UK Building Competitiveness, Consistency in Spring

As spring wears on, Kentucky’s coaches know the Wildcats will eventually hit a wall. With 15 practices over more than a month, it’s inevitable.

But six practices in, it hasn’t happened yet.

“Guys came back with a good practice this morning,” head coach Mark Stoops said on Tuesday. “We had great energy out there, very good enthusiasm.”

That energy and effort comes on the heels of a solid effort in a scrimmage Saturday in front of fans and media at Commonwealth Stadium. The Cats weren’t perfect, but they’re not supposed to be right now. Improvement is what spring is all about.

“We cleaned up some mistakes, some things from Saturday's scrimmage that we had to get ironed out, in particular on defense in defending the run,” Stoops said. “I thought we came back and improved in that area today and had a good competitive practice.”

Stoops’ background is as a defensive coach, so he naturally noticed as UK’s first-team offense regularly had success at the point of attack against the first-team defense.

“It was guys trying to do too much, honestly,” Stoops said. “Gap integrity. They were trying to do too much instead of just taking care of their business.”

The offense, however, had something to do with that as well.

“I think you saw some improvement,” Stoops said. “You were out there, you saw it. I think the tempo and the urgency of the offense. There was some physicality at times. That was good to see.”

The good news is the offense has shown that improved physicality consistently, but still not always had its way against the defense. There’s been a back and forth.

“For me, you look at it and if one side's doing good, the other side's not so well,” Stoops said. “So it's always difficult to judge that in the spring. I just want to see good competitive football, and we're seeing more of that.”

The Cats are also more consistent in their approach, a development headlined by Drew Barker. The redshirt sophomore quarterback is running with the first team and acting very much like the starter on a day-to-day basis.

“The guys are out there jawing, having fun, which I'm good with, but with him, I like to see the quarterback just being steady, very mature and I really like what I’m seeing out of him,” Stoops said. “He’s competitive and he likes to play, but the off days--I’m seeing a guy who’s studying film more, that’s more serious about his business and that’s showing up on the field. He’s much more consistent.”

Though Barker is more businesslike at quarterback, there are plenty of players around him to keep the energy where it needs to be.

“That’s why we have a lot of guys on this team and a lot of different types of personalities and I think you need that to have a great team,” Stoops said. “Just overall, I’m very comfortable with where we’re at. I think their work ethic, as I’ve mentioned several times this spring, has been more consistent.”