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After UK's first practice of fall camp on Monday, Mark Stoops pointed out there were some areas to "clean up" on offense on an otherwise encouraging day.
In another early-morning practice on Tuesday, the Wildcats took a step in the right direction.
Settling in on the second day of fall camp, UK executed much more cleanly, particularly in the passing game, while sustaining the energy displayed the day before.
"I thought we were nervous day one, especially the new guys, the freshmen, and it showed," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "We dropped some passes. But we caught the ball really well today. I don't anticipate that being an issue at all, like it was at times last year. During team period, we may have had one drop. I don't anticipate that being a problem going forward."
Five members of UK's highly touted incoming class are wide receivers, giving UK much-needed depth at a position that severely lacked it a season ago. So far, Brown has been encouraged by the group.
"Really, really excited about some of the young freshmen wideouts," Brown said. "They're catching on quicker. The new rules in the summer obviously helped us."
Asked for detail on which of the five impressed him, Brown named Dorian Baker and Blake Bone, "the two big kids."
"We need those guys," Brown said. "We need length. I talked about it in detail last year: we need some guys with some size. I've been impressed with those guys. Dorian probably had a better day one than day two, but excited about both those."
Big receivers like Baker and Bone, 6-foot-3 and 6-5, respectively, can be safety blankets for a quarterback. Considering UK will play with a first-time full-time starter at quarterback whether Patrick Towles, Reese Phillips, Drew Barker or Maxwell Smith wins the job, that's a plus.
Speaking of those signal callers, there's still no word of any separation in the battle between them. Brown, however, did give some insight into how he's applying the added pressure on the quarterbacks he said he would.
"The defenses kind of installs how they're going to install, so we're seeing the pressure packages at kind of a normal rate, but really I'm keeping track of every throw they make," Brown said. "I'm talking about it, talking about situational football a lot, probably coaching them harder and being more intense with them early in camp than I normally am."
Those quarterbacks are working in a slightly simplified system this fall, with most calls featuring one word and one syllable. That, along with a full year of experience in Brown's offense and a summer of film study, is helping ramp up the pace in practice.
"When you're trying to play fast -- and we weren't capable of playing as fast as we would like last year, because guys were thinking," Brown said. "They'd have to think about alignments and assignments. Now it's more natural. They're used to getting signals. They're used to getting lined up fast, used to operating fast."
Even playing at that pace, Brown has liked what he's seen from the offensive linemen who redshirted a season ago as well as freshman running backs Mikel Horton and Stanley "Boom" Williams. But on Wednesday, they'll be subjected to another kind of test. That's when the pads go on.
"So overall, two productive days, but we are playing flag football," Brown said. "Tomorrow the truth will be shown."
Stoops gets it started
Quarterbacks get in work
Quarterbacks get in work
Alarms sounded early for the Kentucky football team - 5 a.m. ET in Bud Dupree's case - as UK opened fall camp with a 6 a.m. practice
While most other teams were still sleeping, the Wildcats were working without pads on the fields at the Nutter Training Facility.
"It was good to get out here," Mark Stoop said. "Good first day. I really liked the energy for an early morning practice. I thought we did a good job defensively, great communication, good competitive plays. Need to continue to clean up offensively like you'd suspect, a little rusty, but overall good first day."
A later end to summer classes is the reason behind the morning practices Monday through Thursday, but the Cats didn't let the early wakeup call affect them. In fact, they hardly remembered practice started well before sunrise by the time it ended.
"We did pretty good for it being so early," Bud Dupree said. "The hardest part was waking up and once we got up it felt like a real day. It feels late right now to me. ... Every guy was excited to be here and that's always great."
Not only were they excited, they were also prepared. With more than a year and a half of instruction from Stoops and his staff under their belts, the Cats have come a long way since last fall in terms of knowing schemes and assignments.
"It's way easier," Dupree said. "I know what they expect. I know what to do. I know the playbook inside and out. So my biggest key is staying healthy on the field and just better at the small things each day. I'm just trying to progress each day and be great for my team."
Two springs and a full season of practices obviously make a difference, but Stoops says the work his team did this summer can't be forgotten either.
"I think obviously year two helps a great amount just because (players) are just familiar with how we practice, and then also the work that we did through the summer, that the players did, and the film study that we did with them," Stoops said. "You could tell that we're further along."
The same is true from a physical perspective. Add the highest-rated recruiting class in school history to a group that has transformed in UK's High Performance program and you have a team beginning to resemble what Stoops envisioned when he took over.
"You know with the addition of the freshmen even -- you know how it is in the spring, you're always a little bit thin in the spring -- so seeing the whole crew here and the depth that we have, we're getting there," Stoops said. "Obviously, it's tough as you know, to count on too many young guys, but definitely they'll be here to give us some depth and help out."
Stoops mentioned defensive tackle Matt Elam as a potential early contributor. Dupree can see why.
"Just by looking at him, he will be a great bulldozer," Dupree said. "Anytime he's in, I think people will have to account for him. He's just gotta keep progressing each day and he'll be pretty good."
Elam was one of 26 newcomers on campus over the summer, using the time to work his way into shape. Junior college linebacker Ryan Flannigan - who arrived over the weekend - didn't have that luxury, but he wasted no time jumping in with his new teammates.
"Fun," Flannigan said, describing his first practice at UK. "I was happy to be back playing football, honestly. It was a great day for me, great day for the team, great practice. We got better today. Even though it was my first day, I feel like we got better today because we ran fast, we went to the ball. Everybody was running. The sideline was hyped when the first(-team) defense was out there."
UK's linebacking corps is thin, meaning Flannigan will be a boost if he's ready to play immediately, but it's still too early for Stoops to say which newcomers will play.
"Certainly after day one it's too hard to make that decision," Stoops said. "They're a good-looking group. They are, for the most part, very mature and handled themselves the right way. They've been doing a good job this summer. We'll see where it goes. It's hard to tell. I think there's certain positions where we need to use them."
Stoops on quarterbacks
Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot
The UK football team watched this video when the Wildcats reported for fall camp on Sunday. It features a voice-over by actor and UK fan Josh Hopkins and music from Lexington's own Sundy Best.
You've seen photos of construction progress at Commonwealth Stadium, but today Bell Engineering brings you video from the site shot by a drone flight earlier this month. The video is a few weeks old, but this gives you an idea exactly how much work is going on.