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Mark Stoops Gives Outlook As His Team Heads Into Spring Practice

Updated: Apr 5, 2023

The football program has officially entered their "spring season" this afternoon as the first practice of the session began before lunch. In doing so, Mark Stoops was required to hold a media availability with reporters in person, in which he had a lot of positive things to say about his team.


You can watch the entire press conference on our YouTube channel, which you should definitely subscribe to if you haven't already. We're trying to grow that platform and your support towards it would mean quite a lot.



Transcript


Opening statement... “Great, really great day. Fortunate for us, as you know, we go early in the morning here in the spring and got a beautiful day to start practice. Our guys have worked really hard through the winter, the rules allow us to do a few more walkthroughs with the football. It was good for us changing offense coordinators once again and putting in the time this winter. Obviously, lifting and running and getting stronger and putting a bunch of time in the weight room, but also getting some time to do some walkthroughs and it was evident today as we were further along than you would anticipate with spring practice No. 1. So, really good start."

“I'd also like to mention that we're thinking about and praying for the people that were affected by the storms. The wind and some damage I think we could all live with but some of the tragedy that was involved, certainly thinking of those folks. So, hopefully everybody's getting through it and getting back to normal."

“With us, we're going to have three practices here this week and get back at it tomorrow. Then we will take spring break off and come back and finish it up. Just walked off the practice field, so excited to go watch the film. And I think, looking at broad strokes, very encouraged and I feel like we have a good team again. I feel like we have some good mixture of some guys with some experience. I feel like we are continuing to get bigger in certain areas like that. Obviously, the transfer everybody’s going to want to talk about with Devin (Leary) and he looked really good, was able to go through basically an entire practice. I'm sure that the trainers are watching them and limiting him some but to my eye it was basically an entire practice, he was just fine and looked really good. Along with the other quarterbacks, I think they're making strides working really hard, working with Liam (Coen) to improve in a lot of ways. I’ll open it up for questions.”

On if you anticipate Devin Leary being able to throw and do some other things early on in spring practice...

“Yeah, he was out there pretty much full go here today. Not sure what it is right off the top of my head, but I know he's on a pitch count. The way we rotate quarterbacks and have depth that didn't affect me or the way I saw practice.”

On if you have any guys out from off-season surgeries/injuries...

“Some guys that will be out until further notice would be Nik Hall, Ramon (Jefferson), Josh Kattus, Jordan Dingle and Kahlil Saunders. Some other guys may be limited a little bit, but those guys are out, they had procedures in the offseason.”

On if there is a group coming back / coming in that you're especially curious about...

“Probably quite a few, you know. You just want to make sure you're improving and growing. I think it's fair to say that. I've addressed it, you've written about it, probably talked about it. We need to improve in certain spots on the offensive line. I think we've addressed that issue. Always want to continue to work really hard and get better. But personnel-wise, I feel good and feel like we have some numbers and some guys to work with. I like their approach and there's quite a few, I just feel like there's really good leadership with Eli Cox and Jager (Burton) having another year of experience and of course, Kenneth (Horsey). But then you bring in a guy like Marques Cox. He's so big and athletic and a really good person, good leader and just the way he goes about his business. The way he goes through walkthroughs, the way he goes through meetings, he's just a very mature, young man. He works really hard. By the way, he looks very athletic out there, so that's a good thing.”

On how the defensive backs from Ohio State and Cincinnati have assembled in...

“No, I think Jantzen (Dunn) and JQ (Jonquis Hardaway), they both are what you're looking for. They both can run, they're big guys. There’s a lot of length out there, I like that. I feel like Andru (Phillips) stepped right in, which you'd expect. He had a lot of experience in nickel, looked good at corner today. So, I like that group. I feel like there's definitely some bodies to work with. We'll see, another guy like Jordan Robinson last year, he redshirted, had a hamstring (injury) quite a bit of the early part of the year. That's hard to judge him once you get in the season and all that. He's had a nice winter and good start to the spring practice today. He was noticeable out there. Again, another guy with really good length.”

On if Vito Tisdale is healthy...

“Vito is back and is close to full go. He's out there. He's not limited. He's out there and able to go. We didn't have pads on today. We'll see how it goes, whether it gets sore or not. Sometimes you have to be a little bit cautious with those knees.”

On if Brenden Bates is healthy...

“Bates is out as well. I don't see him on my list there. He'll be fine, he'll be fine. That's a tough position. Those tight ends, they have to do a lot and they get banged up and Batesy, he'll be fine. I'm really looking forward to having him back and being at full strength. I can relate going through shoulder surgery this offseason myself, that sucks.”

On what the walk-throughs look like and why they're helpful...

“Are you trying to get me in trouble? A walkthrough is a walkthrough (laughter). Different rules, different years, things are slightly different, you're able to have a football involved in a walkthrough, which makes common sense. And so, we did. It just helps.”

On how the early enrollees fit / look so far...

“I don't really want to single out any one person in particular. I think in general I love the group. They fit right in, they've done a great job through winter, we went back to having some pretty intense winter workouts. Some people call them mat drills, different drills we do early in the morning, and had three weeks of those. We went early in morning and just work the guys. All the newcomers fit right in, it's not like they couldn't keep up or anything like that. So, they've been working hard. And I liked the guys’ attitudes. It was good to get back some of that.”

On how Will Levis and Chris Rodriguez Jr. sold the UK program at the NFL Combine...

“We’re just very proud of those guys. I didn’t catch exactly what they said, but we’re just very proud of them. They put a lot of time in here. They’re great leaders, great players, great people. It’s no surprise that they would go on and be successful. They’re prepared. We’re just behind them, and it is also good, it’s nice to have some of the pros coming back and they enjoy coming back and working with us. So, it’s good to see.”


On how Devin Leary has taken on a leadership role so far...

“Devin is just waiting to lead. What I mean by waiting is he is earning it and he is doing it respectfully. He can take over a room in five minutes, but he knows that it is about going out and proving it day-in and day-out and not forcing that. You’ve heard me talk about that before, I think it is very important to just be authentic, be who you are, but also lead and find your voice at the right time and the right moment. Let’s put it this way, it will be very easy for him to step into a full-command type of position. He is that kind of guy.”



On the return of Liam Coen and his familiarity with the roster...

“Just by the timing of it, right, last year and this year was different. It certainly helped us with the timing of it. Even though I have to wait through the pro season, it is still sooner than it was a year ago. That helped and he is familiar with it. The players, many of the players have been through it with him and know him personally. Even the recruits, even if they didn’t play under him, they knew him through that year of recruiting prior to that. So, I think the familiarity definitely helps.”



On what you hope to see out of the running back group this spring...

“Yeah, just consistency, just working hard. I think Ray (Davis) brings a guy in with great experience, proof to be successful in the SEC. You know we have a ton of confidence in JuTahn (McClain). You’ve heard me talk about him for years. So, I think those two will take the lead position, but we have very good players behind them as well.”



On how Keeshawn Silver fits in your defense so far...

“He is a big dude. I know he showed up today. So, we have to put pads on all of that, but he is a good dude and he can move. You put him in the front with some of those guys that we have. Ox (Octavious Oxendine) has really put on a lot of weight. Kahlil (Saunders) is out right now with injury, but he will be back, and Dink (Jamarius Dinkins) being such a big boy, and of course Deone (Walker), put him next to Deone and those are some big dudes. So, I like that size, he is very athletic and I think we’re excited about working with him.”



On the opportunity for Izayah Cummings having a big spring with some tight ends being out...

“It was nice. It was nice even on day one I saw him show up a couple of times. I think, again, Izayah being familiar with the offense, obviously succeeding in this offense (in the 2021 season), and getting some reps with some guys being out. It’s good to see him in there.”



On how Octavious Oxendine can contribute with the weight he has put on...

“He better. He needs to. Ox is a guy that we’re counting on. He’s been around here for a few years now. It’s nice to see him make a conscious effort to put on some weight and add some strength and be more of a factor. So, we’re looking forward to that.”



On how you changed your winter workouts...

“Went back to some of the things that I’ve done before. It was changed the last couple of years, yes. Sometimes you’ve just got to reevaluate and hit the reset button and look at certain things and don’t forget about who we are. As I’ve said, I put it on me, not on the team, but on myself. After you’re around here for a few years and maybe teams, I can’t just assume that they’re going to understand who we are and what our identity is and how we’re going to do things and that’s my job. There were probably things that I could’ve done better, going all the way back to last winter. So, I’m not going to let that happen again.”



On how the freshmen from last season are stepping into leadership roles this spring...

“Without a doubt. You just see comfort and understanding and, early on, sometimes the freshmen are just trying to learn what routes to run, or in Deone’s (Walker) case, what defense and technique and all that, and as they get better, they get more comfortable, they get more confident, and leadership is a part of that. They’re very good players, but they’re also good young men, they work hard.”



On if there is anyone that you've seen step up so far...

“No, no no no. Not ready, nope. No, no no. We’ve got to be a little more careful not to put -- what’s that saying, put the cart in front of the horse? No, not ready to do that.”



On being able to move some guys around on the offensive line…

“We will see. I think we’ll have some pretty easy flexibility from experience, and some of it we will do some things intentionally. Just in general, we’re deeper, we’re much a more solid 10 right now then we were a year ago. Like Jag (Jager Burton) had a little virus or whatever a week ago or so, it was really easy to plug Eli Cox right back in there and go from there, make moves like that. So, we’ll have some flexibility.”



On how big of a spring it is for the quarterback room…

“I think it’s very important. I think it gets difficult at that position because we could still be out there repping for the quarterbacks, but you only have so many linemen and wideouts and defensive backs and so on. They definitely need the reps. I thought it was very evident today that they looked better, and I'm not just saying that. I think it’s important for us to try to find a clear-cut No. 2. Who is that guy, because today, and again we’ve got to go watch the film, we just got off the field, but from my naked eye, just watching it, they all had their moments, they looked really good at times. So, I thought they improved, you’re glad to see that. We had a lot of time this year to do more in the winter that I mentioned, walkthroughs and things like that. In the new system and day one install, and so it should be efficient. Now, we’ll see what happens in the next 14 practices.”



On the up-and-coming linebackers…

“I don’t think, again, I would never talk disrespectful of any of the guys that have ever moved on because you know how much I love them. It always excites me to see the next guys step up. That’s refreshing to me, you know what I mean? So, these guys have been working and ready to go, and they stood out today.”



On how you feel about your kicking operation so far this spring…

“We’ve got some work to do. We’ve got a lot of work do, I think that was evident, we’re not going to fix that in one day. So, we’re going to work at it, we’re going to work at it. We worked at it hard today, we’ll put them under some pressure, and we’ll work it pretty good. Coach (Jay) Boulware is really working hard and has great intensity, great organization. We’re trying to light a fire under the entire group and that’s no different for snappers, holders, all that stuff. You heard me talk about it a year ago and not that we would ever take it for granted, but you all don’t even mention it unless there’s a problem. So, we have to, we’re on it. We’re on it hard. I really like Coach Boulware, his intensity, like I said, his organization, and just the structure of it even with the snappers, holders, they’ve done more work already than probably they’re used to. We had quite a few kicks today that weren’t all-out live because I don’t want to get some of the o-line, d-line tangled up and injured all the time, but just with timing and operations, snap, 11 on 11. You know, 10 good solid kicks today and we’ll do at least that many every day.”



On if it is like Liam Coen never left or if there are any changes…

“Yeah, a little both. It’s a definite comfort level, I really enjoy. That part of it, it’s almost like he never left. Just like I said, he has that type of personality where he is always in the staff room, it’s always open door. I mean, he’s never in his office, I bet he didn’t even unpack that thing yet (laughter). He sits in the staff room, those guys are in there always collaborating, talking, and watching film. Players are in and out of there, and that’s a good environment, it’s fun.”



On how the adversity at the Los Angeles Rams last season might have made Liam Coen even better…

“It has to make it better. You’ve heard me talk a lot, even last year, about scars, and learning, and me. I mean, equate it for myself as a defensive-back coach, getting burned in certain coverages and things that you learn from all those years of getting burned. I’m sure somebody will listen to this and call me, ‘Yeah coach, you do a good job of learning!’ (laughter) Got your butt burned, well you coach long enough, you’re going to get burned. You coach the secondary long enough, or any position, you learn from mistakes, and you better learn from mistakes, and try not let them happen again. For him, I think just dealing with that type of pressure and stress, trying to find solutions, trying to find answers. In that league and with the injuries they have, it does nothing but help you and help you grow.”



On what you want to see out of Tayvion Robinson this spring…

“We want to see a lot out of Tayvion. We made no bones about it. We’ve challenged him, I’ve challenged him, I’ve met with him directly before we ever made a coordinator change. I expect him to make big strides and to really push to become the player that I know he can be.”



On if you expect Izayah Cummings to reemerge…

“We will see. That’s up to Izayah. There’s a lot of good players around him. This spring is a little different, it’s not as deep, but there’s really good players, but Izayah just needs to worry about Izayah. He’ll have that opportunity in this system, and again today I noticed him. He stood out today with some big catches, so it was good to see.”



On the impact of losing someone from the front line in the transfer portal and filling that gap...

“You mean the guy that’s out there that’s 6’5”, 330? He’s pretty damn good! He’s got three years left, so I’m pretty impressed with Keeshawn (Silver), I really am. He’s a monster and we’ve got to get better, but I like the look of him certainly lining up next to Deone (Walker). Jamarius (Dinkins) really came along last year with great length, great size, and got years left and is going to make a big difference. So, really excited about that, I think we are in good shape.”

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