Mark Stoops Press Conference

Kentucky Football
Pre-Southern Miss News Conference Quotes
Commonwealth Stadium – Lexington, Ky.
Aug. 29, 2016


Kentucky Head Coach Mark Stoops


Opening Statement … 
“We are excited to get going. It is finally game week. We have had a really good camp and our players have worked extremely hard. We are relatively good shape and are really anxious to get going and get in this game week. It is great that we play such a quality opponent and make sure that we come out of the blocks strong. We are playing a really good Southern Miss team. We are excited and optimistic and ready to get going.” 

On preparing for Southern Miss’ offense under offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson … 
“Well, we had to watch quite a bit of film because we had to go back and watch our offense and then had to watch quite a bit of theirs as well. Just to study their personnel and their quarterback and playing such a quality opponent in the first game, especially with a quarterback that has such great experience and is such a great football player. I like to go back and watch Southern Miss as well to see their personnel and see the plays that they ran extremely well a year ago and see what they will carry over. Coach Dawson will incorporate some of the plays and plans that they have done really well a year ago. But he is a very good quarterback and exceptionally accurate, just going back and watching more film prior to coming over here to see what he did in the bowl game and how accurate he was in the bowl game – really a very good football player. They usually don’t drop a whole lot of balls, they have very good quality receivers. They will have a few new guys this year and if they don’t have a drop or two they really light it up a year ago in that bowl game. It is unique and it is always unique to go back – as I mentioned earlier in the week – to watch yourself and seeing the things that you did well. As I mentioned earlier, the reason I hired Coach Dawson because there were some very good plays there and it is hard to see the near misses. Like I said, we looked very good at times and moved the ball well very good at times and had good plays called and designed and sometimes you are just fractions off.” 

On the team’s good starts in previous seasons and what good he saw from those to repeat that good start this season … 
“Well, I think it is always important to come out of camp with some juice and being able to play. There is a fine line that we talk about all the time with all the reps and the practices and the stress that you put them under during camp and just having that good balance and being able to come out play fast in your first game. That is an awfully lot of practices that you put in before your first game, so we have to be smart in how we manage it. As I mentioned, we went extremely hard and much longer and many more reps than we have in the past but our players have been able to handle it much easier so I feel good about that. I think, it was good to see us come out and play well each year and we will have to do it again this year. We are playing a much better opponent in game one, so we will have to play much better this year.” 

On some close calls at certain positions on the depth chart … 
“I think if you look at each of those cases it is a good thing because we fell just as good with ‘either or.’ That is really it. We have one more week and we will see how it goes this week and we expect to play all those guys that you just mentioned. You know the running backs position you are going to have to play a bunch of backs – you are just going to have to. In the heat that we expect, you are going to have to play backs. That is the same with the wide receivers and same with the Will linebacker positions. Those guys both deserve reps and they are both going to get them.” 

On Jojo Kemp … 
“He has been very consistent. He has been very good and we all love the energy that he brings. He has been consistent with that and bringing the energy. He is more mature and is an older player now and has been around. He is one of our leaders. I have been very pleased with what we have seen out of him.” 

On there being five true freshmen on the depth chart and if he expects to see any more than that play … 
“I think some of the guys that we have listed on the depth chart there you could see or you may not, we will see how it goes. With the players that are on the two-deep depth chart, we anticipate needing them at some point. A guy like Landon Young, we will see, because you know we have some flexibility with the sixth-seventh-eighth offensive linemen. It is the next best off the bench. We have some flexibility to put somebody in at guard and kick a guard to tackle with George Asafo-Adjei. So we will see how it goes and see how he (Young) progresses. But he is practicing with the two-deep and we think he will be ready to go. I think Justin Rigg is a guy that in the same way we anticipate needing him at some point during the year with two very good tight ends in front of him. But as you know, it is a very long season and he is a very good football player. T.J. Carter, same way, Jordan Griffin and Benny (Snell) will play. The same with Davonte Robinson. If you look at Davonte and Jordan, much like a year ago with the freshmen that we talked about with our starting corners, they weren’t ready until maybe game four, game five, game six. So we will see how these freshmen progress. The nice thing is that they are not needed right now to plug them in as a starter because we have some other good guys in front of them. But we do need depth and these guys have shown us they have the ability to play for us this year.”

On what he things is the best thing about this football team … 
“We are mentally much more focused than we have been. I think we are a much more disciplined football team and much more focused. That comes from all the things that I have talked about all year of putting them in more stressful situations and pushing them harder so they have more maturity about them. It is nice to play with a football team that has some experience and has some maturity about them. That is the biggest difference between this year and years past.”  

On studying Southern Miss defensively with a new head coach and defensive coordinator … 
“Yeah, we have had to watch them (Alcorn State). I do not know Coach (Jay) Hopson very well. I know that Jay is a defensive guy, so I am sure that they will stay very similar with some things but we anticipate some change there as well, certainly in the secondary and in coverages and a variety of coverages they will definitely change and be more multiple on the back end. They are very good up front. When you look at them defensively, the defensive lineman Dylan Bradley is very disruptive and a very good player. Of course, they return a free safety in D’Nerius (Antoine) No. 12, who is a very good free safety. They have moved him around a little bit, but I believe he is back at free and is experienced and a very good player. They are a very good team and very multiple. We expect to see them in some odd front and trying to be disruptive and bring some pressures and I think definitely a change in the secondary from what they have done.” 

On Boom Williams’ health … 
“Well, the nice thing is that Jojo is playing some very good football so we will have both of those guys at full tilt. You know we are very deep at that position and we will roll them as needed. He has done everything expected.  The live reps that you saw early in the camp he was in the red just to give him a little bit more time to get that elbow healed. Outside of that, he has gotten quite a few reps. It is always different for running backs because we are five deep there and you have to get those guys ready with game reps in practice. So they maybe don’t have the long drives that you may see in a game. So I am sure it will take a couple games before you see them go a whole game and have that endurance.” 

On how much “stock” can you put into this first game as a way to set the tone for the rest of the season? 
“Well, I think it’s certainly important, there’s no denying that. I think there’s a lot of people sitting in this room, and a lot of people that are going to be sitting in that stands that want to see what this team’s all about. You know, as you go through the offseason, as you go through this summer, and you hear so much talking and so much going on and everybody’s excited and wants to see what we’re all about. You can’t deny that, I think it’s important that we come out and play well, but every game’s individually based as you know. You know, win or lose we got to put this game to bed and move on, it’s a long season and we’ve all seen that. We want to play and compete in all 12 of the regular season guaranteed games and go from there, so it’s an important game. But, you know we do not put any more pressure on ourselves, we just need to go out there and do what we’ve been doing and have that great focus and attention to detail and be an exciting team and I’m excited about that myself because I know we’ll be prepared.” 

On having more flexibility at tackle with Tate Leavitt to bump George outside…
“From what we’ve seen, I think Tate is getting better and if we can do it, we’d like to redshirt him. So, we’ll see how that goes and that way down the road, we know he’ll be a quality football player. But, as you know, it’s quite different stepping in and playing at this level. So, we’ll see how he comes along, he’s also a guy that we’ve moved inside and looks very good inside as well.”

On losing Regie (Meant) and who will be replacing him…
“Well, that’s exactly right. It’s hard to replace him because he was a good leader on our team and he’s been around and had some maturity about him. It’s a tough loss but we’ll have some guys step up and we’ll see. You know, we’ll see when we get in the game, reps and when the pressures on how guys play and Adrian (Middleton) is a guy I’ve mentioned throughout camp and he’s done some very good things and hopefully he’ll come out here this Saturday and play well. I expect him to. Courtney Miggins has done some good things, Alvonte (Bell). So yes, we have that flexibility whether we’re 3 down or 4 down and that’s where it’s different as far as one person replacing him.”

On how studying video may be complicated due to players who have graduated from the previous year and seeing new faces… 
“Not much, not much. They did lose some good football players that’s for sure, the wideout was an exceptional player, very good running back and two tackles that were good football players. But everything I’m hearing, and the guys that we know of that will replace them in the receiver position, I believe they’ll be quite deep and very talented there as well and again with the quarterback and how accurate he is. You know, I’m sure that’ll make the transition a little easier with the offensive skill guys and they also return a fantastic back. They just don’t have two of them with the experience, but they had two dynamic backs a year ago. And the Smith running back, number 25 is a heck of a player, I believe he had what? 1300 yards or so a year ago, so he’s a very talented player and I’m sure they’ll be leaning on him.”

On in what situations we can expect to see Kobie Walker in the nickelback spot… 
“You’ll see Kobie. He’s versatile, he’s a guy that, again I don’t want to get into too much detail on what exactly what we’re going do with him, but he’ll be out there and he’ll be playing.”

On what position does he feel the best about being deep and what position he just doesn’t know yet… 
“A little bit of a loaded question there. Good, good question. Depth, I feel good about the positions we’ve talked about because you’ve seen these players play for us quite a bit at running back and at wide receiver. Those guys have been around, they played. I feel good about the depth in the interior offensive line, I feel like we have more numbers than we’ve been. We need to continue to develop that third and fourth tackle. But O-Line we are certainly better, tight end we’re better and the secondary we’re very deep. So I think, I feel good about the secondary it gives us some flexibility in our nickel and our dime packages to do some things there. And you have to say defensive line is where we’re thinnest, just with sheer numbers.”

On what emotions Stoops has on facing a former coach that he parted ways with and vice versa…
“Well, I don’t have any emotions with facing him at all. I have respect for Shannon Dawson or I wouldn’t have hired him. We had as good a split as you can have. He’s a professional. He handled it the right way. I certainly tried to handle it the very best I could. I think any time a situation doesn’t work out, and you’re the person who left, I don’t know. I don’t want to put words in his mouth. I’m sure it’s different for him than it is for me. But he’s a good guy and a good person. We have not talked since he left, but I’m sure someday we’ll run into each other one day on the road recruiting, or at a coaching convention or something and sit down and have a beer and talk. So, I don’t think there’s any big animosity either way.”

On how Stoops reacted to seeing where Dawson ended up and if he was concerned… 
“Of course. Because I do have respect for him and he’s a good coach. Again, I wouldn’t have hired him. It didn’t work out here; we’ve been down that road. And there was change made and I’m good with that and I’m sure he’s good with that. But he’s a good football coach or I wouldn’t have hired him. You guys have seen our offense move at times and I’ve seen it move at times. So he certainly can get you off balance especially with some of the talent he has around him.”

On the quarterback (Drew Barker) and if he’s where he wants him to be… 
“Yes. I am very pleased with what he’s done. I’ve talked about it less than we have in the past. But my message has been the same. I’ve been pleased with his progress. I’ve been pleased with his poise. He’s been accurate. I think again it’s a reflection of the guys around him as well. You know, we’re better at all the positions I just mentioned. I’ve mentioned it several times, but we’ve had guys that have played a lot of football here – at wide receiver, at running back and the O-Line. So, it’s hard to play quarterback when you’re inexperienced all around you. So, I think we’re better across the board and I think certainly I’ve been very pleased with Drew and the progress he’s made.”

On Calvin Taylor and how he moved up the depth chart… 
“He’s a guy that we’re bringing along. He’s a big guy as you know and he’s got great length and you love to see that in your defensive line. He’s getting better and better and he’s getting to the point to where we can trust him or he wouldn’t be right there where we can get him some reps in the game and can continue to develop him and bring him along.”

On playing a clean game… 
“Yea, I’m very confident that we’ll play clean. We all understand that you can nit-pick anything and we want to be (clean), believe me. We’re perfectionists. We try to be as perfect as we can be, but I think if you watch a thousand football games, you’ll see a few plays where there’s some guys out of position. But, I’m sure you guys will be very, very good at pointing that out to me after the first game (laughter). But it’s not an issue and I feel good. That’s certainly a big question mark as you go into game one, just like maybe earlier somebody had asked me that question. You know, you have a good feeling of what you have and with being consistent, and deeper and tougher mentally. But you never really know what you have until you get out to that first game. And along those same lines with the first game, there’s always some new things on all sides that you just can’t possibly prepare for because we don’t know all the little nuances they’re putting in or trickery or things like that. You apply your rules and you go play. That’s where you can’t let one play define a football game. “

On the special teams unit and if he’s happy about where they are after preseason camp…. 
“I do. I feel very good about our coverage units and with special teams, again, you’re talking about those 11 guys and how they execute together. We have a good nucleus of players with some athletes that can run and can cover. But, they cannot run and cover if the ball is not kicked properly. So that’s a big piece of it. So, I know it altogether but it’s hard to just lump it all in there sometimes. If you’re talking about athleticism on guys that can run and can cover and play physical on special teams, I feel good about where we are at. I do feel good about the kickers. We’re unproven at punter. So, we’ll see what happens with Grant (McKinniss) and Bryan (Kirshe) and I’m going to go down to the wire. I’m not sure who is going to go out there on the first punt. Because, that’s where it’s at; it’s dead even right now. They both have shown some real promise at times and both have been a little bit inconsistent. So, we’ll see. We’ll see how this week goes and it depends on the situation as well. Some guy may be better at pooch punting. One guy may be better at pinning them back. It just depends where we are at and I’ll just see how they’re hitting it this week and how they punt it in pregame. But I know we will have a great kickoff unit if Austin (MacGinnis) stays healthy and kicks the ball well. Then we will be able to cover very well. I feel good about some of the things we’re doing on return units. I really feel like we have the ability to make some big plays this year. I really do. So, that’ll be fine.” 

On Kash Daniel growing as a player and Courtney Love being his mentor…
“As you know and as you hear us talk through camp and all the different scenarios of putting guys in the best position and trying to get guys in the best 22. The best 11 on offense and defense and then going from there. And, you’re trying to get your best players on the field. And, we’ve looked at a lot of different situations and we feel good about Kash and where he is going and the progress that he has made. So, I like where he is at backup Mike (middle linebacker) and hopefully he’ll get the quality reps in each and every game. He’s been everything that we thought he would be. He’s passionate. He’s hungry. For a freshman, he has great attention to detail. There are some things that are new to him. I mean, that comes with experience and playing at this level. So, there are some things that certainly take some reps and some getting used to for him. But, I love his passion, his energy, how physical he plays. He will be an impact special teams guy and we will bring him home with Mike (middle linebacker). “ 

On Kayaune saying he was going make the coaches have to play him and if he did that… 
“That is a good question. Kayaune (Ross) has definitely done that. He has. Kayaune is a guy that, he did just the way you worded that. After certain scrimmages, after certain practices, we simply said he has to play. We’ll teach him the rest of it. Because as you know, he is behind some of the guys that I talked about with some experience and have played some football. And so, getting up to speed with the offense and playing at this level, he’s been out of the game for a little bit here. But, he’s a big, athletic target and we have been very impressed with him. I think you’re going to really see him make strides throughout the season and you will see him in there during the first game I would anticipate. We do have some depth but he is a difference-maker.” 

On if there are more players like Kayaune who have impressed him… 
“I think Kobie (Walker) is a guy that you’ve heard me talk about that certainly, if you ask me, that we haven’t seen enough of. The injury and having to sit out last year and so he is a guy that I am excited to see out there. You’ve heard me talk about Tavin (Richardson). Tavin has been one of the most consistent guys out there and I have been pleased with him. He’s making us put him on the field and in a position where we have some talented players.”

On how Stoops has changed since being at UK and should people start calling him a veteran coach… 
“I think you’re going to have to call me a vet now right? Am I the oldest coach now in the SEC in the east? Is that right? Did somebody tell me that? I don’t know. I don’t even -- I really have a hard time managing my day to day here honestly. I’m not concerned with everybody else … I take every year, every game. You certainly get some experience. You get better. You get more comfortable at what you’re doing and going into the fourth year as a head coach, I better be better than I was year one, right? So, I’ll let you write about however you want to write about.”

On the defense’s ability to get to the quarterback… 
“I think we need to continue to get to the quarterback. Again, you’ve heard me talk about it. We know how to get to the quarterback. My first year I went to Florida State and everybody told me we don’t have anybody that can rush. We don’t have the guys we used to and all we did my very first year was lead the country in sacks. But we won some one-on-ones. We taught them how to win some one-on-ones and they won some one-on-ones. You also got to create some pressures and do a variety of things, which we’re constantly looking at so it’ll be the same way. We have to just rush and win some one-on-ones and we have to create some pressures as well.” 

On the battle between the wide receivers and the secondary in camp…  
“Wow. I can’t answer that. You put me in a bad position. I have to go to a meeting here in a little bit and they’ll be getting on my case. I think it was what you wanted to see. You saw both sides winning some one-on-ones and you saw some competitive plays on both sides. You saw receivers that were bringing in a ball and defensive backs that stripped them out and you saw our receivers making difficult, competitive plays. And, that’s what the game is all about. When you have what you want to see on your side and your fair share of the one-on-one battles.” 

On Stoops’ opportunity to surprise this week with new personnel… 
“Well. I think it’s not that big of a mystery really. I mean, Coach Dawson was here and knows what kind of player Kobie was. He saw him every day on scout team. So, he knows his versatility.  So, it won’t be anything dramatic, no. But different packages that we have and what we feature out of it will be determined there. What was the other part of that? There is always going to be some of that (mystery). It is not hard to get Cincinnati tape and see what they did at Cincinnati. But they won’t know any little new nuances that we put into it. And that, that’s why I say, getting back to game one, there’s always going to be that. I think they’re very creative in their special teams. We have to be on point. Each and every special teams. They’re one of those teams that loves a lot of deception, a lot of different variety with formations and all those things and some trickery and so we got to be on point. On all sides of the ball, I think there is going to be some subtle changes year to year.” 

On Dorian (Baker) being mature on and off the field and changes in him… 
“Yeah. I’ve seen Dorian be very serious and very focused on his work. He definitely was that. So, I think that has been the biggest change.”