LEXINGTON, Ky. (WYMT) - Let the talking season continue for Mark Stoops and his coaching staff as the Wildcats host Media Day Friday.
(Photo: UK Athletics)
Mark Stoops addressed the media first, followed by offensive coordinator Eddie Gran and defensive coordinator Brad White.
The Wildcats achieved a 10-3 record last year, which is the team’s best season in 41 years since the 1977 team went 10-1.
It was just the third time in school history that UK won at least 10 games, also 1950 (11) and 1977 (10).
Kentucky swept the non-conference schedule, including the bowl game, for the first time since the 2008 season.
UK had five guys chosen in the 2019 NFL Draft
-Joshua Allen (1st round Jaguars)
-Lonnie Johnson Jr. (2nd round Texans)
-Mike Edwards (3rd round Buccaneers)
-Benny Snell Jr. (4th round Steelers)
-George Asafo-Adjei (7th round Giants)
Kentucky begins its season this fall with the Toledo Rockets on August 31 at noon.
Here's the full transcript from Stoops, Offensive Coordinator Eddie Gran and Defensive Coordinator Brad White.
Head Coach Mark Stoops
Opening statement …
It’s an exciting time, I think each year my appreciation for the team, the whole process and getting ready for the season. It grows and it’s real challenge. But that's what makes it exciting. Each team is so different, each year is so different. You learn so many things throughout the years. You try to use it to put your team in the best position to be successful. That's what I think excites me and our staff and our players about this year, this opportunity with this team. We're really looking forward to it. Ready to get going.
Q. Other than Davonte Robinson, is everybody available going into fall camp?
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, we are. Seems like each year, what was it, Cole Mosier maybe three years ago, Landon Young and now Davonte, we take a big hit. But it is what it is. Our players know that. We have to have the mentality of the next man up. We feel for Davonte most because I know the amount of work that he's put in to put himself in a position to be one of the guys. Certainly the guy with the most experience in the secondary. He's so versatile. Just love Davonte and feel for him.
Q. This time last year you were confident because you had seen the guys working out in the off-season. How does this group compare to what you saw last year? How do you feel about it?
MARK STOOPS: Same way. I feel good. I feel confident. We know we have to go put in the work. But I really appreciate what they've done to get to this point. I mentioned this a few times throughout the talking season here, but it's true. When we got back after the bowl win, to see the team immediately after that game, I enjoyed it. Then to start thinking about it before we get back to work there in January, you know, what needs to go into this year. Your mind starts racing, all those things. I was just pleasantly surprised with the approach of this team. I just feel like from the moment they got back on campus, I saw the hunger in their eyes. They want to prove themselves, put themselves in a position to be successful. I really appreciate the way they went about the winter. We've had a great spring. This summer we've worked harder. I talk about that a lot as well, continuing to push the capacity, the ability to handle more, do more, be a more mature team. They did an awful lot of work this year. That's what's exciting because sometimes we all focus on the things that we lose and don't put enough focus on the things that we're returning. There are some very mature, good football players on this team. There's a lot to build around, so that excites us.
Q. The wide receiver unit, tell us a little bit about that.
MARK STOOPS: We need to step up there. You heard me talk about that, as well. We have to get more production out of that position. I think Josh Ali is a guy that we're excited about. I think Josh has worked really hard. He has the ability to create some big plays. He has very good speed. I'm excited about Josh. Same with Isaiah Epps. He did run the top end we're looking for. He has to continue to improve. I like the work that he's done. We'll see where that goes. Ahmad Wagner is another guy that created some plays for us last year, being the second year now in football after coming back off the basketball court. Ahmad has great size. We need to get him going. Another guy, Bryce Oliver, who redshirted last year that we have high hopes for, as well.
Q. You chastised us many times...
MARK STOOPS: C'mon now, let's be friendly. It's the start of the year here (laughter).
Q. ...about the importance of the running game, especially statistically winning that. Yet we have coach telling us Terry Wilson is going to throw 40 times a game. That's not going to happen under your watch?
MARK STOOPS: Never 'chastise'. I like 'educate' (smiling). It is important. You've heard me tell you the statistics. We do all the data. That's not going to change. When you're out-rushing your opponent by one yard, it gives you a big advantage. Playing good run defense, being able to run the ball is critically important. That's a proven fact certainly in our league. But every year, you've heard me talk about that this year, every team is different. You have to find the best way you can to help them win. If that is throwing the ball, however many times that is, if we have to do that to give us the best opportunity to win, then we'll do that. We'll see how it plays out. I think that's the point he was trying to make. He's piggybacking my comments. That's what I've said. Whatever we need to do. Every team is different. We're a different football team this year than we were last year. We're going to be improved in certain areas and maybe not as good. We're never going to give our kids an out. We're always looking to continue to build and improve in all years.
Q. Defensive front, how many guys do you anticipate playing a regular basis there?
MARK STOOPS: I feel good, I really do. I feel good about the defensive front. As I mentioned, with just the interior guys, it starts with Quintin Wilson going into his third year. He was really impressive in the spring. You guys have watched, he's been a good football player for us, made some good plays, he's played a lot of ball in the first two years he was here. I noticed a difference in him in the spring. He had another gear. He's very explosive. That's a good, good person to build around. So excited about him.
Same with T.J. Also, when you heard me talk about the group, talk about this team, they had a great example of some of the guys that left of what it takes to be successful, what we're looking for.
T.J. Carter I think is a great example of that. He's a guy that's played a lot of football for us. Then you just see a different gear in him. You see his approach just that much more serious. I think he learned that from Josh Allen. T.J. is a guy, he can do big things. Again, he's played a lot of ball. I just see a different guy. Calvin Taylor is so big. He's just one of those guys that's very unselfish. We rarely talk about him, but he does a lot of good things. He's very, very big and very strong and very solid at the point of attack. Those are good guys. I think Phil Hoskins has a chance to really emerge, looking for him to take it to the next step. Marquan McCall is a guy unbelievably talented, so big, so quick and sudden. It’ll be good to get him going. Kordell Looney showed some flashes right there. Davoan Hawkins, Isaiah Gibson, Houssein Ali Abule, all working for times a well. We feel like we're pretty deep there.
Q. About Josh Paschal…
MARK STOOPS: We're moving him back to Jack. Jordan Wright had a little setback. He should be good. He's cleared to practice today. He's no contact for a few days, but he had a little setback in the summer. As you know, we're actually very deep at that position, it's just inexperience. We have a lot of good, talented guys there that we're excited about. But with Josh, I think he gives us the ability to move him back there. Now all of a sudden you move Boogie Watson back to Sam, you move Josh to Jack, all of a sudden your front seven is pretty darn big, pretty physical. I like that combination. Josh is very versatile. He was going to play, depending whether we're in 3-4 or 4-3 schemes, he'd play some of that anyway, just semantics of how we get there. We are going to start him there back at Jack, outside backer, where he started, played quite a bit as a true freshman.
Q. About Sawyer Smith…
MARK STOOPS: Just the fact that he's played in big games, he has that experience, he's very poised. He can throw the ball. As you know, we needed somebody to come in and give us an opportunity to groom the young guys until we can get moving. I just was impressed with Sawyer. I like everything about him, love the way he plays, handles himself, the way he's done everything to get to this point. He's done a lot of work. He's here, up there grinding, ready to go.
Q. How has Terry Wilson improved from the Penn State game till now?
MARK STOOPS: I'm excited about Terry. Just offensively in general, we got a lot of good things to build around. Terry is a guy obviously that started every game, won 10 games for us last year.
It starts with him fundamentally. You hear me talk about that a lot, boring sometimes but true. It's a fundamental game. He had an opportunity to watch every throw he made last year. If you just look at fundamentals, yards we left on the field, he sees that. But it's hard. Easier said than done. That's why everybody can be an armchair quarterback, right? He's got a lot coming at him. He's really worked hard. Appreciate his effort. Coach Darin Hinshaw has worked hard with him. Had a good, solid spring. I think it starts there. Obviously then it goes to the concepts, him understanding. Second year in the offense. That's a big deal, where to go, the reads, how quick to get off the reads, go to the next one, so on. Then the speed of the game, confidence for him to play and know that he won 10 games in the SEC, won the bowl game, has to give him a lot of confidence going into this year. You build around that. Lynn Bowden, we're so excited about him. We have to make sure we find ways to get him the football. He's a difference maker, changes the digits on the scoreboard. He's a playmaker and can make things happen. We have to make sure we continue to get him the football. Build around a physical offensive line. Benny Snell, everybody knows what Benny did for us. But he also set the tone for these backs. They had an opportunity to sit there and watch him. What's most impressive about Benny was his mentality, how tough he was, determined he was to help his team win. These guys had an opportunity to see that. They have a lot of talent. I'm excited. I feel like there's a lot to build on there.
Q. On Xavier Peters transfer waiver
MARK STOOPS: I really don't. I'm unsure. We had to do quite a bit of legwork to get everything updated, all the information we needed for the appeal. I don't know when that will happen. We'll just continue to work with him like anybody else. I mean, obviously he can't take first team reps right now till we figure that out.
Q. Do you know whether it's this year or next year?
MARK STOOPS: Again, he's a physical guy. He's got all the talent. He's got the ability to be a pass-rusher. He's good on his feet. He can do a lot of things. He's really what you're looking for as your prototypical outside linebacker. Whenever that time comes, we'll be ready to go. I don't know when that will happen. To us, he's just like a freshman. It's unknown. We know physically he has all the ability. We're excited to work with him.
Q. Hear you speaking so confidently up there. Any head coach in their right mind would be underselling their team based on the number of people they lost. What is it about you that makes you that confident.
MARK STOOPS: We're not interested in going back. We're not here to take steps backwards. We're not. We're continuing to grow. We're continuing to improve the program. That's not just coach speak when I say those things. The outcome will take care of itself. I know I'm judged ultimately on wins and losses. But internally we're judged on how we're building our program, what we're doing to continue to grow and put ourselves in a position to be successful. That's what it's all about. You could go back seven years, hear me basically saying the same message, that we're going to work hard to do the things necessary that we believe are going to help us be successful. We're not going a waver from that.
We're in a learning environment. We try to learn and grow every day. But you also have to stick to your beliefs, the things that you know are helpful to help you be successful and win games.
Q. You mentioned Davonte's injury off the top. What about that position makes it difficult for inexperienced guys to pick up?
MARK STOOPS: It's one of those positions, you've heard me for many years, it's true, there's certain positions... Let's face it, experience is important at all those positions, right? Everywhere, every sport, experience is important. I think certain positions you have to have experience and instinct. I think that's one of those positions. You're talking about Davonte. For us, he was able to play nickel, strong, free, dime, any of the inside positions that really helps us because he understands all the nuances just from playing the other side. For instance, if he had to go to the dime, he knows what the nickel does, opposite. Strong safety, free safety. He was so versatile. He also was a great cover guy. The other thing, he was one of our best tacklers, and is when he comes back. He's a good tackler. It's going to be missed. You've heard me talk about outside linebacker, safety, nickel, a lot the same. I think you need to have the experience, but you also have to have some good instincts.
Q. A lot of those candidates you're going to be trying out at those positions were all four-star talents. Do you try to pigeonhole each one into a different spot?
MARK STOOPS: No, we got a lot to do with those guys. We got a lot of work to do. Coach Steve Clinkscale and I, Coach Dean Hood is figuring it out. We've got to just get out there and play, get them as much experience as we can, moving them around, just seeing what our best 11 are.
Q. How is Coach Schlarman doing? I've been through that.
MARK STOOPS: Glad to see it. Good for you. John is doing very good. You all get an opportunity to talk with him, he can share what he wants. It's the same as you've heard me talk publicly before. John is just an absolute warrior. Still can't chase him out of the office. He's there every day. Never misses work unless he's on a treatment. He's getting treatment. Things are going good. We're just still praying for him.
Q. Coach Schlarman on offensive line
MARK STOOPS: Done a great job with them for a lot of years. I'm excited about this group he has this year.
Q. With Davonte gone, do things shift?
MARK STOOPS: It does. We could talk more about this as we progress through practice. There's a lot of unknowns. I do the same thing with our staff. We're sitting there talking about guys. Shoot, we don't know yet. Just get to get out there and work with them. I'm not breaking any rules. I'm not out there working with them in the summer. I'm not allowed to. I just have to wait and see. But I am excited about those guys. I think there's a lot of ability there. We need them to be players.
Q. With this group of running backs, where do you see Benny's influence paying off? Physically, the mentality they have?
MARK STOOPS: I think in many ways. I think most important would be his mentality, how competitive Benny was, and intelligent. There's times when a runningback needs to rely on his God-given ability and his instincts, make cuts, do things that are between he and God. There's other times where he has to understand exactly what's going on, what the situation of the game is, how to get those tough yards, where the holes are going to be, understand that a two- or a three-yard run in certain cases are every bit as big as ripping a long one off. I think that intelligence helped us win a lot of games in four-minute offense. You guys have seen it through the years. It's so important when everybody in the stadium knows he's getting the ball and he still gets first downs. Those are big. Again, that credit goes to the offensive line, Coach Schlarman, getting a hat on a hat, backing everybody up. It's critically important depending on the situation of the game. That's where football IQ is so important on both sides, understanding four-minute defense, two-minute defense, four-minute offense, two-minute, so on. You know what I'm saying. That intelligence and football IQ is critically important to winning games. We're in a lot of close games, you all know that. We all have to be intelligent and clued into that.
Q. How much of that confidence stems from you bringing back a really good, experienced offensive line, that's the base of what you can do?
MARK STOOPS: Without a doubt. Again, day one press conference. I don't know what I said, but I'm sure it was built around being good at the line of scrimmage. It's a line of scrimmage game. You better be good in the offensive line, better be going in the defensive line. Sure, we all know you want to be good at all positions. You have to be to win at the highest level. But if you're not physical, you don't have much of a chance. All in all, you know what I mean, throw it all in a bucket, come out the end. I don't like our chances if you're not physical.
Q. On Nick Lewis and Quintin Wilson…
MARK STOOPS: And Nassir Watkins. Those guys are all good players. Really fired up about those guys. Nick has to continue to work hard. He's an awfully big man. To get in great shape... Nick made some strides, we're excited about him. Nassir we look at really as a starter. Naasir, a very good player, can play left or right tackle. Quintin Wilson, we're very excited about him. Very intelligent, very athletic for a center. We're in a great position there. He has an opportunity to learn from Drake Jackson. Drake does such a good job for us. Quintin is going to be a heck of a player. They had their hands full in the spring.
Q. Question about tight ends…
MARK STOOPS: I feel good, really good. Justin Rigg is a guy that's big, physical. He's got soft hands. Excited about him getting the opportunity. C.J. Conrad has been such a mainstay for us for so long. To see Justin get that opportunity will be exciting. Brenden Bates, another good player, get an opportunity to see him. Keaton Upshaw. We're all kind of mesmerized by him. He's what you're hunting. He's first off the bus (smiling).
Q. On Kash Daniel…
MARK STOOPS: If you guys study and understand me, I try to play things pretty straight up. I don't give you a lot of talking points. But I also like them to be them. I am who I am. That's just who I am. I try not to go out there and make outlandish statements, things of that nature. But with our players, as long as they're coming from the right spot, I'm good with it. One thing I can't stand is false confidence, guys that run around, beat their chest when they haven't done the work. That I can't tolerate. But guys that have proven themselves, done the work, know what it takes, are coming from the right place, I'm good with them being them.
Q. On Jordan Griffin…
MARK STOOPS: This is going to be a big opportunity for him. We know him to be a great player. Jordan has a lot of experience. He's played everything for us. He's really played both corner spots, he's playing everything inside. He's played it all, has good experience, is versatile. We need Jordan to have a really big year. I'm excited for him and that opportunity for him.
Q. You were part of the resurgence at Ohio State. Were there any lessons you learned coming in, looking back at what happened there, that's helping you now? You talk about nobody wants to move back. Anything from there you can move up here?
MARK STOOPS: I think there's many things that I do now that I learned there from Jimbo Fisher, working there, other coaches I've been with. I can't think of anything that I could just pull right now right now. Constantly trying to learn, grow, grab things that I like from certain people. With Jimbo, when I was there, I just appreciated the mentality that we had. There was a fun group to coach defensively. The mentality they had to be dominant, to be great. The consistency that we had, that's what we're looking for.
Q. Did you have an opinion on the alcohol sales? Did Mitch Barnhart seek out your opinion?
MARK STOOPS: As I mentioned before, the only thing I'll say is I have great confidence in the leadership, Dr. Capilouto, Mitch Barnhart, their decisions. It's above my pay grade. I don't put a lot of thought into that because it's just not my job. But I trust them. I believe in their leadership. Those are hard decisions. I think there's strong opinions on both sides. They obviously put a lot of thought into it. There's a lot for them to consider. I'll just say it's just hard. I know going to that funeral a year ago was very difficult for me and our team as well. Anything that revolved around the game, drinking, having an accident like that happen, was very heartfelt for me personally, and the team. But Mitch and Dr. Capilouto I have a lot of confidence in. I'm sure they thought things through, are doing the very best they can, I know that. I can promise you that I don't want any reason or any excuse for there not to be a fantastic atmosphere right out here in the stadium, Kroger Field this year. We have a very good football team that's worked very hard. Proud of the work we've done to this point. We're very excited about the future. Greatly appreciate the fan support. We truly have the best fans in the country. There's nothing better than when we walk out there and see that full stadium. We need it that way every week. My plea to the fans is we need that. It takes all of us all the time. We need that support, need that place rocking. It makes a difference with recruiting, makes a difference with our team. We're all a part of that.
Q. On Logan Stenberg…
MARK STOOPS: We knew the characteristics he had. We knew he was a tough guy, physical guy. That's what he is. When you work as hard as he works, put the time in, are dedicated like he is, you have that type of mentality, you're going to have some success. We knew that part of it. I don't know. We have a lot of those guys, as you know. We have to. That's our job. We have to find the right guys with the right mentality that can come in here and do the things that we're looking for.
Q. Talk about younger players we should expect to see more from this season …
MARK STOOPS: I mentioned Josh Ali. Somebody pointed out, Logan Stenberg, Kavosiey Smoke. Today I didn't, but at SEC Media Days I did. Allen is another guy you heard me talk about a year ago as a freshman that was really kind of peaking, hit a little bit of a freshman wall there. It gets hard. You put so much in throughout the year. But we're still very excited about Allen. I think he's going to have a great career.
Q. Nik Scalzo, is he coming along all right?
MARK STOOPS: Coming along all right. I haven't seen him practice yet. That will be today. His knee is doing good. He's worked really hard.
Q. He's a player, isn't he?
MARK STOOPS: He definitely is. That was evident with his tape, with his winning. Same with Amani Gilmore. Those guys are winners. We're excited to see him throw the ball.
Q. Mason Wolfe on the offensive line…
MARK STOOPS: Mason is another one. I'm glad you brought him up. Mason is a guy that will be in the rotation this year. He'll be out there playing, contributing. He's a guy that's constantly doing his work, getting better, taking his medicine that you hear me talk about so much, connecting the dots. He will contribute, play. He's a good football player. I appreciate the work he's done to get him in that position.
Q. You talked about Kash Daniel coming in, what role you needed him to step into. Into his senior year without Josh Allen, how has that role progressed? What do you think Kash needs to do?
MARK STOOPS: Kash just needs to be Kash. He's authentic. We don't need to create anything there. I just need him to continue to be him. That starts with being accountable on the field, on and off the field, but just being a team player like he is. He's very passionate. He cares about winning first and foremost. That's obvious to our team. He's a great leader, he's authentic. We'll continue to rely on him.
Offensive Coordinator Eddie Gran
On whether a running back competition changes the way he calls the game …
“I don't think so. You hope that one of those guys comes out of camp as the true guy. We are a little bit, I think, like 2016. When I first got here, we used three backs. That worked pretty well with Benny (Snell Jr.) and Boom (Williams). We had some guys that could run the ball. If one gets on a roll, you let him go. It's just that confidence in terms of protection. Everything that we need them to do in the pass game, if they can do that, they'll probably play. I haven't seen the stamina out of these three yet because they haven't had that opportunity. Try to push them hard in some of these scrimmages that we have coming up to see how many they can go in a roll and be effective. Benny got better as he went.”
On the excitement AJ Rose, Terry Wilson and Lynn Bowden Jr. bring …
“That's what we really talked about this spring. Everybody says we're going to throw the ball a lot more this year, so I'll get this out of the way right now, okay? Everything starts up front in this league. It's about the physicality. Big men lead the way. If you cannot run the ball, you're going to have a hard time winning in this league. We want to be balanced. We want to be a little bit more balanced this year. If you had 80 plays, 40 throws, 40 runs, that would be perfect. That's the perfect scenario. What we have to do is be more efficient in the passing game and more explosive. As you talked about AJ (Rose), maybe some of these backs, we could maybe have some more explosive runs as well. One out of every eight we want to have a 12-yard run or a 16-yard pass play. I think we have some guys outside now that can help Terry (Wilson) and our quarterbacks make some plays, not just Lynn (Bowden Jr.), because people will start doubling him, making it difficult. We'll find ways to get Lynn the ball. I think we got some guys outside now that have matured enough that can really help us be more explosive.”
On quarterback Terry Wilson …
“You know what, I'm one of those, I don't know what they say. He has worked awfully hard. I think you saw the improvement in the spring at throwing the deep ball. We've got to be great at the little things. Last year we missed just throwing the ball, we missed a bubble throw 30 times. You're talking about your slot receivers, Lynn being that most of the time, where he could have thrown that out there. Say just we get half of them right there, that's 15 more touches for your best player. He's going to improve on those things in our RPO game. I think what he's begun with his technique, fundamentals over the offseason. I don't think there's any question he's going to be a better football player.”
On the tight end position …
“We certainly have the pieces. I really like all those guys. Our tight ends are going to look really good coming off the bus. Again, I think you've seen my mentality of, yes, we are going to be physical, we do need to run the football. But play-action pass using use tight ends that can run, I think all of them can do that. You get them involved that way, use your personnel. CJ (Conrad) has a chance to do some special things where he's at because some of the coaches are talking about the guy can block. Sometimes those guys don't do that anymore in this world. I think CJ is going to be really successful in this league because what we asked him to do there, I think that's going to help him. We always knew he could catch. There's sometimes where they doubled him, or they took some things away. As we got later into the year, it got a little bit better for him. Those guys are weapons. They can run. I'm excited about that group.”
On tight end Keaton Upshaw …
“Number one, as big as he is, is how well he runs. There's no stiffness. He runs very smooth. What I liked about him is that he'll stick his pace in there. He'll get after it. Big bodies, sometimes like that they don't. Early guys, freshmen, that physicality becomes tough. He showed us that he can do both.”
On the experience of Terry Wilson …
“I think you saw a little bit of a jump with Stephen Johnson just at the end of his first year as he finished it, then into his second year. Managing the game, understanding. The things I want to see from Terry (Wilson), you call a first down play, you're looking for certain coverage, we have an alert, we're going to throw a deep shot maybe. All of a sudden, they roll. He knows exactly the coverage. He knows exactly that alert is done right now. He goes to number two, goes to his check down, we're done. Those are things we did not do very well. We've got to be better in terms of our football IQ at that position. That's usually what happens from year one to year two. So that's really what I'm really looking for him is understanding this offense better for us to get out of second and longs, third-and-long situations. We got to stay out of that. We did not do a very good job kind of in the middle of season from that.”
On former quarterback Andre’ Woodson’s ability to avoid the wrong situation …
“Yes, that's exactly right. You have percentages, information, statistics, all that. You use them. They're really good. But those guys on the other side are smart, too. They're going to change things up. You call it again, you have that opportunity for a shot play, when they give it to you, take it. If not, check it down. You see the great ones in the NFL do it all the time, the (New England) Patriots' running backs catch a lot of footballs. That's because that guy that's the center, he understands that rush is coming. He doesn't want to get hit. He understands that a three-yard gain, a four-yard gain is because now he's going to be in that third and four, third and five area. That's where we need to be. That's when we were really, really good last year.”
On the running backs’ involvement in the passing game …
“There's no doubt. We did that this spring. Our guys caught more balls this spring than they ever have. That's really understanding the whole package for them in terms of blitz pickup, knowing when you can get out. There should be times when we're in six-man protection, but they get out so fast because they understand what's going on defensively. It's easy when it's no-back, they've got free release. When you watch those NFL running backs, they get it out because they understand body language, they understand rotation. They're looking to the same thing the quarterbacks are looking at. Yeah, I expect our guys to catch some more balls, and Terry (Wilson) being able to understand where those tight ends on those check downs, where those running backs are.”
On the receiving corps …
“I think Josh Ali is starting to prove that he can do that. Isaiah Epps needs to be more consistent. He has the speed. I'm looking for that to happen. The two guys that kind of came along towards the end of the spring was Ahmad Wagner, big target. You get that ball in his area, those guys got to make those catches. Also, Bryce Oliver. He was somebody at the end of the spring that I was really excited about, saw his progress. That's going to be fun for that group as they come out. Again, as I started this, I do believe we have some playmakers beside Lynn (Bowden Jr.) that they can make some plays for our quarterback when that needs to happen. That hasn't been consistent for us. I think this is the time that it needs to happen.”
On tight end Justin Rigg …
“Keep growing in his maturity in the game. I think he can run and he's really smooth. Justin, he'll surprise you. He can run. His physicality at the point of attack is really good. I'd like for him just to be a leader and continue to grow in that position. It's his job, just like Terry (Wilson’s), to lose. AJ Rose, whoever we have slated. We're going to compete. He has a bunch of guys underneath him, just like I do at the running back position. I tell AJ every day, ‘You better get ready now, you have some guys coming after your rear-end.’ Same thing in that room. I just want to see him mature more in this offense in terms of the details and the fundamentals and taking care of his craft.”
On what stood out about quarterback Sawyer Smith on film …
“Toughness, smart, got rid of the ball quick. Just watching that, then talking to people that coached him, what he brings to the table, and that locker room. Those things are all so important when you have a guy like that that comes in from another school, transfer. If you get somebody that's not right in the locker room, it can be a bad deal. So far, he's shown all that. He's fantastic to be around. He wants to learn. He's a team guy. There was a guy that was a backup, came in, led (Troy) to a lot of victories, did what the coaches asked of him. I loved really his humility, the way he approached that.”
On the similarities between Sawyer Smith and former quarterback Stephen Johnson …
“I don't know that yet. Stephen Johnson was one of the toughest human beings I've ever been around, bar none. One of the toughest kids I've ever coached. I don't know that yet. I haven't seen him and looked at his eyes after he gets hit two or three times right underneath at the chin, he gets up and says, ‘Coach, don't even think about taking me out.’ Pretty strong.”
On the experience of returning players …
“You get the starting five that have had a lot of snaps, then Naasir (Watkins) and Mason Wolfe. Seven guys that have played a lot of snaps. Enough that when you go out there, they've been through it. That's a good nucleus as we go. You have Kenneth Horsey. You have (Taj) Dodson, Nick Lewis, some guys. Quintin Wilson. Now they're developing. Those are the guys that will change places with those guys. Hopefully, we get some type of a rotation. We have to find out in the competition in the next 29 practices of who that nucleus is going to be. I'm excited about where we're at.”
On Allen Dailey Jr. …
“In that slot position, you're going to have him and Clevan Thomas (Jr.). Clevan is really going to be the backup to both sides, our Y and our F. That's a young man that has to do something as well. Allen (Dailey Jr.) is big, physical guy. He's not the fastest guy. He's really consistent. As I heard coach talk about, as a freshman he kind of hit a wall. Hopefully we'll have now, after a year, that you see something different from him. I really like him. I like what we're going to have at that position because it's going to be awfully competitive. But we need something out of Clevan Thomas. It's time for him to be a good. It's time for Isaiah Epps to be a guy all the time, not just here and there. There is no more time for that. That's not what we're looking for here. It's time to have grown man pants on, then let's go.”
On finding consistency among the wide receivers …
“Some of them have been young when they first started out here. (Isaiah) Epps and (Josh) Ali, should they have played as freshmen? Probably not. Allen Dailey (Jr.)? Probably not. Now we're in our third year. You should see something really, really good out of these guys. You look at their bodies right now, how they've trained with (director of performance Corey Edmond) and (director of performance Mark) Hill, night and day. You look at our DB’s, all those DB’s that left. You look at them when they were young, it's frustrating. It was frustrating for (head coach Mark Stoops). I think it's been frustrating for me, for (Stoops), for everybody with the receivers, too. But now they're bigger, stronger, faster. They know this offense. So, we should have more production.”
On expectations of defensive backs and wide receivers …
“Number one, that's not going to happen. We got good players over there. I want them to compete. We talked about it last night. We got to compete, compete every single rep that you have. This game is about competing. If there's a ball up in the air, it's ours, not theirs. I don't see us just coming out and dominating. But, yes, do I want to win? I did last year. Every year. I want to win every drill. Even against those guys last year, you know that's the mentality.”
On running back Travis Tisdale …
“That will be interesting. What I like about him is he's really fast. As we talked about where we were with our running backs, we had guys that were 5-foot-11 to 6-2, 200 pounds. Had the big guys. We wanted a different change of speed. We went out and we looked, we found him. He's tough, hard-nosed. He came in here and ran like a 4.32 laser right when he got here with (director of performance Corey Edmond). He's explosive. He's got legit speed. He has that Boom Williams type of speed. I know he's got toughness from who coached him, where he's from. He's had a great summer. I love his attitude. It's going to be fun to see him get some reps and see what he can do.”
On his offensive philosophy …
“This offensive philosophy is about your personnel. I learned more in 35 years of coaching after my first year here. You can remember in '16, come from Cincinnati, we're fourth in the country, throwing it all over the place. That was who we had personnel-wise. We came here, (former quarterback) Drew Barker that first game, we're throwing it. We had the guys around him. We felt like he had the arm to get it done. He got hurt. We had to do something. Personnel-wise where were we? Our offensive line was really good. Had some really good backs, tight ends. We had a new quarterback. We got into this Wildcat formation, and we tried every week to build around that package. People hadn't seen it. We ended up with two 1,000-yard rushers. There was a point in there about two or three games, they said, ‘Where did this fool come from? Then we ripped off six games, then you become a hero. You're smart again. I learned more that year about humility. It's about team. It's about wins. Is it not still about winning the game? The only thing I could have done last year is screw it up. That's it. We have a brand-new quarterback. We could run the ball. We had a great defense. We played great special teams. If I go back there and I want to rip it around, because I want statistics? I wouldn't be here right now because that wouldn't have been very smart. So, we're going to find out the personality of this team, see what Terry (Wilson) can do, build around our quarterbacks, go from there. It doesn't matter, the bottom line is win the game.”
On playing with more tempo …
“I don't think so. I don't think so. What we have to do is we have to be efficient on first down so we can have more plays. That efficiency in our first couple years was really good. Four yards or more on first down. Now you're creating more first downs. In Cincinnati, even running the ball at 280 yards a game, 250 yards a game there. We were number one in the country in first downs. We weren't just playing lightning fast. It was about the efficiency of first downs. If you get more first downs, you've got more plays, therefore you have more chances at being explosive.”
Defensive Coordinator Brad White
On finding a way to replace sack production …
“Back in 2014, so Rob Mathis in 2013 led the NFL in sack with 19 and a half. We were really excited about him coming back. He had an injury in the off-season. So in 2014 we had to figure out a way to still get pressure. We ended up having more sacks in 2014 than we did in 2013, but it wasn't one guy having them. We had it sort of dispersed throughout the defense. Led the team in sacks that year, his number was six and a half. You can do the math. But we had five, six, seven guys that had three-plus sacks. We tried to bring it from everywhere, cause a little bit of confusion. We'll see what we can do here to have sort of those same results.”
On replacing Josh Allen …
“That's a great question. You can't replace Josh. Everybody knows that. Everybody knows Josh was a special talent, one of those generational-type players. What we have to do now is find the next one. It's find the next guy that's going to elevate his game. The thing that made Josh so good, he went from seven sacks, seven sacks, to 17. You have a guy like Jamar Watson, Boom, he had three his freshman year, five last year, and hopefully we can continue to push that number. That's a guy we're going to lean heavily on. Getting Josh Paschal back, that's going to be huge. I'm really looking forward to seeing our interior pass-rush really push their sack numbers and their hurries and pressures. We're going to try to effect a lot with those guys. When you have T.J. Carter, Calvin Taylor, Q, you bring in a Looney, a Phil Hoskins, I mean, we should be able to have some success interiorly. Then when I look out there and see guys like Kash (Daniel) and (DeAndre) Square and (Chris) Oats and Jamin (Davis), inside linebackers that can blitz, cause all kinds of issues. A lot of times those inside linebackers are going to be matched up on running backs. Those are one-on-one situations we anticipate winning and we need to win if we're going to be successful. We're going to put some weight on their shoulders to go win those one-on-ones. Then we'll see who elevates. Obviously we'd love to do as much four-man rush in coverage to protect the back end, but there are going to be downs they just have to step up, elevate. We talk about it all the time on defense. Somebody on every down has to wear the hat. They're going to have the tough down. What you want to do is you want to put the tough down more often than not on the guys that are experienced or that can wear that hat. But there's going to be times within a game that everybody, no matter how young you are, no matter how experienced you are, you're going to have to wear the hat on that down and rise to the occasion.”
On the incoming outside linebackers …
“I’m really, really excited about the young guys that we have, the three from Louisville. What we're actually going to do, Shawn'Kel (Knight-Goff) is going to start inside. We'll have (Jared) Casey and (J.J.) Weaver on the outside. We have K.D. McDaniel who we also signed who is going to be outside as well. We have some really young talent that I'm excited to see. Jared obviously is a step ahead coming in spring so he knows the terminology a little bit better. It will be a little bit cleaner early. But we're going to see what those guys can do. We're going to put the best 11 on the field. If it's a freshman, if it's a senior, if you're one of best 11, you know what to do in that situation, in that package, you're going to be on the field. If you don't, if you're a 50/50 guy, if you know it sometimes, don't know it others, for me knowledge is power. The guys that know it are going to be the guys that play. But we have to do a good job as a coaching staff to make sure we don't overwhelm them. You give them a package that they can play fast, then let their athletic ability show.”
On M.J. Devonshire …
“He has terrific speed. He was a sprint champion there in the state of Pennsylvania. He's got smooth hips. He's a great athlete. So he's going to be another one of those guys, a young guy, he's going to be thrown in the fire, we'll see what he can do. In that secondary, we don't know who is going to be the starter. I can't tell you right now, come August 31st, who is going to be running out there. There are some guys as you start the pre-season, you have to have a depth chart. It's in pencil. That could change daily. It could change weekly. It can change as the scrimmages come. When the lights go on, it's one thing to do it in practice, it's another thing to do it in a scrimmage because it's a heightened sense of urgency. At the end of the day, when it goes to game time, it's an entirely different level. You may see throughout the season some things get shuffled around. We'll find the best 11. It may not be the same 11 in every personnel group. We're going to find in the right situation. We've talked to our guys all the time, find a spot, find a role on this team. Carve it out, find your niche, then become a master at that role. If you become a master at that role, you gain confidence in your teammates and coaching staff, you'll see your role expand.”
On taking a pressure off a group that is inexperienced …
“We're going to have to do a great job of keeping it simple for us but complex for an offense. We need them to have to go through checks, make them work without putting a lot on our guys' plates. We'll be multiple in some regards that way. I'll ask older guys to do the disguise part, let the younger guys be a little bit more stagnant. The older guys right now, we know we've got a good, experienced D-line. We know we have inside backers. Boogs was a full-time starter last year, played a significant amount as a redshirt freshman. Those guys have to carry a little bit more during a down, whether it's communication, whether it's disguise, and let the younger guys settle in. Once they get comfortable, then we can start expanding their package.”
On what he expects from Moses Douglass …
“With the injury to Davonte (Robinson), Mo's role sort of I say increased, but he's going to have to be a person right now that as he goes through this camp, he's a guy that needs to be ready to go in the game. Again, I'm excited about what Yusuf can do. He had a great spring. But right now at that safety spot, we're still looking at bodies. Mo is going to be that guy that is getting some reps with the second team. You're one injury away. He's got to be able to learn the defense. It was nice to get him again, kind of like Jared Casey, in the spring. This won't be all new when he steps on the field this afternoon. Hopefully things slow down a little bit quicker for him than some others. You saw it in the spring, that he's not afraid to hit. He's a guy that will come down, he'll strike you. He's a really good tackler. It's just knowing what to do, where to be, what checks to make. We ask our safeties to handle quite a bit in terms of communication.
We'll have to pick that up.
On if he has been more involved with the interior lineman this offseason …
“In terms of the interaction, yes. When you step up to the coordinator role, you get to interact with all the position groups more than just yours, which is always a fun experience, especially for me. I like getting to know all of them on a personal level. But in terms of the pass-rush, Coach LeBlanc does a great job with those guys. We will work a little bit more as a unit. When it gets into those third down situations, maybe there's a little bit more gel there in the pass where it was a little bit more two distinct units. Outside and inside, we're going to have a collective pass-rush idea. Coach does a great job with those guys. You saw Calvin Taylor's emergence last year. T.J. Carter has positioned himself to have one of those breakout years. When we let those guys get used to each other, pass-rush together, they're going to go through individual drills together on third down days. It's hard, you never really have enough individual. I know when I first got here, Coach Stoops touched on it, the outside backers in the 3-4 defense, there's so much that they have to do in terms of they have to be able to rush, they have to be able to set edges, cover. It gets hard to get it all in. You need to try to take as much individual time as you can get with those guys. But we're not going to do it at the sacrifice of gelling that front four unit. We will work together quite a bit, especially right now, then when we get into season or third down days, so when we get to third down, that's where we need to win. We have to win and be efficient on third down. I know everybody talks about it, Coach Gran probably talked about it offensively being efficient. If we can eliminate long drives, long drives usually happen because they've converted on one or two or three third down situations. If we can get off the field there, I think we'll be in much better shape this year.”
On difficulty of facing a 3-4 defense …
“I think it is one of those defenses that gives offenses problems because you can basically create three different defenses at once, where most teams, if you're a 4-3 defense, an over defense or an under defense. We won't get into the nitty-gritty of that. But an offense knows where you're going to be, they can create their leverage points, double-teams. When you're in an odd front defense, like a 3-4, we play three up front, we can stay in that situation which creates its own problems for offenses, or we can create under and over very quickly. From an offensive standpoint, it makes it hard to target in the run game. It causes some confusion for a quarterback in terms of which way are they coming, because we're so balanced formational wise. It's harder to identify than if you were in a 4-3 defense. But with that, why doesn't everybody run a 3-4? Again, to the point about the outside backers, it takes that much more teaching for those guys because you're going to put a lot on their plate, a lot on their interior D-linemen. You can see, all the credit goes to our strength and conditioning staff in terms of we look the part to play those four in our defense. You have to be big, strong, rugged. It's hot, it's steamy in there every down. That's not for everybody. You've got to find three of those guys. If you're in a 4-3, you have to find two guys that can play interiorly, two D ends. You're playing in the city or you're playing in the suburbs. We have to have three playing in the city in a 3-4 defense. I tell the outside backers all the time, Hey, you have the good life out there, you got all kinds of space, time, the tackle will set (smiling). Those guys in our 3-4, our two and our nose, things happen quick. They're playing against big bodies, especially in this league. We talk about you have to win up front in this league. I feel strongly about what Coach LeBlanc has done with this group. They've worked hard this off-season. We're going to rely on those guys heavily. Thank you.”