2014 Kentucky Football Media Day
Aug. 8, 2014
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- The UK Football program went through its annual "Media Day" on Friday, Aug. 8 in Commonwealth Stadium for the second time under head coach Mark Stoops.
UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart opened the day with an update on the on-going construction to Commonwealth Stadium. Stoops then addressed the media, following Barnhart.
Following Stoops, offensive coordinator Neal Brown and defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot also met the media before the players and assistant coaches were interviewed in the Nutter Fieldhouse.
BARNHART PRESS CONFERENCE
STOOPS PRESS CONFERENCE
ELIOT PRESS CONFERENCE
BROWN PRESS CONFERENCE
SUSAN LAX (MODERATOR): Everybody. Thank you for coming. I'm Susan Lax with media relations. We appreciate you coming out today. For today's schedule, we'll start with Mitch Barnhart, then Coach Stoops will come up, then we'll have the coordinators.
Without further ado, Mitch Barnhart.
MITCH BARNHART: Thanks. This is the warmup act. I know, as always, you came to see me. This is like the warmup of a comedy show or something, I'm not sure. You won't get much comedy from me other than it's a new year, and we're starting again. I wanted to just sort of recap a little bit where we've been and where we're headed.
First and foremost, I wanted to thank our fans. It's been an interesting five, six months as we have journeyed into a couple of different areas to just try and make sure we're staying in touch with our fan base as we go through some significant changes in our program, specifically with our stadium and the way we want to conduct our business and the things that we're doing.
So a few months ago, four or five months ago, we launched BBN First, trying to give our fans an opportunity to tell us what they wanted and what they were looking for in areas of customer service, in areas of game day atmospheres and those kind of things. The responses were unbelievable. We had about 1,500 e-mails, where our fans jumped in the middle of conversations about what we've got going on on game day. It's been really, really good.
I'm thankful that they've done that. I think everybody sits and thinks that I'm pressing buttons selecting music on game day. I will assure you that does not happen. I'm not picking videos. I'm not picking music. But that was just a piece of it, and we got a lot of input in a lot of different areas.
I would say, when you total it up, we had about 1,700 suggestions in some way, shape, or form. Some of those were a little repetitive in terms of same thoughts and same mindsets. A lot of them, music selection, in-game traditions, scores, video updates, from throughout the country, other areas, things like that. So a lot of that.
We've made some progress. I think we've done -- we've addressed some of those things. Some of those things won't be able to be addressed until we get into the new stadium and we get that all done. I know Russ Pear has anxiously had the countdown on his calendar until September 5th of next year. He's inside of 400 days, and clearly he's aware that's a part of it.
We've got to get the stadium ready for this year so we can be playable and make sure everybody has access to the places necessary for the game, obviously. Then, obviously, we've got a lot of work to do in the off-season as we prepare. So it's about a year and a half, two-year journey in this thing, in terms of the facility piece of what we're talking about.
I would ask that our fans stay involved in the process. We absolutely want to continue to involve the fans in the process of what we're doing on game day. And I think that you will see some things. Just to give you an example, My Old Kentucky Home, where do you want to see it? The input came back. They want to see it at the beginning of the game and at the end of the game, and we'll continue to do that. That's what the fans have asked.
I've had a lot of feedback from time to time about what that should look like. That's what the fans want, and that's what we're going to do. In the process of doing that, we did things like voting for a bracket tournament kind of run out, what the team runs out on the field to. The players picked some music, and the fans voted. I'm sure you'll all recognize the song. So don't know about that.
But it's been good. It's been good. So I'm thankful that everybody has been participating in that, and looking forward to continuing to work through BBN First we put in place.
The SEC Network, big news around that. Obviously, everyone has been paying attention to that, who has picked it up, who has not. The distribution on that has been outstanding through the league office. I'm thankful for all the efforts of the league and ESPN, but I'm most thankful for the fans. Our fans put significant pressure on the league -- not just Kentucky fans, but in the league, put significant pressure on distributors and said we want this network. It has the chance to be the most successful launch in the history of cable television, and that's exciting for our league. It's exciting for our programs.
It gives us an opportunity to showcase our programs across the country. The distribution, just on the outset of everybody picked up, in that 90 million home range. Clearly, not everyone has got it just yet or picked it up just yet. That's what it's available to right now, and it's continuing to grow. Real excited about getting that cranked up, and that will launch August 14 from our league.
Obviously, our basketball program will be one of the first live programming pieces on that from the Bahamas, and that will be exciting for our basketball program. So I wanted to thank our fans for their engagement in that process, and I think it's an exciting time for the Southeastern Conference, and for the University of Kentucky to be a part of that, a really, really important piece as we go forward. So looking forward to that.
The Commonwealth Stadium renovation, touch on that just briefly. You hear what's going on outside. You can see what's going on. We've got a lot of work to do. As I said, Russ is heavy in the middle of all that, Russ Pear, and doing a great job of trying to pull all the details together. It's a massive project. Great undertaking to try to do some utility work and some steel work and get it all ready to go. Clean it up, play some games, continue construction.
At the end of this season, obviously, we'll get into it hot and heavy in terms of shelling out the rest of the stadium. In that transition, there's a lot going on, a lot of places we can't get to, a lot of places we can't park, and there's going to be some consternation, and there's going to be some angst a little bit in some places. Growth obviously can't happen unless there's some change in all that, and it's hard.
Sometimes that means we've got to move some folks and change some parking. We've still got the best parking of any school in the Southeastern Conference, there's no question about that. It may move some folks around a little bit. It may change a few of our seating structures a little bit, but at the end of the day, we're going to have a better place to play football, a better place to represent the University of Kentucky, and I'm hoping we'll have everybody's patience and understanding. We work our way through that, and we grow this thing the way we all want to.
With that said, up on the screens to my left and my right, you will see some pictures, some pictures of our new training center. We're closing down schematic design of that, so we're still in draft on a lot of that. So those are the pictures that we have that sort of give you some kind of idea what that looks like. As you look at this, it will be on the back side of the Nutter Field House over here off -- as we go past, towards Alumni Drive. Give you some kind of idea what that looks like, and we'll go there with practice fields, and the training center is about 95,000, 100,000 square feet, in that zone for football, and that will give us an opportunity to do some really, really cool, unique things, tying this whole facility and one-stop shop, our players in an area where they can get everything they need for the University of Kentucky football in one area.
So we're excited about that. We think we'll finish up schematic design later on this fall, and we'll be able to begin the process and get into the construction process. So real excited about that and be able to move forward with that.
So I hope that does give people a little bit of a glimpse of what we've been trying to put together over the last few months.
I would like to refer people to the Gameday website. Continue to go to the Gameday website, if the media could continue to plug that in terms of places our fans can go to get up to date information on a regular basis with regards to traffic patterns, parking, things within the stadium structure that could change, not on a daily basis, but on an occasional basis based on what's going on in the current construction. I would like to encourage them to stay in touch with the Gameday website and look to that. So pay attention to that.
The other thing I'd like to address is just to thank our coaches and our athletes for last year. Tonight we're going to have a little get together with our staff tonight and the families for all the folks that contributed to the best finish in our department's history in terms of national finish. We finished 11th in the country, five points out of the top ten, and we're the third ranked school in the SEC in terms of national finish for a total department.
That doesn't come without a great effort from a lot of people, whether that was our coaching staff and the things that they did to bring student-athletes to this program, the student-athletes' efforts. We had some teams that did some remarkable things and had a lot of fun. Eighteen of our 22 teams placed nationally and did a remarkable job.
And then our staff and just the things that go into getting ready to play and doing all the things that we do, whether it's the medical care, the academics, the things that are going on. We had the best academic year we've ever had. We had the best athletic year we've ever had. We've got to continue to grow on that. My message to our athletes is simply don't stop. Don't stop. We had a lot of fun. It was a good run last year. We did a lot of really good things, but don't stop. We want to keep going.
So that's the message, but I would be remiss if I didn't publicly say, really for the first time since June 30th and the end of our year, thanks to our coaches and our athletes. It was a lot of fun to watch, a lot of remarkable performances during. During the month of July, we had an opportunity to celebrate A.J. Reed and the five-time National Player of the Year. There wasn't an award he didn't win, probably one of the more remarkable individual seasons in all of college sports.
I'm not sure it's been done very often in terms of nationally, and I think it went a little under the radar for what he did. He had a remarkable year, and I want to congratulate A.J. on all the things he did nationally, remarkable.
I would be a little remiss or a little out of line if I started mentioning individual performances. We had a bunch of individual athletes that did a remarkable year, but I'd like to thank them for a great year and a great finish.
That's really where I'll end my comments. We'll take questions if you have any and conclude my warmup act for Coach Stoops. Anybody have any questions?
Q. [ No microphone ].
MITCH BARNHART: I think we want to continue to make progress. Everybody is going to look in terms of W's and L's.
That's the first place everybody goes. That's a reasonable expectation. We all want to win.
We want to see our program make progress. We have a lot of young guys on the field, a lot of freshmen and sophomores on the field, a lot of redshirt kids. I think you'll see growth out of them.
I think that's -- we've always said it before, you'll know progress when you see it. You'll see us making less mistakes in certain areas, less penalties, less turnovers, getting more turnovers, creating a different environment for our team, moving the ball late in games, making adjustments and doing things needed to win some games. So hopefully we'll do that.
Everyone wants to see it show up in W's and L's, and we would too. The goal is to get to postseason play. That's always the goal in whatever we do. But I think we'll all recognize progress when we see it. I would anticipate that.
I think we've got a good group of young, talented guys and a bunch of guys fighting for positions all across the board. This is as much competition for a position as I've seen since I've probably been at Kentucky. There's depth in a lot of areas in terms of people. Now, who will come out of that to take the jobs is yet to be seen.
Q. With the vote yesterday by the NCAA about more autonomy for the conference. There's some talk now about maybe the power conferences only sticking to teams in those conferences and not going beyond that. Are you in favor of that?
MITCH BARNHART: I don't see that happening. I really don't. I don't think that will happen.
I think we've got to, for the strength of the game of football, we'll have to schedule other folks. I think that's important.
But a lot of people are pointing to, quote, unquote, the RPI, the strength of schedule stuff for the playoff system. Our strength of schedule is plenty good in the SEC. We're fine. And everybody is playing at least one other big five conference team.
So we've got nine on our schedule. Alabama is always going to have nine, maybe ten. Florida is always going to have nine, maybe ten. So we're going to be fine. And I think it's important for the growth of the game of football that you continue to play other people and we don't get so tight on 65, 70 teams, whatever. I think that's important not to do that.
Now, that's my opinion. Whether that resonates across -- I don't know. I think it's important for the game of football not to do that.
Q. How about FCS? Are they continuing to play?
MITCH BARNHART: I think you've got to. I think you have to. To play one FCS team a year is probably fair. I think it's fair to them. It helps them sustain their program. They need it for financial viability to be able to maintain their programs.
We need it too, to be honest with you. We can't afford to -- from just -- sometimes from an injury perspective and a cost perspective, there's lots of pieces that come into play when you play an FCS team, and it's important that you weigh all that in there. I think it's important that you continue to play them.
Q. Question regarding Commissioner Slive's thoughts on teams playing 10 SEC games ...
MITCH BARNHART: The ADs and the coaches have been pretty strong at being at eight in the league. We've all agreed we're going to play at least one FBS, whatever you call it, big five kind of a game.
Yeah, I understand what he wants. Let me repeat. I'm good at eight and one. So that will be a discussion. I'm sure that will get to be a discussion in the room. I think each program has to weigh in where it needs to be.
For us to sit here and say we're at eight and playing two others, I'm not sure that's very smart for us right now. The reality of it is can you get to the Final Four of the playoff system playing eight and one out of our league? Does the strength of schedule? It will all come down to those kinds of pieces in the computer and stuff. Does that get you to the Final Four?
People have to make their own decision. I don't think that needs to be at the conference level and the national level. I think it needs to be at an institutional level. We need to make the decisions as to where we fit in. If we misgauge where we fit in and all of a sudden we have a remarkable season and our strength of schedule isn't quite where it needed to be and we miss out, that's on us. That's our fault.
I don't think that becomes a decision -- the growth and the health of our program needs to be based upon where we see it and where we think it needs to go. As a league, we don't want to damage the league because of our schedule, but I think, as long as we're playing eight and playing one, I think that's strong. We've already talked about we work very closely with the league on our basketball schedules. We've got our league basketball schedule, and they take a look at our nonconference basketball schedules to make sure we're all within the framework of not just scheduling everybody in the bottom third of the RPI so we don't damage the rest of the league.
We'll get to that spot. I'm fine with that, but I think at some point in time, it's an institutional decision as to where you want to live, or where you feel like you can live.
Q. Is there anything firm in terms of the Ring of Honor for the new stadium? I had a call about that.
MITCH BARNHART: We're going to work our way through -- we've got a whole package in terms of graphics and what we're doing with traditions and those kinds of things. That is a piece of the construction package.
As we get through a lot of these bid packages and make sure where we are financially, we'll work our way through making sure those traditions -- we've got a group we've worked with that have come in with designs and different ways of honoring traditions and signs, this is the way we get to our seats -- all of those pieces are included in one package. So certainly that's a piece.
The other thing I want to find a way to do is our total University of Kentucky Hall of Fame. We're going to announce that new class here very shortly. I want to make sure we find a way to honor that group as well.
We talk about our Ring of Honor, and that's the football specific folks and the folks that hang on the banners of Rupp Arena, but we've got other athletes that have contributed to this deal. I want to make sure we find some way to honor University of Kentucky Hall of Famers. We've got really phenomenal folks, and they need to find a spot where they're honored as well. I'm not sure how we get all that done, but we're going to figure that out.
Thanks for being here. Look forward to seeing you. We'll see you in the stadium this fall.
COACH Mark Stoops: How's everybody doing? It's been a good couple days. It's been a good start. I'm very pleased with where we're at. Our players worked extremely hard in the off-season this summer. We're much improved.
We're a deeper football team. I think our freshmen really help us in that area. I think there's about 12 or 13 freshmen that will play. So we'll see. We'll see where it goes from there.
I like the progress of the team, and I like where we're at.
Q. Mark, can you define the word pressure and how you felt last year on this day versus this year on this day?
COACH Mark Stoops: Pressure is all self-induced. I really all coaches, I think, will tell you the same thing. We expect a lot of ourselves and of our teams and a lot of that pressure is just on you and what you expect of your team and your coaches and all that.
Q. You had a bad practice the other day. How did they respond to that?
COACH Mark Stoops: They responded well, just like I thought they would. I feel great about the leadership of this team, and I feel like they bounced back well yesterday and have a good attitude today. We'll have a good workout this afternoon as well.
Q. Mark, of the 12 to 13 freshmen you're talking about playing, are you starting them on offense or fairly well split between the two?
COACH Mark Stoops: It will be fairly well split. A good majority of them will probably be offensive.
I think we have to play the receivers. Those guys have really looked good, really all the freshmen receivers can help us and looking forward to having that depth.
Running backs as well. Feel good about the depth of our running back position, but the freshmen can help us there as well.
Q. Do you have any more idea of a time line for starting positions?
COACH Mark Stoops: No, we'll see where it goes. Obviously, as we get further and further in the camp, things amp up a little bit, scrimmages, full pads, and all those things as we move forward here. So we'll see how they respond to that.
Q. Are you happy with all the quarterbacks' work over the summer? Have they come in improved?
COACH Mark Stoops: Yeah, definitely. I've said it over and over. Whoever takes the first snap will be improved.
The guys have really done a nice job. They're better rounded, and I expect them to go out and play well.
I think we have good competition there. They're all doing some good things. They're not perfect, but they're much improved.
Q. Mark, what do you think is the biggest area of improvement?
COACH Mark Stoops: As I said, I think just the mentality of our team, the leadership of our team, and accountability and dependability, all the little things.
It's a lot, as you know. There's a lot of positions that go into fielding a football team, and everybody needs to take care of their business. I think we're a more reliable football team. Mentally, we're just much tougher, much more leadership, more accountable mentality.
Physically, we're better as well, and we're deeper, as I just said. I think those are the big things.
The little things, we always talk about the little things. When you're dealing with so many guys, you're dealing with hundreds of football players, the little things are big because, if we continue to do the little things well, then the big things won't be so big.
Q. Who went in the locker room and righted the ship for you guys? Which leaders kind of took charge?
COACH Mark Stoops: I have a good idea, but I wasn't in the locker room. And I know, as soon as I walked away, I could tell some guys were in the meeting or in the huddle talking to them. I'm not sure who it is.
I have a good idea because I know who the leaders are on this team. I've discussed them before. Guys like Bud (Dupree) and guys like Jordan (Swindle) and guys like Z(a’Darius Smith). So I would expect those guys had a good talk.
Q. Mark, are you still giving all four quarterbacks equal reps?
COACH Mark Stoops: Maxwell has not been 100 percent yet. Max is still coming off the shoulder surgery. So he's not gotten as many reps. He's been every other day to this point. So the other three have gotten equal reps.
Q. How long do you think you can keep doing equal before you decide?
COACH Mark Stoops: I'm not sure, when we have a decision.
Q. Jacob Hyde played in the spring. Where do you see him fitting in with your plan of defensive linemen?
COACH Mark Stoops: Jacob is doing a very good job. He's a great young man, works extremely hard, does everything right. I love his attitude. He's good to have on our football team. He's trying to earn his way to get on the field a little bit right now.
We have a mixture of guys inside that are doing a nice job. He's in there. He's trying to get some reps. We'll see where it goes from there.
Q. The players talk about Jacob as one of the strongest guys on the team. Can you talk about his work ethic?
COACH Mark Stoops: Really proud. When Jacob got here, he needed to change his body a little bit. He was really too heavy and needed to change his body. He thinned down for a while and then gained the weight back the right way.
He's very strong, as we talked about. He's a very hard worker and a great young man.
Q. Mark, I know, when you came to this job, you had a plan, an idea of what you wanted to do. After having been in the job for a year, did you have to tweak or change your plans?
COACH Mark Stoops: Not really. I mean, we always change, as you know. With football, there's so much that goes into it schematically that we constantly -- that's why we stay here all day and night. We spend a lot of time schematically always changing.
As far as the overall plan of the program and where we're headed, no. We're staying the course, and I really love the direction of the program. I've said that over and over. I feel like there's a great buy-in.
I wasn't here for Mitch's press conference, but I'm sure you heard all the good things that are going on. That makes us excited as a coaching staff, as a football team. Our players, our recruits, everybody feels the excitement that's going on right now. There's been a great buy-in from the whole state and certainly from our administration. So that definitely helps.
Q. Anything in this first week of camp change the order of the quarterbacks from where you saw it coming out of spring?
COACH Mark Stoops: It's hard to answer that. It is wide open, Kyle. It is wide open. I think they all -- somebody needs to take the reins and be the clear-cut winner of this job, and they need to do that. We're giving them plenty of opportunity. Somebody needs to take it and run with it.
As we move forward and as the pressure of practice amps up in the next week -- somebody asked me a timeline. I'm not going to put a timeline on it, but, sure, in the next three, four, five, seven days, we absolutely would love to have somebody take the reins of that position and say, that's my spot.
Right now it's just too even. I've said it before, it would be too reckless just to make a decision because I want to make a decision and not answer those questions. I'm not going to do that. It's not fair to the players. It's not fair to our team. It's not fair to the future of our program.
It's a very important decision, and, sure, we'd like to have that done, but it's not. We'll see how it plays out. I'm confident we will play better at that position regardless of who's in there.
Q. What's your impression of Matt Elam so far and how he's done?
COACH Mark Stoops: Been very impressed with Matt. I've heard some of the comments, some of our players talking about it. He's so big, but he's so athletic for his size. He's a very unique player.
Guys like that don't come around all the time. He's got a bright future because he picks up on things well. He's extremely athletic for his size. I'm very excited about Matt and his future. He needs to continue to work to get into shape so he can play at a high level in this conference.
No matter what position you're playing, that's hard to do as a freshman, but I really like where he's at, and I anticipate him playing in the first game and being ready to go.
Q. Is the kick returning job (Ryan) Timmons' to lose?
COACH Mark Stoops: I think kick returning of the kickoffs we have plenty of options there. The punt return is the one that sticks out to me that probably you're talking about.
Yes, I would love to see Ryan do it. He's been very reliable so far in camp. He's done a very nice job, and I'd like to see him win that job.
Q. Question regarding secondary depth ...
COACH Mark Stoops: Darius (West), it's a shame what happened to Darius. He -- let me just start by saying the whole freshman class, a lot's been talked about and written and everything, but after being here for four practices, they're everything we thought they were going to be and more, a great group. Really talented players, really have a good feel for the game.
So I'm really disappointed for Darius. He is a great football player and will be once he gets healed up.
The safety position -- two spots a year ago that I didn't feel like we played very well, the will linebacker position and the free safety. A.J. Stamps comes in right away, and he's been here since the spring, but he's a guy that you haven't seen play yet in a game besides the spring game. He's a guy that helps fill a big void right there because I just love the way he's playing. So that helps us right there.
The guys that we have are getting better. A guy like Marcus McWilson is much improved from a year ago. That will help us as well. So I feel a lot better about that position.
What was the second part of that? That was it, yeah. Oh, I wanted to talk about the will position with Flannigan. Ryan Flannigan just got here, really impressed with him. We needed him. We talked about the depth at linebacker, and he's a guy that will definitely help us.
We love the way he's playing. He came in in really good shape, which you're always worried about because you haven't seen him all summer. I love the way he's playing, and he'll continue to battle at that position. So we'll see.
Q. What about Adrian Middleton and Lloyd Tubman?
COACH Mark Stoops: Middleton and Tubman, absolutely love them. They're going to be very good football players. That whole freshman D-line group, they are some big guys, very big and very athletic.
Middleton we'll see where he goes. He may need to redshirt, but he is an athletic, big guy. He put on a lot of weight between the end of his senior year and right now. We need to restructure some of that weight, but he's very athletic and very good football player. He's going to have a good future.
And Tubman, same way. He's coming off shoulder surgery. We've got to be cautious with him right now. I don't want to bang him up and reinjure that shoulder, but he is a very good football player, very good looking guy. Our team looks at him, and everybody wants to compare him -- he looks a little bit like Bud did just maybe a year ago. He gained an awful lot of weight between the end of his senior year and right now. But Lloyd is a very big, good looking, athletic guy that has a bright future.
Q. You mentioned redshirting. At SEC media days, Derek Mason said they don't believe in redshirting. What's your position on it with the team so young?
COACH Mark Stoops: After four days, I feel like there's 12 or 13 guys that have a good chance of playing as freshmen. The other 12 or 13 for me or for us -- I'm not saying anything about what he does, but for us, it wouldn't make a lot of sense for us to play them if they weren't going to have an impact, where maybe five years down the road, they would have a big impact.
Some guys just physically need it, some guys are just coming off injury, things like that. The guys we redshirted a year ago, guys like Ramsey Meyers, he's probably going to start at right guard. That was a good redshirt. He had time to get acclimated, get stronger. It really helped him. It really helped Regie Meant.
I don't ever have it where we're definitely going to play a guy or definitely going to redshirt him. We'll see how it works out.
Q. Mark, where are you along the lines of where you want to be from a physical standpoint? Not only in size and weight, but from the physical nature of playing the game?
COACH Mark Stoops: Improved. Improved. I don't know if anybody will ever -- any head coach will sit up here and say we're as physical as we want to be. You always want to be more physical.
It's like that old saying there, you can't have too much money, all that stuff, or too much fun, right?
But we always want to be more physical. I like the look of our team. I love the way the new bodies in our program look, and we need to continue to develop those guys, but we're bigger and more physical.
Q. How much use do you think the freshmen corners are going to be?
COACH Mark Stoops: I'm not sure yet about the corner position. (Jared) Tucker, I'd like to -- we love him. Physically, he may -- it would help him probably to have a year, but if we need him, we're going to play him. So we'll see. But I really like the way he's playing.
We'll see where it goes. He's not one we definitely need to count on right now.
Q. Is (Kendall) Randolph in the corner?
COACH Mark Stoops: He's playing our nickel, and he's going to play. Yeah, he'll play. I'm very impressed with him.
He's a guy that we thought all along that was a little bit like Blake McClain, and he is. He's all that. He's a guy we feel like, if we need him to play at nickel -- which you know, you've heard me talk about, it's a very unique position. It's not easy. You've got to have instincts and unique ability.
I love the way he's playing there. He could play safety, or he could play corner.
Q. A lot of positive results on the recruiting side. How big is this season on the results side?
COACH Mark Stoops: It's always important on the results side. We are always trying to build our program, but the bottom line is win and losing games. We want to win games. It's extremely important for a lot of reasons. We have a lot of great momentum here in football right now, and we need to keep that.
We have all the great things. Like I said, I didn’t listen to Mitch, but the construction and the complex that we're building, the recruiting's going well. Aside from all that, our players that are here, the seniors that are here that have paid the price and really turned the corner and went through a coaching change and done all the things necessary to be great leaders and great young men, they deserve to win.
Q. Statistically in your second season as a coordinator at your two other places, you guys really improved. Do you expect to see that sort of improvement?
COACH Mark Stoops: I do. Just from the first day of practice and the first four days, I like where we're at defensively. We haven't arrived yet or anything like that, but I see drastic improvement, and a lot of it comes from confidence and communication and understanding what's going on.
Q. Mark, when you talk about true freshmen receivers coming and are going to play, does that depend on what you count as your need for depth there so much or their talent that they're going to play?
COACH Mark Stoops: A little combination of both. I think we need them, and a couple of them, early signs show that they're going to deserve to play.
Dorian Baker is just an awfully big, strong, good looking receiver that's really impressed us so far in camp.
Garrett Johnson is a guy that definitely -- from things we heard all summer from just the quarterbacks out there, they've loved him all summer. He's a very polished, very skilled receiver. He's going to help us.
Blake Bone is a big receiver with great ball skills working his way in there.
And Thaddeus (Snodgross) was here in the spring, but Thaddeus is a guy that really I saw drastic improvement in him. Going back from last spring, what he did all summer, and coming in the first four days, I'm really impressed with what Thaddeus has done.
Q. Question regarding depth at running back ...
COACH Mark Stoops: It's not as big a deal to you or to us at that position because you need to play so many running backs. Who takes the first snap really isn't a big deal to a football team. I'm sure it is to those players, and we'll see what happens, but they're going to all play.
You need them to play. It's a long season. So that's why it's not as big an issue. Maybe we'll start the game with three tailbacks. You never know.
Q. [no microphone]
COACH Mark Stoops: I feel very good about Kyle Meadows. He's a guy that really used the redshirt year like he needed to, got acclimated to school, got a lot bigger, a lot stronger, and really did a good job. Ramsey Meyers, the same thing.
The benefit for those guys, if they do redshirt, they're on a totally different weight lifting plan than the rest of those guys. Guys like that, that's where you see the great benefit because all weekend, the guys are traveling and going to nice hotels and eating good meals, those guys are in the weight room and really banging it and really lifting and putting on that weight, and they're in a totally different weight lifting program than the rest of the crew. So that was really important for us to redshirt those guys a year ago.
With that, this freshman O-line class, the same way. Fortunately, we should not be in a situation where we need to use them this year. I hope it stays that way. But very talented group. I think a year from now they'll really be what you're looking for. They really have great size. Two of them are coming off of an injury. So it's good to just let them heal up and lift and get bigger and stronger.
But (Josh) Krok is a guy that he could possibly work his way into the mix this year if we needed him. Hopefully, we can redshirt him, but we'll see. He's been impressive as well. So he's in the mix a little bit.
COACH D.J. Eliot: Excited to be here again. Looking forward to the season. Outside the players, you are my favorite people to be around.
Q. D.J., you and Mark talked about Matt Elam being athletic. What does athletic mean in someone that big?
COACH D.J. Eliot: Well, imagine a big train going fast down the track. When you see someone that big, you just don't expect to see an explosion and something so quick off the ball, and he has that.
Q. Was he born with it?
COACH D.J. Eliot: I don't know. He definitely has a natural talent, but he had some good high school coaches, and he went through a good program.
Q. Have you been around a guy in your career of this size?
COACH D.J. Eliot: Never that big. He's probably the biggest player I've ever been associated with. Coach Stoops and I were at Florida State together. We were at Miami together, and we had some good defensive tackles, but never one that big.
Q. Why do you think teams get so much better statistically under Stoops on that second year?
COACH D.J. Eliot: Well, the first year you go in, and everything's new to them. Every time they see something, it's the first time they see it. And then the second year, you've got a chance to, hey, I've been there. I've seen that. I know what I'm supposed to do. So you see improvement.
Q. D.J., how does J.D. Harmon look?
COACH D.J. Eliot: He looks good. He's got great size for a corner. He's got great change of direction, good speed. It's great to have him back out there this season. He's got a bright future.
Q. Before we get into this, do you have a better idea of your defensive tackle situation?
COACH D.J. Eliot: It's tough to tell. We've only had one shoulder padded practice. At that position, so much is based on the physicality. So we really haven't seen them hit each other much. It's tough to tell.
Q. Which areas of the defense have you seen most improvement since the spring?
COACH D.J. Eliot: Most improvement since the spring, I think we're better in the secondary. We're better in the secondary. That comes with experience. I think that comes with just more reps as well.
Q. What do you ask from a guy like Ashely Lowery to make improvements?
COACH D.J. Eliot: Ashely is a senior. He's got to be a leader. A lot of those qualities we got from Avery last year. He has to have those in the secondary.
On top of that, his play has got to be very, very good. That safety position is critical on our defense, so he has to communicate, he's got to get guys lined up, and then he has to make plays.
Q. Any impressions of (Ryan) Flannigan so far?
COACH D.J. Eliot: Very athletic. Picks up the defense quick. Like I said, we've only had one shoulder padded practice, so I don't know yet who's going to hit who. It's tough to tell from that standpoint, but I've been impressed with him.
Q. He said you quizzed him a little bit when he wasn't here, trying to make sure. He talked about that a little bit. When you can't sit with a guy and watch film, can't work with him physically, how do you exactly do that over the phone?
COACH D.J. Eliot: The first thing, I learned what his defense was that he knew in junior college, and I tried to translate it. So that it would go quicker in his mind, what we were doing.
But the good thing is he's not a high school kid. He's played two years of college football. That's what you get with a junior college player. So he's a little more advanced in understanding the game than a high school kid would be.
Q. How did he do on those quizzes?
COACH D.J. Eliot: Very good. Very good.
Q. What do you know about this job that you didn't know before?
COACH D.J. Eliot: I didn't know the media was going to be so good. I didn’t realize how talented the media was.
Q. So you learned how to suck up?
COACH D.J. Eliot: I'll tell you what, what I didn't know is how passionate the fan base is about football. I knew the fan base was passionate about basketball, but I didn't know how passionate they were about football. It's been very impressive and very exciting to see that.
Q. Question regarding the freshman linebacker ...
COACH D.J. Eliot: I think they have a lot of potential. I'm very impressed with both those guys. As you know, last year we didn't have a freshman linebacker. We didn't sign a freshman in that class last year. So this is the first year I've had freshmen at linebacker.
I'm very impressed with those guys. They're athletic. They're into it. They're intense, which you've got to be in that position.
Q. Do either of them have a chance to start?
COACH D.J. Eliot: Again, it's too early to tell for those positions. Sometimes in the skill positions you can tell more without pads, but at the line and linebacker, it's tough to tell when you haven't hit anybody yet.
Q. How much do you hope to get Jason Hatcher on the field?
COACH D.J. Eliot: I hope to get him on the field as much as I can, but most of that is up to him and where his play is at, and that's for everybody on the team. But he's got a talent that I want to use, and we're going to do everything we can to get him on the field and use him.
Q. What about the guys that are going to be sophomores now that were true freshman last year?
COACH D.J. Eliot: Like I said before, those guys in the secondary took their lumps, having to go out in the SEC and play as true freshmen, but it really matured them.
So now going into this training camp, I feel much better about them, and they feel more confident in what they're doing, having been there.
Q. Coach, with a lack of depth at linebackers, do you see it as a better approach to be more multiple with your defenses or try to stick to a solid base?
COACH D.J. Eliot: Ultimately, you have to be great fundamentally. You have to be great with your fundamentals. So you need to harp on that in whatever scheme you choose to run.
We're a multiple defense. We run a lot of different schemes. We run a lot of different looks, and we're going to continue to do that.
Q. How do you feel about the defensive tackle position?
COACH D.J. Eliot: We lost two guys that were critical in our defense last year, but Mike Douglas by the end of the year last year was playing well, and he's back. And then we redshirted three defensive tackles last year in Melvin Lewis, Jacob Hyde, and Regie Meant, so they just got bigger, stronger, and faster. So they're much more mature than they were last year.
And then with the addition of our freshmen too, I think we'll be in good shape.
Q. Who are the guys on the offensive side of the ball in the practices that you've had with them, are there guys who are already calling you guys out? Have you gone good-on-good?
COACH D.J. Eliot: No, we've gone good-on-good and seven-on-seven. We've had to battle those guys.
Some of the usual suspects are good over there, but some of the freshmen that have caught my eye are like Dorian Baker, Garrett Johnson. I think those guys are playing well.
Q. Can you tell me how his tempo is for the offense?
COACH D.J. Eliot: His tempo, it's improved. It's always fast, and it's improved.
COACH Neal Brown: How's everybody doing? I know there's a little golf tournament going on down the road. So I appreciate you all being here.
We've had four practices in the books. Yesterday was a little bit slower paced. Guys finished up finals. Excited about the group. Feel much more -- I feel better. I feel more excited. I like where we're at, especially compared to where we were a year ago.
I know I'm going to get a lot of questions about the quarterbacks. I really like how they're preparing, how they're performing so far. Really the next five, seven days will tell a lot. We've done a little bit of good-on-good work, but we've been real careful because our guys are going through finals, and Coach (Erik) Korem did a study and found a lot of injuries occur during finals week. So we're being really careful with our guys.
So now we're going to pick up starting this afternoon and do a lot of good-on-goods, throw our quarterbacks in a lot of different situations. I hope within the next five or seven days, one of those guys are going to stand out. I think Coach Stoops touched base on that.
You can ask, but I probably won't have much to say about those guys, other than you can ask about them individually, but I probably won't have much to say about where we're at in the position.
I'm about at the point where I'm tired of answering the question, and a lot of you are tired of asking it. So with that, we'll open up questions.
Q. How often have you been in a situation where you had to open up at about 5:00 in the morning and practice at 6:00?
COACH Neal Brown: One other time. We did it the last year at Texas Tech. And to be honest, you've got a lot of time. I think you have 30 practices now. It's really not that big of a deal.
We were real conscious about giving our guys academic time because coaches are always in a hurry. That's just the deal. We're always in a hurry -- get better, get better, get better. But the reality of the situation is we've got 30 practices plus a lot of potential walk-throughs. We've got plenty of time to get ready for the first game.
So we did it at Texas Tech. That's what I was telling -- obviously, Chad (Scott) and Tommy (Mainord) were there with me. That's what I was telling the rest of the coaches, just say it's not that bad of a situation.
Q. Is it a shock to the body of a 18-19 year old getting up that early?
COACH Neal Brown: Getting up early -- the good thing about it is our older guys, with the previous staff, they practiced real early in the morning, which I know put a damper on your schedules the first four days too. Really Coach Stoops did it so maybe not as many will come. I'm just kidding.
I think it is a little bit of a shock to their system. Now, what we did -- and I thought Coach (Corey) Edmond and Coach Korem did a good job of this. They kind of prepared their bodies for it at the end of the summer. A lot of team runs, the team workouts started at the same time we were going to practice. So kind of got them prepped for that.
Q. Have these quarterbacks done anything in the first few days that looked different than you saw in the spring, dramatically different, I should say, that's changed at all how you see them?
COACH Neal Brown: Well, I think, if you look at them individually -- really, what I was -- what I really wanted to see from the end of April from the spring game until when we started on Monday, was how much better they improved fundamentally because I gave them a lot of different things to work on.
I'll go through each individually and give you one little tidbit. I think Reese Phillips has improved his arm strength. That's something that jumps out to me.
I think Patrick Towles, he still has work to do in this, but he's improving his ability to get the ball out faster.
Drew Barker has made less mental mistakes than he made during the spring, even in the last week of the spring practice.
And then Maxwell (Smith) has shown the ability to throw the ball effectively down the middle. Now, he's still got to be able to throw it outside to the numbers, to the outside, but he's shown the ability coming off surgery to throw the ball effectively down the middle.
Q. You guys said almost every day we talked to you last year that you're waiting for someone to take the reins on that one. Is there a chance it doesn't happen with this group?
COACH Neal Brown: No, I think it will. I do. I think it will happen. We're going to start getting into more 11-on-11 work, and I do anticipate it happening.
I know you're tired of hearing me -- you've been on the banquet circuit with me -- but we're going to be better at that position. We're going to be significantly better at that position than we were last year. A lot of it has to do with year two in the system. A lot of it has to do we're going to be better around them at running back, O-line has matured and every is back. We're going to be better at receiver.
We have a long ways to go at that position, but we're going to be more talented, and they're going to be more fundamentally sound.
Q. What do you mean when you say you are going to turn up the heat on the QBs?
COACH Neal Brown: What we've done is basically, verbally, I've challenged them every day in certain areas, and I'm coaching them harder earlier in camp to perform at game level.
I'm asking them to make quicker decisions. We put in a little bit more third down training and some of that stuff earlier in camp, but it's more of me placing pressure on them.
In the spring, I took this approach. We're going to have fun. We're going to enjoy this. Focus on getting better, you individually getting better. That's what we focused on.
Now I'm telling them, hey, we're looking for a guy to win the job. Go win the job. Everything that you do during the course of a practice is getting judged. Yeah, you'd better have fun with it, but understand we are keeping score.
Q. How many running backs do you have - should we still call this offense the Air Raid?
COACH Neal Brown: That's kind of the label that's put on it, I don't know. I think all of the coaches within this offensive family, I think it kind of -- it got labeled that back in '97 or so, and all the coaches that are in this family still use that.
I think, if you look at it, the offensive guys are in the system. I think everybody now is putting a premium on running the ball. I talked to Tom Leach earlier today on his radio show, and I really believe that, and it's said a lot. In this league to win, to win big, to win like we want to is you've got to be able to successfully run the ball when they know you're running it, and you've got to be able to stop the run.
We ran the ball effectively at times last year, but not so much when they knew we were going to run it. We've got to get better at that. I do like our depth at running back. Jojo (Kemp) and Braylon (Heard) picked up right where they did at the end of spring. Those guys, I'm really pleased with them.
Josh Clemons, if we can keep him healthy, I'm really excited about it. He's going to be a load for second level defenders to tackle. He's a big strong kid. You'll see that today when you see him.
The two young kids have a ways to go. Stanley (Williams) is really electric with the ball. He's got to get a whole lot more detail oriented. Mikel (Horton) has made a big jump, really matured, changed his body. I'm excited. Along with Josh, he gives us another big kid.
Q. What's been your early impressions of Darryl Long?
COACH Neal Brown: Really smart kid, great character kid. He's going to be what we want at that position. Is he right now? Probably not. He may be a guy that probably needs a redshirt. He probably will tell you that.
But he's long. He runs well. He's eager. I think he loves to play, which is always the most important thing when I'm judging guys.
That's the hardest spot to learn. What we're asking Darryl Long, Steven Borden, Ronnie Shields at that position, it's the hardest thing to learn because they've got to know what to do as a slot receiver, as a fullback, and as a tight end.
So he's learning, he's learning. I do like his skill set.
Q. Will he play this year?
COACH Neal Brown: I think it's too early to tell. I think that will be probably a question a couple weeks down the line.
Q. How important is the play of your second JUCO players?
COACH Neal Brown: It's going to be important. I think Javess (Blue) is in line to make a big jump because there's going to be less thinking. He's fast. He didn't always play as fast as he really is.
Last year, you've got to think about it. He had his first practice the first week of August, and then we played. That is tough. I think you'll see a jump in him. I wish he could have gone through spring, but that's part of it.
Borden is a guy that really one of the objectives for me coming out of fall camp -- I call it fall camp really, the first couple of weeks -- is finding what he's best at. Let's use him the most effective. Is he the most effective as a fullback, inline tight end, or slot receiver?
He's got a really good skill set. He can run. He's big. He's strong. I've got to put him in positions where he can be successful.
Q. You said after the spring that the running backs had a 90 percent catch rate. They looked really good.
COACH Neal Brown: That's what we want everybody to have. They were higher than that actually. They were higher than that. But go on. I'm sorry.
Q. How much could they be a part of this Air Raid?
COACH Neal Brown: They need to be because, when you look at it, they're really talented kids, and we've got to get them involved in the pass game. That's been a huge emphasis with quarterbacks.
Your running backs should be your best friend in your pass game, okay, because if anything in the pocket breaks down or if they do a good job covering your primary combination, you've got to be able to find your running backs.
You look at teams that are really successful passing the ball -- you can look at what we did at Texas Tech or what any of the top passing teams did in the country, the running backs have a lot of receptions, and they always break the first tackle, whether they make somebody miss or run through an arm tackle.
Q. You mentioned Drew (Barker) improving since the spring. How did he benefit from coming in early?
COACH Neal Brown: Not only for Drew, but if you look at the guys on offense who went through spring. You look at Drew Barker, who was able to go through spring, all summer, he's really matured. He has a much better understanding, not only what we're doing on offense, but defensively how they're trying to defend us.
Mikel Horton, being here in the spring, going through some growing pains. There were tough times in the spring because he struggled at times. He was able to go through again. The new rules are extremely beneficial where we could meet with those guys a little bit each week.
But he was able to learn what to do. Now he's less in a learning mode and more in a details technique mode.
Thaddeus Snodgrass has made as big a jump in his first week of practice as anybody we've had. I'm talking about from where he left the spring -- because he didn't perform that well in the spring game, but he's really studied. He's worked hard on his body, worked hard on his route technique, all those things, and he's made a big jump here in the first week of practice.
And T.V. Williams is a really smart football kid. He had a good feeling what we were doing in the spring, and that's carried over this fall.
Q. What do you get out of Dorian Baker and Garrett Johnson in receiver play?
COACH Neal Brown: We're going to need those receivers. Garrett started off a little slow, had a really good practice on Wednesday. He's a guy who will play in the slot for us. Could play outside, but probably need him more as a number in the slot. Was really well coached in high school. Got a good feel for the game. Knows how to play the receiver position. He's quick. Gets in and out of his breaks really well, has a feeling where to make the play after a catch.
Dorian Baker and Blake Bone are both big guys. We like length. That was one of the main priorities in recruiting. It will be a priority going forward as we need length. Everybody can run in this league. Everybody runs well. Every defensive back we're going to play in this league runs well, but everybody doesn't have 6'3" or above playing corner. You can make a lot of those tie ball situations goes to the bigger guy.
So Dorian Baker has been impressive. I think Coach Stoops hit on that too. He's been impressive the first week, and he's put himself in position to compete for playing time. Same can be said for Garrett and Blake.
Q. What about a guy like Rashad Cunningham, didn't play last season?
COACH Neal Brown: He's improved. I think this competition has been really good for him. He was really effective. He did a nice job in the spring, got better. He's done a nice job academically, bouncing back from where he missed last year.
He's getting pushed. We need him. We need him. He's a guy that we really need to step up in this camp and be able to make plays and give us snaps at that position.
Q. As offensive coordinator, would you rather not have Timmons returning kicks and punts?
COACH Neal Brown: I'm good with it because field position is a huge part of the game. We feel he's one of our most skilled athletes. He's one of the best, if not the best guys with the ball in his hands.
If you can steal a first down on a kickoff team or steal a first down on the punt return team, that's a huge advantage in this game.
Q. Third and fourth offensive tackle pushed this summer how is that shaping up?
COACH Neal Brown: I think it's probably a little too early because we've only had one really padded practice so far. I think Teven Eatmon is more comfortable at tackle than I thought he was. I think he can be a legitimate option for us there.
Kyle Meadows really benefited from his redshirt year. I'm excited to see how he progresses the next two weeks. He's a guy that really needs to come and make an impact.
Q. What about (Jeff) Badet and (Alexander) Montgomery?
COACH Neal Brown: Badet is coming back from his injury. He's been practicing. He is -- I think mentally, just understanding how to play the game, night and day from last year.
It's really -- the last day or two, I've really watched some video of opponents who will play this year and just watching our game over again and just watching Jeff this week in practice and then comparing that to where he was last year, just way, way ahead, much further along from a mental standpoint of how to get open on routes and how to win on leverage, those types of things. So pleased with his progress.
Alex is yet to practice. We have a whole lot of trust in our medical people, and we always make medical decisions based on what's good for the team, but more importantly, on an individual basis, what's best for that kid. We're not going to put him in the fire until he's ready.
He's still going through the rehab process. A lot's been made on ACL injuries. I still -- I really believe they're a year-long injury from post-op. Some guys come back earlier, and you're in a position where you get released, but mentally, physically, I think it takes a year. I think he's probably ahead of that curve a little bit, but we're being cautious with him.
Q. He’s still number one in the wide receiver spot in the spring. Who's sort of taken over that position while you're waiting for him to heal?
COACH Neal Brown: It's been by committee a little bit. We're waiting for somebody to jump up and take that. We can always play the tight end spot there too. Borden and Ronnie Shields getting reps there too, him and Garrett Johnson.
Cameron Fogle is a kid who walked on from Cameron High School and was a receiver when Drew was a junior. He's done really well in fall camp so far. He's a potential option there.
We can always -- DeMarco (Robinson) is a guy that's really flexible, who has a good understanding of what we're doing in those spots. We can move those guys around.
Q. What area would you like to see the most improvement from now until the opener?
COACH Neal Brown: I think now what our three goals as an offensive staff for our unit is, number one, improve our tempo. I've got a saying that right now it's tempo above all. So we want to improve our tempo first.
Secondly, we've got to get fundamentally better at each position group and as an individual player.
The third thing is we've got to develop a mentality. We've got to have a more offensive mentality. We've got to be able to overcome adversity. We've got to expect to convert third downs. We've got to expect to score touchdowns in the red zone.
So those are our three goals. If you want to break it down a little bit further, I think one of the key things for us moving forward -- there's a couple things. When I look at it, how can we make big jumps statistically? If you make big jumps statistically, you're going to change the outcome of games.
The two givens are holding onto the ball, which is something we did a really good job of last year, and we emphasize that on a daily basis. I think that's a coaching.
And then penalties. We need to reduce our penalties, especially unforced error penalties, procedure penalties, those types of things, delay of games, anything like that. So those are givens.
Then what we've got to do is we've got to be better on first down. Drive starters and first down, first play of the drive.
If you go back and kind of look through my career, our staff's career as an offensive coordinator, if we've gotten a first down in our initial drive, if we've gotten that first down, we've been pretty successful.
So I want to see us be much better on drive starters and then much better overall first downs because last year we weren't very good on third down, and that's the truth. But a lot of that was due to us not being very good on first down. Most teams aren't going to be very good at third and seven or longer.
Q. What is the biggest hindrance to playing at the tempo you want?
COACH Neal Brown: Hindrance, what do you mean?
COACH Neal Brown: Prevent, not getting first downs. You've got to get the first down to play fast. That's what happened last year, we weren't getting first downs. You can't just say, hey, I'm going to play fast regardless because, if you do that, then you continually put your defense in bad situations, especially if you're not very good, you know what I mean?
So we -- so now we're better. I think we've got more skill. We've got a better understanding of what to do. But the important part is we've got to get the initial first down. Once you do that, you can get the defense on their heels.
Q. You spent a little bit last year trying to maybe overcompensate for some of the lack you had at depth and trying to trick people. How much more will this be able to look like the offense that folks have seen you run?
COACH Neal Brown: It will be close. I think that's also important -- and I've got that question a bunch. The more I think about it, I think it's important, when we look closer, we won't look exactly the same. But it's also important to understand that offense must evolve. We must evolve.
We were great in 2012 at Texas Tech, that's true, but if we did the exact same thing in 2014, I'm not sure it will be as successful because the defenses have evolved. So we've got to continually evolve.
But I do feel like right now -- and what I talked about in the spring and what -- after going back and really looking at everything that we did over December and January, we tried to out scheme people and overcompensate for areas where we were maybe less talented or didn't have the depth.
If I had to do it over again, I'd just go back and really focus on tempo and fundamentals. That's kind of where we're at. Those goals I gave John, those were one and two.
Q. Question regarding how many plays he wanted to play a game ...
COACH Neal Brown: And Tom Leach asked me this not too long ago. I think goal-wise, I think we'll start off with 75. In a perfect world, I think 80-plus is what we want at the end of the day.
You've got to set goals. So 64, hey, that's your starting point. I don't like it, but at least I know where our starting point is. I think we need to get 75-plus.
If you look, basically, we were low, but it comes down to this. We've got to convert third downs, which I already said goes a lot into how you perform first downs. We've got to convert third downs, which we'll be better at. We will be better at it.
Defensively, they've got to get off the field on third down. So let's say that we convert two more third downs a game and the defense makes two more stops on third down, that's four more sets of downs. So 12 plays at a minimum.
Q. Over a 12-game schedule, if you broke it down, basically how many points have you got to average a game to have a winning season?
COACH Neal Brown: I haven't looked at it. That's an interesting question. I can go look at our stat software, and I'll be able to give you a better answer. You might hit me up later in the week on that, or beginning of next week.
I've looked at a lot of stats, but I haven't looked at that one.
Q. Have your running backs gone up against Matt Elam and any thoughts on him?
COACH Neal Brown: He's getting better. He's a load up front. We try to run him side to side and then maybe hit him up the middle. We haven't gone up against him a ton yet, but he's really big. Got a lot of football savvy too.
People look at his size, and that's the first thing they talk about. He's got a lot of football savviness about him.
Q. Everybody talks about Bud and Za’Darius. Any other defensive guys that really stick out?
COACH Neal Brown: I think A.J. Stamps has had a really good first week. He sticks out. We're really good at corner, this from a technique standpoint. They can run a lot of guys out there.
Jason Hatcher is an issue at pass protection too. He gets overshadowed. Josh Forrest is a guy I think's improved.
His length at linebacker causes problems. He gets his hands on a lot of balls and can cover a lot of ground. Those are some guys that jump out to me.
Q. How about Zach West?
COACH Neal Brown: Zach's doing better. He knows. That was a huge emphasis for us is we needed to get better at that spot. We didn't play in the interior of the O-line, center and two guards, we didn't play as well as we needed to last year.
The good thing is we've got most of those guys back. At center, I think Jon Toth has really picked up exactly -- he was our most improved player. If not Towles, then he was the most improved player on offense in the spring.
He's put on weight, and he's been able to hold it at about 305. I don't know exactly where he is on the roster, but that's where he's about. He's doing a much better job. He'll be able to hold that line and get movement at the point of attack, which is important.
The two guards, Zach -- we've got some guys, Cole Mosier and Nick Haynes, those guys are pushing for the job. He's still there.
His biggest issue last year was lateral movement. When defensive linemen would move and he got matched up against a defensive end, he had issues. He's really worked over the last nine, ten months to correct that. I think he has. I think he'll be a better player. I think he'll continue to come on.