It was another strong day of work for the University of Kentucky football team and second-year head coach Mark Stoops on Friday as the head man echoed his statements from earlier this spring that UK is “miles ahead” of where it was last season after a two-hour practice at the Nutter Field House on Friday.
“Good practice,” Stoops said, “It was really good work. The guys were more efficient on both sides of the ball and just thought you could see us opening up good holes at times and that is good for the offense and bad for the defense. But you could see us more physical up there at times.
“Overall, we are improving and are a better football team right now. Just like I told them, we are a lot better and miles ahead of where we were, but we need to continue to go miles further to be competitive in this league. But, I like the pace we are on.”
After Wednesday’s practice, Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown talked about the offense in-depth, especially the on-going position battle at quarterback. The UK coaching staff has said they don’t want a repeat of the position battle last season, when it went down to the final days before the season opener before a starting quarterback was named. But Stoops said Friday, he also doesn’t want to be in too big of a hurry, either.
“We are executing the passing game better. The quarterback situation is still murky because all of them are doing some good things at times. Of course, here and there they are making some bad decisions,” Stoops said. “Just like we said a year ago, just because we would like (to name a starting quarterback sooner than later) doesn’t mean I am going to make a reckless decision. We have to continue and let it work its way out. We are in no panic mode. We have time.”
Friday’s practice, which was moved inside due to rain in the Lexington area, was the first time the Wildcats had suited up in full pads this spring. Stoops, who mentioned Wednesday after practice that the newcomers needed to get adjusted to practicing in pads, said he liked the improvements he saw Friday in full pads from a couple of 2014 early enrollees, running back Mikel Horton and wide receiver T.V. Williams.
“Mikel and T.V. stood out a little bit today,” Stoops said “T.V. caught the ball in space and made some nice moves and we saw that elusiveness that he brings. He is a little guy, but he is electric at times. He made some plays today that stood out. Mikel, seemed like he handled his pads better and is getting used to the physicality in practice. That is good to see as well.”
Defensively, Stoops is looking for improvements this season from his secondary, saying if you go back to this time last season the improvement in the defensive backs is obvious. Stoops said the players and staff took advantage of the winter and it is showing on the practice fields.
“We are miles ahead of where we were last spring and even through last season we are further ahead,” Stoops said about the UK secondary. “We had a good long winter and had a chance to slow things down and bring the players in and watch film a little bit and I can see the strides we are making. We have a long way to go, but I like the direction we are headed.”
One key for Kentucky last season was the versatility of true freshman Blake McClain, who essentially filled any role Stoops and defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot threw at him. Stoops said Friday, they have “settled in on” his position some, working mostly at nickel and safety with very little work as a cornerback.
“That is what some guys have to do,” Stoops said regarding McClain having to pull double duty. “That nickel spot for us is an important spot. That is a tough position to play and match up against inside slot receivers. He is good at that position, but he is also good at safety. He is in a dual-role right now and we will continue to work with him on those spots. For the most part, we have moved him out of the corner business, so that is good. So we mostly have him settled in on three spots.”
Kentucky will conclude its first full week of spring practice Saturday before a day off Sunday and hitting the fields again Monday morning.
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