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Front seven taking shape as opener approaches

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If the Wildcats are nervous as the final days pass before Kentucky's season opener against UT Martin, it isn't showing in practice.

It was another day of productive work for UK on Wednesday.

"We had a good practice today," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "Guys were into it, focused, getting better fundamentally and ready to play."

Ready to play and mostly healthy. Outside of wide receivers Jeff Badet (eye) and Alexander Montgomery (recovery from knee surgery), UK is expected to be at full strength at noon ET on Saturday.

"We're right where we thought we'd be," Eliot said. "Everybody's ready to go. Everybody's geared up and ready for the game and we won't miss a beat."

That includes star senior Bud Dupree, who made it through fall camp even though he was prevented from doing his favorite thing: hitting the quarterback.

"It's horrible having the quarterbacks in red jerseys and having to stop on a play, stop before you can get to them and stopping on offensive linemen sometimes," Dupree said. "Sometimes you want to go through the linemen and just hit them but you know you can't."

The Southeastern Conference's active sack leader only has to wait three more days before getting a shot at an opposing quarterback, and he'll do it both standing and with his hand in the dirt. Dupree will play defensive end opposite Za'Darius Smith in UK's 4-3 set and linebacker when the Cats go 3-4.

"The 3-4 is great for showing athleticism and keeping as many good guys on the field as you can, as well as having big edge setters too," Dupree said.

In the starting 3-4 look, UK will play with tackles Melvin Lewis and Mike Douglas and Smith along the line. Dupree and sophomore Jason Hatcher will play outside linebacker. Hatcher hasn't gotten the attention of some of his teammates in camp with Dupree and Smith returning, but the coaches know they have to find ways to get him on the field.

"He's had a great camp," Eliot said. "Jason's gotten better every day. There's always a big jump from Year 1 to Year 2 and we've seen it with him. He's a better athlete. He's a better player. He understands the game better. And we're very pleased with his progress."

Josh Forrest and another player will complete the front seven in the 3-4 at the two inside linebacker spots. As for who will start with Forrest, a decision has not been made between junior-college transfer Ryan Flannigan and Khalid Henderson. Henderson, a junior, has experience on his side, but Flannigan is competing.

"He's right where I expected him to be," Eliot said. "He has transitioned well. He's picking up the defense. He's physically right where he needs to be. He's right on track."

2 Days to 2014 UK Volleyball: Craig Skinner

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SKINNER_TWITTER-FACEBOOK.jpgLeading up to Kentucky's season-opener on August 29, we asked each member of the team what Kentucky Volleyball meant to them. The final feature is head coach Craig Skinner:

"Kentucky volleyball is a culture of great people that are striving to be the best.  Our staff and players over the years have created an environment of achievement and success.  We collectively work daily to be elite and become better than yesterday.  Each year, athletes join us who are willing to embrace that concept."

Head coach Craig Skinner enters his 10th season at the helm. With 202 career victories in Lexington, Skinner sits just eight wins shy of becoming the program's all-time winningest coach. He has led the Wildcats to a school-record nine consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, a feat only 12 other schools in the nation have achieved. He has directed UK to three Sweet Sixteen appearances since 2009 and was named the 2011 AVCA All-South Region Coach of the Year. Kentucky has won 17 or more matches in each of Skinner's nine seasons, including 20 or more victories in six of the last seven campaigns.

Preseason Team Update: August 27, 2014
Today is the first day of class, and the Wildcats have their last day off of the 2014 preseason. The team will be back in the gym tomorrow, preparing for Friday's season-opener vs. Wichita State.

Cat Scratches, the Official Blog of UK Athletics, has a feature on the team. By Guy Ramsey, the article looks back on the team's trip to China earlier in the summer and how that has helped the team during preseason practice.

Yesterday was media day UK volleyball. Head coach Craig Skinner, seniors Jackie Napper and Lauren O'Conner and junior Morgan Bergren met with the media to preview the upcoming season. Video from the event can be viewed here.


For an archive of previous "What Kentucky Volleyball Means to Me" entries and team updates throughout the preseason, follow along with the full Countdown to 2014 UK Volleyball, leading up to the August 29 season-opener. Additional updates throughout preseason practice can be found on Twitter at @KentuckyVB and on Instagram at @KentuckyVolleyball.


3 Days to 2014 UK Volleyball: Sharay Barnes

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BARNES_TWITTER-FACEBOOK.jpgLeading up to Kentucky's season-opener on August 29, we asked each member of the team what Kentucky Volleyball meant to them. Next up is redshirt freshman Sharay Barnes:

"Kentucky volleyball is all about improving yourself as a person as well as a player. By being in this program, my teammates and coaches have helped me gain confidence in my play."

A redshirt freshman from Swarthmore, Pa., Sharay Barnes did not compete in her first season at Kentucky. A four-year letterwinner for Strath Haven High School, Barnes was a two-time All-State selection and was named Player of the Year as a senior. The middle blocker/outside hitter also competed for Synergy Volleyball Club and was named one of the top seniors by PrepVolleyball.com.

Preseason Team Update: August 26, 2014
Today was media day for several of UK's fall sports, including the volleyball team. Head coach Craig Skinner, seniors Jackie Napper and Lauren O'Conner and junior Morgan Bergren met with the media to preview the upcoming season. Video from the event can be viewed here.


For an archive of previous "What Kentucky Volleyball Means to Me" entries and team updates throughout the preseason, follow along with the full Countdown to 2014 UK Volleyball, leading up to the August 29 season-opener. Additional updates throughout preseason practice can be found on Twitter at @KentuckyVB and on Instagram at @KentuckyVolleyball.


Video: Men's soccer media day press conference

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Video: Cross country media day press conference

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Video: Volleyball media day press conference

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At long last, UK's season opener is on the horizon.

After months of work in spring practice, summer conditioning and fall camp, the Wildcats are about to line up across from opponents in different color jerseys. Finally, Mark Stoops' offseason refrain about the progress of his team will be put to the test.

"As I said before throughout this summer, we've improved," Stoops said. "Be interesting to go out there and see how much."

For the first time since 2007, a home crowd will be able to see UK's offseason improvement firsthand in the season opener. The Wildcats will face UT Martin at noon ET on Saturday in Commonwealth Stadium.

"I know our fans are ready to go," Stoops said. "We need to do our part. I know we'll have great support. We need to go out there and start fast and play good football, play with great energy, play with great discipline, make it exciting for the fans."

Opening at home for the first time in seven years and following that with another game in Commonwealth in week two, the Cats have a chance to build some early-season momentum. It's an opportunity Stoops says they can't squander.

"I think it's real important, I do," Stoops said. "I think we need to start fast. We need to go out and play well."

In evaluating that, Stoops will be looking for an accumulation of routine plays, not highlights readymade for SportsCenter.

"We've got to go play well and be consistent," Stoops said. "We're not good enough to make simple mistakes and shoot ourselves in the foot, turn the ball over, things like that obviously."

That's a challenge given how much UK will rely on a number of players who have never been on the field at this level. Seventeen players listed on Kentucky's two-deep depth chart are first-year junior-college transfers or freshmen, including eight true freshmen.

All of them, to this point, have prepared as much as possible in practice and through UK's High Performance program, but there's only so much that can be done.

"Certainly with young guys, some guys are going to go out there for the first time and they're going to exceed our expectations, then some guys will probably have some rough spots here and there, have some mental mistakes, physical mistakes, things like that," Stoops said. "That's why you have to get out there and play. There's no substitution for experience."

As young as this Kentucky team may be, the Wildcats are still in a better spot than they were a year ago. That's why UK won't rely on newcomers quite as much as in 2013.

"We're getting better," Stoops said. "As we get better, it gets harder to beat out some guys for playing time. That's what you want in our program."

Dupree, Smith still drawing raves from Stoops

Stoops isn't normally one to think too far into the future, but he made an exception on Monday.

Asked where he expects senior defensive end/linebacker Bud Dupree to go in next spring's NFL Draft, the second-year UK coach didn't hesitate.

"I'd be very shocked if Bud was not a first-round draft pick," Stoops said.

Stoops went on to say that he can envision Dupree going early in the first round if he has the kind of season expected of him. Given Stoops' experience coaching NFL-level talent at Florida State, his opinion has some weight.

"Bud is special," Stoops said. "He has that ability to play standing up. Put his hand in the dirt. He's a pass rusher. He's got instincts. With everybody going to a lot of the 3-4 things, outside backers, versatility, he's a very good player."

Dupree is listed as a strong-side linebacker on the depth chart, but the versatility Stoops appreciates so much will allow him to play plenty at end as well. When he does, he'll line up opposite Za'Darius Smith, who has a professional future of his own.

He and Dupree bypassed the NFL Draft to return for their senior season. Stoops believes they'll improve their draft stock with their decisions, but he knows UK has already benefited from their presence.

"As I said a lot through the offseason, leadership is the first thing that jumps out at you," Stoops said. "But also confidence. Our players see those guys out there, they make plays, are consistent, they're always there. They're great to have."

UT Martin linebacker Bell has UK's attention

With an offseason for UT Martin head coach Jason Simpson to make changes, Stoops knows to expect the unexpected on Saturday.

"They might get out there and try to pressure the heck out of us, or drop," Stoops said. "They've shown both, where they've been conservative and drop eight guys into coverage a bunch, or they can blitz the house and come after you. I imagine we'll see a bit of everything. It will be good for us to see how we prepare and respond to that."

Whatever looks the Skyhawks show, Stoops knows to be on the lookout for Tony Bell. The senior linebacker returns to anchor the UT Martin defense after an All-American season in 2013 in which he tallied 10.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss.

"They have a great defensive player, No. 40, the linebacker, an exceptional player," Stoops said. "He's a really good football player. He can play anywhere in the country. Really like the way he plays."

Miller, Cunningham suspended for opener


UK announced on Monday that left tackle Darrian Miller and wide receiver Rashad Cunningham have been suspended for Saturday's season opener for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Both will return for week two.

In Miller's absence, regular right tackle Jordan Swindle will move to the left side and redshirt freshman Kyle Meadows will fill Swindle's spot.

Returning to the lineup after a two-game suspension to close 2013 will be Demarco Robinson. He is listed as a starter at one of four wide receiver spots along with Ryan Timmons, Javess Blue and Joey Herrick. Robinson will also share punt-returning duties with Timmons.

UK moves to game prep with opener 8 days away

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The calendar read Friday, but the action on the field at the Nutter Training Facility said otherwise.

With fall camp nearing its conclusion and UK's season opener in barely a week, the Wildcats shifted their attention to preparing for UT Martin.

"We had a normal what would be a Tuesday of game week this week to get that ironed out, and it was good work," Mark Stoops said. "It was good to wrap it up. Players will be done for the rest of the day, get to relax a little bit and get their feet up underneath them."

A typical Tuesday practice includes some team work along with work for the offense and defense against the opposing scout team. According to UK's offensive coordinator, the Wildcats took well to the shift away from the grind they've become accustomed to this month.

"We had really our first day against the scout team look today and I thought we had really good energy for a hot, muggy day, which was encouraging," Neal Brown said. "I think guys are excited about getting into game prep. Had a kind of a little jog through yesterday, but our focus was good. Made some mistakes but overall thought it was a positive day."

Not only was the day positive, it was also full of news.

On the injury front, Stoops announced that Alex Montgomery (recovery from knee surgery) and Jeff Badet (eye) will miss UK's season opener. Badet is improving after injuring his eye in practice catching tennis balls, but will be out at least the first two weeks of the season. Outside of those two sophomore wide receivers, Stoops expects UK to be at full strength on Aug. 30.

Full strength for the Wildcats includes at least nine freshmen. Stoops said on Friday that defensive tackle Matt Elam, defensive back Kendall Randolph, wide receivers Blake Bone, Garrett Johnson, Dorian Baker, Thaddeus Snodgrass and T.V. Williams and running backs Stanley "Boom" Williams and Mikel Horton will all play week one.

Perhaps the biggest surprises in the group are the two running backs, as UK has veterans Braylon Heard, Jojo Kemp and Josh Clemons at their position. Brown, however, in detailing why he expects the Wildcat offense to improve this season, made it clear there will be ample carries to go around.

"The biggest difference is right now on offense, running back is our deepest position," Brown said. "My job is to get the ball to our best players, and right now, several of our top playmakers are at that running back position."

The plan for the remaining freshmen is to redshirt them if circumstances permit. But aware of how quickly things can change, they will all prepare to play, including quarterback Drew Barker.

"I think that would be in his best interest and our best interest," Stoops said of redshirting Barker. "We'll see how that goes. He will prepare to play in a backup role, and if we can save him through the season that's what we'd like to do."


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