringe players from Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, Mark Stoops and Vince Marrow used their Ohio roots to pull the best of the second-tier from the Buckeye State.
Link: The Big Ten's Kentucky problem
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